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DREW, Jane

Born: 1911 03 24
Died: 1996 07 27


Dame Jane Drew, DBE, FRIBA (24 March 1911 – 27 July 1996) was an English modernist architect and town planner. She qualified at the AA School in London, and prior to World War II became one of the leading exponents of the Modern Movement in London.

She married Maxwell FRY in 1942.



DAME JANE DREW, who has died aged 85, was one of the foremost British architects of the Modern Movement.

Much of her work was carried out in collaboration with her second husband, Maxwell FRY. Their most important projects were in West Africa and India, where from 1951 she worked with LE CORBUSIER on Chandigarh, the Punjab's new capital.

In furthering her aims, Jane DREW used her considerable charm to great effect. She persuaded Le Corbusier to involve himself in the Chandigarh project, and during his visits there they became romantically attached.

She also became friendly with Pandit Nehru, encouraging him to employ young Indian architects.

She was born Joyce Beverly Drew at Thornton Heath in Surrey on March 24 1911.

Jane DREW (as she became known) showed an early interest in architecture. After school at Croydon she studied at the Architectural Association.

She graduated from the AA in 1929, and was then refused work by countless architectural offices, including that of Maxwell FRY, on the grounds that she was a woman. She eventually found employment designing neo-Georgian pubs.

During the 1930s Jane DREW was a member of the Modern Architectural Research Group, a consortium of architects, painters and industrialists. Through this and other groups Jane DREW became friends with such modernist figures as Henry Moore, LE CORBUSIER, Elizabeth Lutyens and most importantly Maxwell FRY. They married in 1942.

In 1940 Jane DREW set up her own practice, at first employing only women.

When FRY was offered a job in West Africa, Jane DREW left her London practice to join him. In 1944 she was appointed Assistant Town Planning Adviser to the colonies of Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and the Gambia.

Back in Britain she and Maxwell FRY designed flats in Lewisham, and were responsible in 1951 for the Waterloo Bridge Entrance and Harbour Bar for the Festival of Britain. During the Festival, FRY gave up his prosperous practice to work at Chandigarh, where Jane DREW soon joined him.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Jane DREW worked mainly on domestic buildings in Britain.

She was also involved in the establishment of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

In the 1980s, she became the first woman to be elected a full professor at Harvard and MIT and was the first woman to be elected president of the AA and to sit on the RIBA council.

Jane Drew was appointed DBE in 1996.

She had two daughters from her first marriage. Maxwell FRY died in 1987.

[Anon, 1996, The Weekly Telegraph. Issue 263. p, 35]


Viren Sahai who worked with the practice of Fry Drew and Partners as site architect on the Kaduna Stadium Nigeria, remembers this inspirational architect.

Jane DREW was the first woman to qualify from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in 1933. After her first marriage was dissolved she married Maxwell FRY in 1942; theirs was truly a marriage of minds which thrived on "acid, but constructive criticism from each other". She followed Major FRY to West Africa where she was appointed Assistant Town planning Advisor to the colonies of Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia in 1944.

After the war, Jane DREW and Maxwell FRY set up practice in London which was soon to acquire an international reputation. One of the first buildings was the restaurant in the 1951 Festival of Britain. Having acquired an interest for building in the tropics, they then decided to go to Chandigarh. Jane was mainly involved with housing and primary care buildings, working on very low budgets, continuously posing the question "what can one do without". Her work, alongside that of LE CORBUSIER was instrumental in creating the post-independence architectural style in India, "unfettered by the traditions of the past" as Nehru put it.

The name of the practice of Fry, Drew and Partners became synonymous with the practice of architecture in many Commonwealth countries, most notably in Nigeria, where their most significant buildings were those for the University of Ibadan and the Kaduna Stadium. Jane carried out analyses of building forms and climatic control publishing a number of books with Maxwell FRY on the subject, including the "Village Housing in the Tropics", "Architecture in Humid Tropics" and probably the best known of them all, "Tropical Architecture". She encouraged architects wherever she worked doing much to establish the independence and status of the local architectural profession.

Jane's buildings were always sensibly designed for human comfort. At Torbay hospital, she provided operating theatres with windows, persuading the surgeons that this innovation could be consistant with the required clinical standards. She was a great believer in the power of art and was instrumental in the establishment of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Carlton Terrace in London.

