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Big three battle for the soul of architecture

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Marco Goldschmied was adjudged to have won on points as the three candidates for the riba presidency slugged it out before disappointingly few hardy souls who gathered to quiz them at Portland Place last week.

Richard Rogers Partnership partner Goldschmied gave an assured ten-minute presentation on his manifesto at the event in the Jarvis Hall, organised by the institute's South-east region but attended by scarcely 40 people. His main points were that he is standing because he believes 'more in architecture than in the riba, as an asset of gb plc', but that the profession is declining in a number of ways, especially with the collapse of the local authority set-up. It is time to stop apologising for past mistakes generally piled at the architect's door and time to convince the public that the architect does more than sketch on a back of an envelope.

He wants a thorough review of Part III to bring it into touch with more complex times. For the riba, he wants it to be less defensive with the media, forge better links with politicians and become a place people want to join rather than feel punished into joining. Goldschmied also had some barbed words for the Client's Advisory Service, which he felt denied the public the best architects, and he tried to appeal to small practices by claiming he had extensive experience as such a practitioner, once being 'bollocked' by his bank manager for going £400 over his £10,000 overdraft facility - before winning the Lloyds commission and changing banks.

John Wright offered a markedly different manifesto based mainly on trying to appeal to the 'grass roots'. He said he had been inspired to stand by looking closely at the riba in the light of a threat by a region to resign en masse over proposed restructuring. 'It seemed to me we've now taken a step too far - we're disenfranchising our membership.' He wants a new structure allowing the membership to be heard, with more powerful regions with constituencies and councillors to hold surgeries. Wright wants to raise the profile of the profession but feels this is impossible without putting in place a new, democratic structure and becoming more inclusive.

The third candidate, Colin James, detailed the widespread financial changes he had already made as treasurer as evidence that he would make bigger 'radical' changes as president. In his financial review he replaced the auditor, after 109 years, and other 'basic but absolutely essential stuff', including noting the absence of institute progress-chasing. 'The riba needs to do less, but do it well,' he said. In 2020 he wants 60,000 subscribers, 30,000 members and a situation where the public think it foolhardy not to use an architect. For James the cas is 'exceptional', but the profession needs to be 'remarketed', and again have top-level contact with politicians, but he would not make 'rash or undeliverable' promises. 'We'll not survive by being protectionist or by being cheap. We are about progressing architecture,' he said. He was also keen to make the public associate 'building' with 'architect', rather than 'builder', by using less architectural, more ordinary, language when speaking to the public.

Questions from the floor included the matter of championing the cause of public-sector architects, inspiring Wright to condemn privatisation as the most destructive thing to have happened in the uk - he wants a scala representative on council. Jake Brown slammed the institute for being ineffective except for the 'haute couture performer' and for abandoning its annual conference, which meant there was never a debate or analysis of the Egan report. Another criticism from the floor was of the riba's lack of information on, or care for, the sole practitioner, to which James replied: 'I can do nothing to improve the lot of the small practice - it can't be done.'

James wants to raise income by getting the begging bowl out to corporate sponsors - Goldschmied through making the institute a place people want to join.

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