Jane Durham – Pioneer

Sunday 8 March is International Women’s Day. In this piece, we profile Chapman Taylor founding partner Jane Durham, who became an architect at a time when it was widely considered a “male” career option, working her way to the very top of the profession and helping to make Chapman Taylor the global success story it is today.

Jane Durham was a trailblazer for women in architecture.

As one of Chapman Taylor’s three founding partners, she was crucial to the establishment and subsequent success of the company. She kept a firm grip on the company’s finances through periods of economic boom and bust (teaching herself book-keeping to do so), managed the company office, designed projects, dealt with clients skilfully, worked like a Trojan (often starting her office administration work at 7pm, accompanied by a tipple of whisky) and oversaw the introduction of computer-aided design at the practice, putting it near the head of the industry for technological innovation. She did all of this with a smile.

Born in London in 1930, Jane studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture, where she was one of only three female students in the first year. She had been encouraged to pursue architecture by her mother, at a time when the profession was nearly exclusively male. Six months after graduation in 1954, she answered an advertisement for the position of assistant at a small architectural studio owned by Guy Morgan, where she was offered the job by Bob Chapman.

Jane worked as Bob’s assistant on the Humphries Building project in Knightsbridge and on the rebuilding of the east side of Stanhope Gardens, as well as on a number of feasibility projects.

When Bob, with John Taylor, decided to set up a practice of their own in May 1959, they invited Jane to join them as a founding partner – an endeavour which involved a great personal financial risk on all their parts. Jane was the only female founding partner of an architectural practice in the UK at the time – indeed it was a measure of the attitudes of the era that her name was not included in the company title.

Chapman Taylor's Founding Partners: (L-R) Jane Durham, John Taylor, Bob Chapman,

The fledgling practice, which was first based at Grand House in Trafalgar Square, began work on a number of small residential projects. It was at about this time that the firm received its famous commission to design the New Scotland Yard building in Westminster – the first of many internationally significant schemes for which Chapman Taylor would build an industry-leading reputation, becoming the global success it is today.

Jane was a key driving force behind that success – she worked tirelessly in a number of roles to ensure that the practice thrived, with her energy and multi-tasking abilities providing one of the main pillars on which the practice depended for its development.

In her architectural role, Jane designed a row of eight houses beside the Ritz Hotel and helped to design the upgrade of Carnaby Street as it became the fashion centre for Sixties London. She was a strong believer in social housing, designing large projects for the Peabody association in Covent Garden and North Kensington.

In her spare time, Jane was a competition-winning fly-fisher and an excellent cook. She was also an active member of the National Trust, constantly campaigning to look after local interests within the organisation.

Jane retired from Chapman Taylor in 1990, but continued to stay in touch with the company she helped to found until her death in March 2019, aged 89. She was part of a very small band of female architects who helped to transform attitudes within the industry, and is a role model for those who want to see more, and better, opportunities for women in architecture today.

In the first decade of this century, women accounted for 34-37% of Chapman Taylor employees - today, women make up 52% of Chapman Taylor’s global membership, and growing. Over the next few years, we will see that phenomenon manifesting itself in terms of representation at Director level. The generation of female architectural pioneers which included Jane share the credit for this welcome improvement.

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