top of page

Out of the Shadows:

Study of Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s Thought and Practice in Post-War Britain 

Eglé Packauskaite 

‘The planner obviously needs a thorough knowledge of his job but beyond that he must have plenty of courage and tact and – above all – a practical imagination that enables him always to look just ahead and see a future pattern of richer life that is attainable – given the will to work towards it’.[1]

Mary Jaqueline Tyrwhitt (1905 - 1983) was a multifaceted character in planning history. Classified as a planner, educator, landscape architect, editor... and arguably an historian and author, she is to be understood as a skilled researcher, thinker, and practitioner. Born in Pretoria, South Africa, she was brought up in Britain, becoming an international citizen through her work in the United States, Canada, India and across Europe, with her archives containing letters from friends and colleagues who struggled to remember which address she settled in at the time of writing.

Despite her life-long planning career and having been a key participant in the most pivotal moments in architectural history, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt remains a lesser- studied figure – her history interpreted by some as one of compliant invisibility. While introducing the AA’s ‘Plan the Planet’ conference on the career of Tyrwhitt, organiser John Palmesino remarked that the speakers were ‘not there to celebrate her’, because ‘there was a reason why she was in the shadows...’.[2] Countering Palmesino’s comment that she was ‘a woman in the shadows’, I show instead
that she established her own practice amongst majority of men colleagues in the professional fields, including planning and academia.[3] Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation is to actively highlight her visibility and offer a feminist ‘gendered practice’[4] as a means to re-read her contribution.

Histories of Tyrwhitt so far shy away from the question of gender, instead
attributing her work to the men she was associated with.[5] It is worth noting that
the most recent, and the only existing, monograph about Tyrwhitt was written by Ellen Shoshkes in 2016. Since it is the first book of its kind, it shows an effort to introduce and narrate the historically linear trajectory of Tyrwhitt’s life and career. Perhaps traditional empirical methodology has resulted in overlooking the notion of subjectivity, but having witnessed the lively and ambitious nature of Tyrwhitt’s vast amount of work I struggle to agree with accepted discussions which suggest she
is a ‘woman behind a man’, an ‘intermediary’ or a ‘catalyst’.[6] However, considering the time during which Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s career unfolded, it is easy to conclude that her visibility was overshadowed by the dominance of male figures in planning and architecture - but not erased.[7] Archival material alone shows her as an active agent in the architectural sphere, and my research addresses this by focusing on the post-war period in the UK. I pay attention to archival material, which has not been addressed previously, and build upon existing empirical studies of Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s background, while also ‘weaving’ in new narratives, which bring her to the forefront of her history. By looking at the archives containing Tyrwhitt’s own work and her gendered historical experience, I argue that Jaqueline Tyrwhitt did not work ‘willingly’ behind a man, nor was she ‘in the shadows’ - the mere amount of work she accomplished denies these notions.

My method comprises of using lesser-known pieces of archival evidence and close reading of their historical context to understand Tyrwhitt’s planning approach, as
well as addressing her subjectivity in the built environment with an emphasis on questions of gender. To do this, I examine three key artefacts discovered in the archives: Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s draft documents for the work she did for the Festival of Britain 1951 (National Archives), sketches for the festival’s Town Planning exhibition (RIBA Archives) and undated diagrams referred to as her own ‘thinking machines’ (Strathclyde University Archives) which exemplify methods of communicating thought through drawing. Each of these moments in Tyrwhitt’s history are discussed

in the wider historical contexts of post-war planning policy, displayed at the Festival of Britain, and rationalisation of modern thought, which Tyrwhitt used to make women visible in planned communities. As the director of research at the Association for Planning and Regional Reconstruction (APRR), Tyrwhitt gained valuable insight into everyday lives of the general population, including those of women, allowing

her to employ objective data in her work. Her attention to subjectivity was concerned with a ‘human scale’[8] in the urban environment, visible in her representational methods, which comprised of geometric diagrams illustrating spatial and temporal relations between the individuals and their planned habitat.