Jane's intellectual honesty was accompanied by immense humanity and courage. It was her constructive criticism of apartheid that resulted in the creation of a racially integrated system of architectural education in South Africa. She continued to inspire people right to the end of her days; when the students at the Cambridge Faculty of Architecture invited her, at the age of eighty, to talk to them, she held her audience enthralled for over an hour. Dame Jane DREW passed away on the 27th July 1996 and will be remembered as an architect with a charismatic personality who inspired young men and women over a period spanning nearly half a century.

[Sahai, Viren. CA Architect News Net. 2nd Quarter 1997. Issue No 4. p, 5]


An article by Jane DREW, Jane Drew : reflections on my life and work : comment, published in 1993

I have practised Architecture at a time when Architects were full of hope and optimism. At a time when we felt that the changes in Planning and on Architecture would change living conditions and improve the world. A time when there was great hope for the future.

We did not foresee the increase in crime nor the growth of cardboard cities and homeless families. Governments have failed to see how closely good planning and prosperity are connected. Although the Importance of energy conservation is now being recognised, and there is tremendous talk about the environment, we do not, yet, know how to plan our cities. Neither is the importance of Art, as a great civilising factor, recognised. In my view, Art is not a luxury but a necessity.

I, myself, have always been passionately keen on Art. Over the years, I managed to form a fine collection of paintings and sculptures of the many contemporary artists who were my friends. Max (my husband) and I, always incorporated works of art in our buildings, wherever we felt that they would add to the meaning of Architecture.

Apart from the impact of vegetation on the climate, buildings need a setting. The establishment of tree nurseries and the design of intensive planting has always formed part of our work. I discovered, by accident, the work of Roberta Burle Marx (in photographs) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I arranged for his first exhibition in London to be held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. To me Art and Landscape Design are part of Architecture.

I have made an effort to understand the connections between things – the relationship between causes and effects in the different cultures in which I have worked, so as to decide what should be changed. 1 was also lucky to be gifted at languages.

I am a feminist. I was consultant for an exhibition held in the Great Hall between the House of Lords and the House of Commons on "Suffragettes and Suffragists". We were fighting for equal pay for equal work, a goal which we achieved.

When I qualified, I had, as a woman, great difficulty in obtaining a position in an Architectural Practice. During the first part of the war, when I set up on my own, I was determined to employ only women Architects. Sadly there were too few of them to make this possible and I was eventually obliged to employ men as well !

Yet it is to many men that I owe a great deal for the opportunities given me during my career. The only notable exception was Jenny Lee, who was Minister for the Arts when I designed the Open University.

I owe, in particular, a great deal to Maxwell Fry, who became my husband, partner, and best friend. I was in awe of him when we met – he was older and already well-known. In all our years of working together, I made sure that we never shared the design of any building. Nevertheless, he taught me an enormous amount and was one of the kindest men I knew.

My first important job during the War, was being made Chairman of an Exhibition to be held at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, called "Rebuilding Britain", It was this experience which made me realise how important town design was to people's lives.

Later in the War, I was appointed as Assistant Town Planning Advisor to the, then, four British West African Colonies : Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and Gambia. Maxwell Fry and I drew up Town Planning ordinances for these countries and major Town Planning recommendations for the principle towns.

One thing led to another and we were given the commission to design a great educational scheme for Ghana in the form of many teachers’ training colleges and schools. Then followed the commission to design the first University in West Africa, Nigeria.

I was interested in designing for the culture and climate of West Africa and became more aware that Architecture could do a great deal to improve the quality of people's lives. I took the trouble to learn some, of the many, African languages. We consulted and became friends with some of the chiefs. We found them to be very willing to put our ideas into effect. The Muslim chiefs in North Nigeria were, for the most part, very responsible and anxious to improve the education and living conditions of their people.

We established Tree Nurseries. With the primitive state of services, we had to design buildings which relied on collecting rainwater from their roofs for drinking, and from their roads, for the flushing of toilets. Due to the poverty of the inhabitants, we had to use stabilised earth for "landcrete blocks" for much of our housing. We set up a Building Research Station to make sure that these blocks were scientifically sound. I am told that housing made of these blocks has stood up to the extreme weather conditions of Ghana very well.

As a consequence of these experiences, we wrote two books on designing for the humid tropics.

It pleases me that a few years ago, when I was 75, the Presidents of both the Institutes of Nigerian and Ghanian Architects, came over to a dinner given in my honour at the Architectural Association, in London, and presented me with a medal. I had previously been given an honorary degree by the Nigerian University of Ibadan.

