Fry and Drew: Conference

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Keynote 1

Hilde Heynen, ‘Modernism, colonialism and feminism. Theoretical reflections on the entanglements in the life and work of Jane Drew’.

The entanglement between modernism and colonialism has been a topic of serious consideration in recent decades. Following the lead of Edward Said, it is argued that colonial discourse was intrinsic to European self-understanding: it is through their conquest and their knowledge of foreign peoples and territories (two experiences which usually were intimately linked), that Europeans could position themselves as modern, as civilized, as superior, as developed and progressive vis-à-vis local populations that were none of that. The crucial – if often only implicit – role of colonial discourse in the endeavour of modernism thus has to be acknowledged. Likewise it seems that modernism and feminism are in some sort of entanglement: they share – at least – the ideals of emancipation and liberation for all, although it is also clear that modernist discourse favours male protagonists and masculine interests.

Jane Drew as a person and an architect found herself in the midst of these entanglements. As a committed participant in the Modern Movement, she was engaged in questions of housing in the UK as well as elsewhere, in British colonies or ex-colonies. Her commitment to the Modern Movement was not contradictory to, but rather continuous with, her service to the colonial state. Her involvement in the construction of Chandigarh was also consistent with the hegemonic position of modernism, criticized by later postcolonial thinkers. As one of the very few active woman architects of her generation, she must have encountered quite some antagonism and sexism from colleagues, clients and superiors.

This lecture will ponder these entanglements, inquiring about Jane Drew’s position as a woman architect in the tropics, investigating whether the ‘colonial’ conditions offered her a kind of laboratory for deploying her full capacities as an architect, which might have been more difficult in the more conventional environment of the UK. The lecture will not focus on the life and work of Jane Drew as such, but rather use these as a starting point for developing some theoretical reflections.


Hilde Heynen is Full Professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning at the University of Leuven. Her research focuses on issues of modernity, modernism and gender in architecture. She is the author of Architecture and Modernity. A Critique (MIT Press, 1999) and the co-editor of Back from Utopia. The Challenge of the Modern Movement (with Hubert-Jan Henket, 010, 2001), Negotiating Domesticity. Spatial productions of gender in modern architecture (with Gulsum Baydar, Routledge, 2005) and The SAGE Handbook Architectural Theory (with Greig Crysler and Stephen Cairns, Sage, 2012). She regularly publishes in journals such as The Journal of Architecture and Home Cultures.

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