Inheritance Projects


Jane Drew (1911-1996): An introduction


Institute of Contemporary Arts, London

12 February - 23 March 2014

As part of our long-term research into New Towns, Inheritance Projects is curating an exhibition and events programme which examines the work of Jane Drew (1911-1996), a British architect and educator.

Her work signaled a major shift from universal modernism to responsive and vernacular design. Drew was an instrumental agent across the projects and fields of urban and domestic design in which she worked yet has remained unrecognized relative to her male contemporaries. She began her career designing ergonomic kitchens and was responsible for the standard height of ovens that is still used today. A close ally of Paolozzi, Moore and Hepworth, Drew can be credited for securing the premises of the ICA (both at Dover Street in 1950 and The Mall in 1968) where she with others collectively re-designed the interiors including the fittings and furniture. Contemporary art was fundamental to her designing process and while working with her husband, Maxwell Fry she commissioned artworks as integral elements within building projects – which in the UK included social housing and public infrastructure in London and various New Towns.

During the 50’s, working as the partnership Fry & Drew, she began designing buildings internationally in the newly independent states of India, Nigeria and Iran. Drew was a galvanising force who instigated ambitious international projects with often conflicting and jealous team members. Drew proposed to the Indian government that Le Corbusier be the mastermind behind the construction of the new capital of Punjab following partition. She was responsible for much of the low-income housing in Chandigarh and played an important role in re-housing the city’s existing residents and migrant workers.

Significantly, Drew and her partner Fry published books and taught ‘Tropical Architecture’ at the Architectural Association. A body of knowledge, developed after significant experience in West and North Africa and India was formalised into architectural instruction, which incorporated traditional building methods into the modernist style. While such ideas remain problematic in a post-colonial context, this reappraisal of the vernacular presents a rupture within the modernist dogma instituted by the likes of Le Corbusier, which insisted on a progressive universal style.

Throughout her international career, Drew remained committed to contemporary artists and did not see her work in Africa and Asia as distinct from the public building and exhibition projects in the UK. Rather, her life and work demonstrates how the histories of Twentieth Century British art and architecture are intricately bound to developing global conditions emergent in the wake of the Second World War.