After West Africa, President Nehru (of India) asked us to design the new capital of the Punjab, Chandigarh. We were, at the time, heavily involved with the Festival of Britain and were unsure of our ability to handle all of the work. It was my idea to invite Le Corbusier, who was responsible for the main plan of the town and for the principal Government Buildings (the Law Courts, the Assembly, the Secretariat, etcetera) to join us.

I had first met Le Corbusier before the War at C.I.A.M. (Congres International des Architects Modernes). I was impressed by the breadth of his knowledge, his experience in addressing the problems of housing in under developed countries, by the power of his personality, and the lucidity of his razor sharp logic. (The French study logic as a school subject and are able to solve seemingly impossible problems by use of this skill.)

Working with such a powerful personality was often difficult and I often wondered whether I had done the right thing in inviting him ! Despite his greatness, he made many mistakes - as does anyone who tries anything new. Among these were the concrete brises soleil to his buildings which acted as heat sinks, radiating heat all night, without cooling, before reheating in the sun the following day. Another mistake could have been the separation of shopkeeper's living quarters from their shops. With the greatest difficulty I persuaded him to allow people to live above their shops ! Despite everything, we became firm friends.

Le Corbusier used to exercise his imagination every morning - usually through sketching, collages or painting. He gave me many of these works. I was very touched in that he did so right up to his death. These gifts, were to prove invaluable later on.

This is not the place to tell you how we planned and housed twenty thousand people in permanent dwellings in three years. Jeanneret (Le Corbusier's cousin), Max and I, spent three continuous years in Chandigarh. Our living conditions were primitive, the heat was extreme. Corb would come out for 2 months every year during the cool weather only.

We were lucky that Pundit Nehru, wanted Chandigarh to be a model city for the thousands of refugees who were arriving daily from Pakistan, he did not want us to follow the traditions of the past, but to experiment with new forms of design and planning. The result of his policy was that we were able to integrate Schools, Family Planning and Health Clinics, open air Swimming Baths and open air Theatres with the Housing.

All the houses, (and as far as I know, Chandigarh is the only city in India where this is true), had proper sanitary facilities and a good water supply. The cheaper housing was all of a terrace type which allowed the occupants to have larger rooms and more security for their money. Before large numbers were built, we built prototypes of each different house type which were then lived in, criticised, and improved. In this way we found that the Indians were able to experiment with new types of dwelling.

Public open space was provided for all low income housing. House rentals were graded so that no more than a tenth of man's income went on rent. We banned the keeping of animals (such as buffaloes and cows) in with the housing, since this custom had led to much fly-borne disease. The Indians were to realise that many of their traditional forms of housing were obsolete and were willing to try out new ways of living - such a forward looking attitude needs to be created in South Africa. The design of new forms of Housing affected house design throughout India.

The Indians found that it was worth while (contrary to many people's expectations) to look after the trees and not to destroy them for firewood. We did many things which were quite new to them, but with constant communication we had their cooperation.

From India, my next big task was in Southern Iran. I was commissioned to design small villages dealing with very strict Muslims and an acutely hot climate. Again I was lucky to have accurate statistics on the inhabitants' potential earnings and of the climate. I was able to talk to people and learn about their way of life. With fly-borne disease being one of the major causes of blindness, we tried to ban the keeping of animals in housing. I designed and built houses for the Nomads and planted trees and hedges.

We were lucky in that there was a great will to work among the Africans, Indians, and Iranians for whom we worked. Perhaps this comes from great suffering. They were pitifully poor.

The rise of the Ayatollah, and the War with Iraq, cut short my Iranian projects.

From all of this you will have gathered that my life has been interesting. As a woman architect, the only problem I met with on grounds of sex was from Institute of Civil Engineers in England. They invited me, as President of the Architectural Association, to be their guest of honour, adding that I could not bring my lady, as no women were permitted at their dinner ! They had not realised that I was a woman ! I accepted. The result was that from then on women were permitted to attend !

In looking back, having been very happy as an Architect, living for my work (rather than working for my living), I realise that my career did interfere with my family life. I was, at least, lucky in the wonderful nanny I had for my children. She stayed with us for 30 years. When London became unsafe and the children (who had the misfortune of being wartime children) were evacuated to a farm in Wales, it was their nanny who went with them. Max was away at war. I stayed behind and I ran the office in London.