Following the subject of representing ideas through drawing, I attempt to trace some of Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s planning strategies by close reading of her grid diagrams in order to distinguish her contributions to the work of prominent planning collectives
- APRR and CIAM. This contemplates the dichotomy between collaborative method and lack of visibility. Both forms of Tyrwhitt’s practice are equally important and have underlying methodology that I begin to unravel by interpreting her personal ‘thinking machines’ as theoretical frameworks - the method she used to translate the diagrams of Patrick Geddes into viable planning solutions. By treating her thinking through notation as her remaining voice, I aim to find common threads between Tyrwhitt’s universal visual language for the benefit of interdisciplinary knowledge

in planning, and holistic approach in her own practice that recognised the notion of feedback in human settlements.

My research aims to resurface Jaqueline Tyrwhitt’s methods to highlight the historical importance of her contributions to the architectural and planning practices. Her reflexive methods - nowadays associated with feminist research - rejected hierarchical notions of ‘paternal’ planning policies, instead turning to informed provisional approach, which exemplified attention to individual subjective needs as vital to the well-being of the commons. The purpose of the dissertation, therefore, is to contribute to the written history of women in architecture and learn from the practice of Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, who was also an active historian - always looking back to find lessons for future progress. Utopian in nature, Tyrwhitt’s work has the potential to encourage the imageries of a better tomorrow and ways to actively work towards it.

R_Packauskaite, Eglé_Fig. 1.jpg

Illustration by author, 2022

[1] Test for Festival of Britain Handbook, 1957, TyJ/14/6, The Jaqueline Tyrwhitt Papers, The RIBA Collections. 

[2] Territorial Agency, “Plan the Planet – Part 1” filmed 2015, Architectural Association, 11:30.
According to John Palmesino, the speakers were ‘not there to celebrate her’, because ‘there was a reason why she was in the shadows... she never really became this heroic figure - we don’t want to somehow do today what she didn’t want to have happened during her lifetime.’ They were instead ‘there to celebrate the space she opened up - this space of multiple and collective leadership’ that Palmesino thought was ‘really what is at stake in understanding her legacy...’

[3] Ellen Shoshkes, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt: A Transnational Life in Urban Planning and Design (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing), 173. Ellen Shoshkes quotes a letter from Sigfried Giedion to Jaqueline Tyrwhitt after her appointment at Harvard as an assistant faculty member: ‘The main thing for you will be: to be as female and silent as possible, an as little as possible a school master; especially in this tense atmosphere!’


[4] Jane Rendell, ‘Subjective Space: A Feminist Architectural History of the Burlington Arcade’, in Desiring Practices: Architecture, Gender and the Interdisciplinarity, ed. Katerina Rüedi, Sarah Wiggleswort and Duncan McCorquodale (London: Black Dog Publishing, 1996), 218.

[5] Ellen Shoshkes, ‘Jaqueline Tyrwhitt: A Founding Mother of Modern Urban Design’, Planning Perspectives 21 (2006): 179. ‘Tyrwhitt’s great contribution, especially to the planning arm of the Modern Movement ... is under- recognised, largely because she worked willingly as the ‘woman behind the man’ - notably as a disciple of Patrick Geddes, translator and editor of Sigfried Giedion, and collaborator of Constantinos Doxiadis.’


[6] Shoshkes, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt: A Transnational Life in Urban Planning and Design, 3.

[7] Matt Thomson, ‘Reviewed work(s): Jaqueline Tyrwhitt: A Transnational Life in Urban Planning and Design by Ellen Shoshkes’, Utopian Studies 25, no.1 (2014): 244. ‘The planning profession rarely celebrates its heroes, whose limelight is often taken by political decision makers, more senior managers, and prominent named architects, most of whom, particularly over Tyrwhitt’s working life, are usually men.’

[8] Gwen Bell and Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, ‘Human Identity in the Urban Environment’ (London: Penguin Books, 1972) ‘Several dominant figures of the first half of the twentieth century have emphasised the need for understanding of population characteristics, planning for future growth, and the creation of programs for present action,
and three of them have provided tools which can make it possible to maintain human identity throughout urbanisation process.’ (p.16)

bottom of page