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Is it time for the RIBA to name-swap?


Changing the name of the riba to the Royal Institute of British Architecture has attractions. It would be a symbolic act, separating the idea of the organisation as learned society from the (false) notion that it is simply a 'trade union for architects'. It would fit in easily with the Royal Charter, which makes no reference to the advancement of architects, but is concerned with 'civil architecture'. It would also signify a new openness to creating members among non-architects, in the form of a subscriber class. The idea has powerful supporters from across the architectural spectrum, including past president Owen Luder and Gold Medallist Colin Stansfield Smith, as well as the current president, David Rock, who will put the idea to Council next week.

This is not a decision which should be taken lightly, nor should it be rushed. For one thing, the current title has served well for 160 years, and it is not self-evident that it acts as a brake or hindrance to the profession. Nor is it likely that changing one word in a title including four would make the riba more recognisable to the general public - that is a very long-term process, and is considerably less important than the general promotion of architecture itself. And for those with a general interest in architecture, there are countless non-professional bodies to join.

There is one other reason for being cautious at this time, which is the unsettled relationship between the institute and the new registration body (probably inevitable while the latter finds its feet). Currently, the entitlement to become a full member of the riba requires the successful passing of the institute's examinations, a considerable achievement. If anyone at all can become a member of the institute, it implies that there would be no special status conferred on architects, or that their status would become confused. Until the air has cleared over the future of registration and the institute, the less uncertainty there is at Portland Place, the better.

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