When Max and I went to West Africa my children went with their stepsister to a Boarding School - something I think they resented. They never visited us in West Africa, but during our 3 years in India, we had them out for a long holiday. However, what with the oppressive heat, their inability to accept the realities of the world of refugees, and the fact that, as teenagers, they had other priorities, they did not enjoy it very much. They disliked our long absences and were happier when we returned to practise in England. I think too, that the times I spent, alone, in Iran and at Harvard, were hard on Max.

In England, we always had our home and office in the same building and we always had our meals at home. This enabled us to see a great deal of the children during holidays – and specially at meal times. We later bought a country house where they were able to keep a dog and cats, and have friends to stay.

I do not think that women are better, or worse, than men at architecture. I think that, irrespective of sex, talent and ability should be developed and put to use, but in so doing children should not be neglected. I believe that women should, if possible, breast feed their babies, But that much of the upbringing of children is best done by both parents. The labour-saving devices and new attitudes of modern life makes this far more possible than in the past.

In South Africa, my hope is that education will be more possible for women of all races so that more will become professionally involved. The country needs their participation in the enormous task of transforming cities and towns. I believe that for this transformation to be possible, the Government will have to realise the importance of Architecture and Planning. I hope all important work will, as In France and Belgium, be put out to open competition and Architects be appointed on merit, irrespective of sex or race or nationality. The black African townships in South Africa are a disgrace, so are many of the towns in Europe, America, and Russia. However, if able men and women who are good Architects and Planners and socially responsible people are put in control I have seen, from my own experience, how quickly things, with goodwill, can be changed, but it requires a moral rather than a purely materialistic view of Architecture and this is where women, with their instincts for love and affection, may be especially useful. The changes that have taken place and are taking place in the world during my lifetime are tremendous; too many to list, but they make it difficult to predict what form town design and building should take in the future.

The motives for building towns have changed as have methods of manufacture, of shopping of living. With a general increase in prosperity and knowledge there is far more emphasis on energy conservation and on security these last years. Tourism has become one of the greatest industries; one in four children now born in the West are in single parent families. Homelessness has become a major problem.

When my partner and I worked on Town Planning for then four British West African Colonies and on the sectors at Chandigarh the new capital of the Punjab, we thought we had some of the answers. We knew how to eliminate illnesses malaria etcetera, what amenities should go with housing etcetera, how to provide a good drinking water system and cheap electricity etcetera. Our difficulties were not with the Architectural problems but with problems to do with peoples' pride and religion. It is difficult to specify the emotional mix required for Architecture but it is very important.

There is a great task to be undertaken by Architects - but it needs guidance from the Governments. The task is that of housing the beggars and the homeless. We have the absurd situation of millions out of work and thousands of homeless people. We also have a much older population to house. Nehnru, the Premier of India for whom we worked, consciously wished Chandigarh to be designed to help civilisation, and to be a prototype for Indian towns everywhere and I find the logic behind its planning difficult to fault.

All housing had Health Centres and Nursery Schools within reach within a short walk so that mothers could work. The Health Centre was where cheap methods of Birth Control could be learnt and where people could learn about diet and how food should be kept fly proofed etcetera. People could use the Health Centre for minor ailments but its purpose was prevention rather than cure. A green area stretched right through the centre of every sector, so that recreation space was immediately available. This green stretched up to the mountains. In Chandigarh on e of the first tasks was to get a tree nursery planted. Trees not only provided shade and lowered the temperature, but also identification.

This was particularly true in Iran. The links cause and effect are not always understood. For each type of house we tried to build a prototype and have it lived in and criticised and improved before proceeding to build more of the same type.

The places which has shocked me most are Soweto in South Africa and the slums of Bombay and Calcutta, There does not seem to be anyone getting cooperation from the residents in these places. No agreed plan as to what Industry could thrive in the existing towns.

I would like to see a competition set in South Africa for transforming Alexandra town and Soweto into lovely places to live and work. It could be done.

(Architecture SA, 1993. Vol 13, Issue 3, Mar: 22-23)

Articles by DREW

Drew, J. 1993. Jane Drew : reflections on my life and work : comment. Architecture SA. Vol 13 Issue 3, Mar 22-23

Books citing DREW

Emanuel, Muriel. 1980. Contemporary architects. London: Macmillan. pp 215-216

Morgan, Ann Lee & Naylor, Colin. 1987 [1980]. Contemporary Architects. Chicago and London: St. James Press. pp 244-245

Placzek, Adolf K (Editor in Chief). 1982. Macmillan encyclopedia of architects (Volume 1 of 4). New York: The Free Press. pp 598-600