Marking the entry of women into the UK architectural profession

Friday, 03 November 2017

AAXX exhibition

This year marks 100 years since women were first admitted into the Architectural Association School in London (the AA), a major step forward for women in the profession and a key part of the history of 20th and 21st century architecture in both Britain and the wider world.

Over the last four years, Dr Elizabeth Darling, Reader in Architectural History at Oxford Brookes University has been working on a major project to tell this story, including a newly launched exhibition at the AA and a new book.

Dr Elizabeth Darling, a leading figure in the field of gender and architecture history in the UK, said: “From the first students admitted in 1917, their training and early work, to the significant and diverse contributions have women made to the globalisation of architectural practice and production, the history of women at the AA is fascinating.

“The elements of this project, entitled AA XX 100, all help to draw attention to a subject that reveals much about society and culture in the modern period.”

The new exhibition AA Women in Architecture 1917-2017 is on display at the AA until 9 December. The exhibition opens by documenting the first four women to join the school in 1917 and the first building to be designed by an AA woman, a village hall in the East Sussex countryside.

Then, through a series of themed displays, it examines the graduates of the 30s, 40s and 50s, who shaped the architectural environment of the Welfare state, including Judith Ledeboer, Jane Drew and Mary Medd; the architectural partnerships that have been a characteristic of 20th-century practice, and the global reach of the AA, both in terms of its students and where AA women practise, particularly focussing on the work of Dame Zaha Hadid and Amanda Levete.

There is also an opportunity to consider AA graduates who took different, though equally influential, paths such as Carmen Dillon, Oscar-winning art director, journalists Katharine Whitehorn, Janet Street-Porter and Diana Rowntree and furniture and textile designers including Marian Pepler and Florence Knoll.

From the first students admitted in 1917, their training and early work, to the significant and diverse contributions have women made to the globalisation of architectural practice and production, the history of women at the AA is fascinating.

Dr Elizabeth Darling, Reader in Architectural History, Oxford Brookes University

The new exhibition was curated by Dr Darling together with Dr Lynne Walker from the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, in collaboration with the AA and designed by Eva Jiricna and Georgina Papathanasiou. 

Dr Elizabeth Darling continues: “While the exhibition is running a number of events are taking place to interest a wider public in the history of women and architecture. These include an evening talk and exhibition tour, and a coach tour organised in conjunction with the C20 Society, and in collaboration with the Association for Art History and Art History in Schools, a workshop for teachers and sixth formers will be held.

Accompanying the new exhibition is the major publication edited by Dr Darling and Dr Walker, AA Women in Architecture 1917-2017 (AA Publications 2017). This richly illustrated, critical and historical collection features a wide range of contributors and offers an historical account of women’s presence at the AA.

For more information about the AA XX 100 project and upcoming events visit the website.

Dr Elizabeth Darling is one of the recipients of the University’s Research Excellence Awards, part of Oxford Brookes’ commitment to supporting research-active academics and in supporting the aims of the  Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy 2016-2020.

The funding is providing Dr Darling with greater research time to complete this project and work on a new project: a book exploring how architects and designers, broadcasters and manufacturers collaborated to create the material forms for the new industry of broadcasting and wireless production from the early 1920s.

Image credit: AA XX 100: AA Women in Architecture 1917-2017 exhibition, Zaha Hadid installation, model for the Hong Kong Peak project, 1983 // Trafalgar Square project, 1985 © Sue Barr/AA