Jane Drew, the pioneer architect who employed only women

Modernist architect, aware of social issues, specializing in construction in tropical areas, but also known for his work in the United Kingdom, the British architect Jane Drew himself won the title Dames of the British Empire. Although it arrived just seven months before his death in 1996.

Born at the beginning of the same century (in 1911, in Croydon), she was the daughter of a designer of surgical instruments and a teacher. Her parents encouraged her right from the start in the studio, which at the time was not at all obvious for a woman. Thus Jane went on to graduate in architecture in 1929 and in the most prestigious of schools, the Architectural Association School. After the first jobs as an employee he opened his own studio with the specific intention of employing only women. A revolutionary choice at a time when female architects were not taken very seriously in a purely male sphere. They were given decoration tasks at most. Not Jane, who would have signed several buildings in London and Britain more generally, but also in West Africa, India and Iran.

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Before this series of successes, however, he ran into the failure of his marriage to James Thomas Alliston, also an architect. It ended in 1939. Soon after, the turning point came with Jane’s entry into the modern movement through the CIAM, Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne, which recognized Le Corbusier as its guiding deity. She became one of the founders of Modern Movement in Britain, a British offshoot of the French movement. Through the group he met Le Corbusier in person, but also Maxwell Fry, another architect, whom he married in 1942.

Together with her second husband, she founded a new architectural studio, which began to take care of numerous projects at home and abroad. His projects in Nigeria and Ghana they had begun between 1944 and 1945 with a collaboration as town planning assistant to the British minister governing the colonies in West Africa. This position opened the doors to the continent for her, where between the 1940s and 1950s she worked building theatres, hospitals, universities, banks, offices and residential properties, often with her husband.

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Her projects in Africa attracted the interest of Indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, who asked her to design Punjab’s new capital, Chandigarh. Together with her husband, Pierre Jeanneret and Le Corbusier, whom she involved in the project, she invented a city. If in Africa he had taken into account the tradition by uniting it with the concept of architecture in the service of human life, in India he tried a different approach. At the request of the government itself, which, by building a capital from scratch, wanted it to be a model, experimental, innovative city. The group lived for three years on site and not only took care of all government and administrative buildings, but also built houses for ordinary people, guaranteeing every inhabitant access to water, low rental costs and maximum functionality. Schools, clinics, swimming pools and theaters were integrated into the thus conceived housing system. This approach would have influenced the new housing standards across India from then on.

In the 60s, now known for projects in tropical areas (following a particular style she called Tropical Modernism and about which she had also written some successful books), she was called to design art and training centers in Sri Lanka and Ghana and again in Singapore where he signed the Shell building. 1965 is the Kaduna Stadium and the Women Teacher Training College in Kano in Nigeria and a hotel in Colombo in Sri Lanka. In 1968 he worked in Mauritius and again in 1977.

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By 1973 her husband Maxwell had retired, but she didn’t, she continued to design, build, invent for another two years. Finally, in 1979, he let himself rest, at least partially. The couple retired to their beloved country house Lake House in Sussex, but Jane continued to write and lecture around the world. Record woman, was the first to teach architecture at both Harvard and MIT, the first to be president of the Architectural Association, the first to sit on the board of the Royal Institute of British Architects. His is also the London Institute of Contemporary Art, which he signed in 1964 after helping to found it. “I practiced architecture in a time full of hope and optimism. – he said – A time when we felt that the changes we proposed in architecture and urban planning would change living conditions and improve the world.

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