MARY MEDD 1907-2005: Researching a Life in Education and Architecture Review

by Eleanor Gawne, AA Head Librarian
19 December 2013 Architectural Association, London   One remit of the AA Collections Working Group is to raise the profile of the different collections from books to images to the archives. A recent Members event, held on 27 November 2013, showed how well the collections complement each other and how they can be brought together to give a more complete picture of a single subject, as well as offering avenues of research for scholars and practitioners.   [caption id="attachment_2583" align="alignnone" width="287"] L.Drake, AA Pantomime, 1931. AA Archives[/caption] The event was the first of a series leading up to the one hundredth anniversary of women at the AA. This will culminate in a centenary celebration, exhibition and conference in 2017.   Mary Medd (neé Crowley) trained at the AA from 1927-32. Dr Catherine Burke of the University of Cambridge described the process of her research for her recently-published book A life in education and architecture: Mary Beaumont Medd (Ashgate, 2013), giving a fascinating account of Medd’s training, some early influences and her long career in postwar school building. Catherine had used the AA Archives in her research for the book, but we felt there was also a lot of relevant material in the Photo Library and Library too. This was an excellent occasion to display the wealth of material available and explain how to access it.  
After Catherine’s talk, ‘show and tell’ talks were given by Byron Blakeley (Photo Library), Ed Bottoms (Archives) and myself (Library), on material selected from the collections that related to Mary’s education and work. Each curator selected around 10 items and displayed them in the room so that the audience could come and have a good look at them after the talks.   Byron discussed the importance of F.R. Yerbury as a photographer with contacts among contemporary architects. He showed images of the AA study trips to Scandinavia in the early 1930s which clearly had a profound impact on Mary. Byron also showed some photographs of British postwar schools including one of a construction site, with Mary standing in the foreground, typically with her back to the camera. Some of the images were in the form of glass lantern slides, viewable on a lightbox.   [caption id="attachment_2586" align="alignnone" width="360"] Alban Wood School, Watford, by Hertfordshire County Architects, 1954. Architectural Association Photo Library[/caption] From the Archives, Ed discussed documentation that he holds relating to Mary’s education at the AA including the student register, a massive volume which records Mary’s course marks, which were uniformly high. He also displayed correspondence from the Société des Architectes Diplômés par le Gouvernement, Paris on Mary’s award of the medal for the best Diploma student in 1931-32. Mary appeared in several AA pantomimes, though she was a reluctant performer, so Ed showed a hand-drawn poster for an AA pantomime from 1931, and played a sound recording of an amusing pantomime song from this time.   [caption id="attachment_2584" align="alignnone" width="360"] AA Pantomime, 1929 (Mary Crowley is on far left). Architectural Association Photo Library[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2587" align="alignnone" width="360"] Eveline Lowe Primary School, Building Bulletin 36, Department of Education and Science, 1967. AA Library
The Stockholm Town Hall by Ragnar Ostberg, 1929. AA Library[/caption] Library material shown related to Mary’s education, including books on Stockholm City Hall and Dudok’s architecture published in 1928 and 1929 that Mary would probably have seen at the time. Mary’s early career was represented by an article on a competition design for evacuation camps for mothers and children; air raid precautions, designed by Mary with Ernő Goldfinger and published in the Architect and Building News in 1939. Her career at Hertfordshire County Council and then the Ministry of Education were represented by a copy of Building for education 1948-61, published by Hertfordshire County Council to commemorate the completion of 200 new schools, and several copies of the Building Bulletin, published by the Ministry of Education to instruct and inform local authorities, which Mary and David Medd contributed to anonymously in the 1950s and 1960s.   We are planning further Members events in 2014, the first of which will be with Manolis Stavrakakis speaking on his use of the AA collections for his PhD research on Michael Ventris on 19 February 2014. Please check the AA website for further details.   For more information: AA Library AA Archives AA Photo Library AA Member Events Listing