The Architectural Association School of Architecture is running an exhibition called: ‘Portraits of a Practice: The Life and Work of MJ Long’.

The exhibition explores the work of the architect MJ Long as revealed through a doll’s house she made in the late 1970s for her young daughter, Sal. This doll’s house offers an important yet unusual perspective on Long’s exceptional academic and professional life, during which she constantly negotiated the various labels that were applied to her – architect, mother, teacher, immigrant, (professional) partner, wife, woman – whether she identified with them or not.

MJ Long built Sal’s doll’s house on the floor of the living room in the home she shared with her husband and business partner Colin St John Wilson. Together they co-designed the British Library in London and, during a particularly fraught stage in the process, she chose to devote her limited free time to the painstaking construction of this structure, incorporating aspects of her childhood, academic interests and personal life to create this large timber object whose style is distinct from anything she made in practice.

The exhibition uses the doll’s house and its contents as a portal through which to examine Long’s different spaces of work and leisure. It includes photography, the voices of friends, family and colleagues, and contemporary reconstructions of lost work alongside original material from the RIBA Archives. This allows us to delve into the context, references and influences that shaped Long’s practice. Perhaps the doll’s house, and the gendered complexities of family life and domesticity that it represents, can be read as an invitation to reconsider what constitutes work.

MJ LONG (19392018)
Mary Jane Long was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1939. She studied architecture at Yale School of Architecture, where she met Colin St John (Sandy) Wilson. She moved to the UK in 1965 to join his architecture practice and was principal architect partner during the 30-year creation of the British LibraryShe married Wilson in 1972. She independently designed studios for artists including Peter Blake, RB Kitaj and Frank Auerbach, and published a book called Artists’ Studios in 2009 about the 14 studios she designed. She also worked on museums and galleries including the Jewish Museum in London and the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth in partnership with Rolfe Kentish, and created an extension to Pallant House Gallery in Chichester with Wilson. MJ Long was a lecturer at Yale for over 40 years. She died in September 2018.

The Portraits of Practice event series accompanies the exhibition. The series takes the themes and topics explored within the exhibition as its starting point to discuss the gendering of spaces and objects within architecture and its related disciplines. Find out more about the events in the series here.

Image credit: Yushi Li