Jane Drew was a pioneer in architecture in the United Kingdom, both for her architectural work and for her labor policy, since for a time she employed only women in her company. Why? For the simple reason of the discrimination she herself had suffered at the time of finding work. But this didn´t stop her, but made her stronger and more aware of the feminine potential in architecture.
Who was Jane Andrew?
Born in Surrey in 1911, Jane studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, and she is considered one of the best modernist architects in the United Kingdom, designing important buildings around the world.
Drew was passionate about modernist architecture: the bold and contemporary designs that came from continental Europe, especially the modern buildings of the swiss architect Le Corbusier.
She was a member for many years of the Modern Architectural Research Group, becoming fully involved in it. At that time, the MARS (Modern Architectural Research Group) had plans to rebuild post-war London, visualizing a utopian and socialist design. This new image thought of the people damaged by the war and would include the construction of new social buildings to house the english population of those times.
It was a project with enormous potential and extremely futuristic for those moments, but it never came to fruition.
Drew married architect Jim Alliston in 1934. Unlike most married women of the time, she insisted on keeping her own name and when the couple set up a joint business, it was named Alliston Drew. Her first marriage didn’t work out, and in 1942 she married another architect, Maxwell Fry, and started a professional partnership with him. Together, they worked on creating the new town of Harlow, Essex, then moved on to public buildings including hospitals, universities, housing complexes and damns in Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Persia and India. They became experts in the architecture of hotter climates. Drew frequently mixed with design luminaries such as Barbara Hepworth, Eduardo Paolozzi and Henry Moore, and collaborated with Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school. In 1996, Drew was made a Dame of the British Empire.
The revolutionary architect
Drew encountered a problem when embarking on his professional path, because in the thirties, when Drew started her career in architecture, the industry was male-dominated. Many firms she applied to wouldn’t even consider employing her purely because of her gender. Later, when she founded her own company, she at first made a point of employing only women, trying to end that discrimination that she herself had suffered. The outstanding female architect of her generation, Drew´s work was pioneering and significant, and changed the landscape of 20th century architecture.
What influence has she left behind today?
Drew has left his mark in numerous cities and participated directly in the creation of the Institute of Contemporary Art (1964), the School for the Dead in South London (1968) and the Open University in Milton Keynes (1969-77). She had an anthropological approach to design that used vigorous research methods to ensure that her buildings worked in a practical way and for the people who used them. This approach is now more than usual in our buildings and urban planning, but in those days was a pioneer in their work.