Marco's mid-term report: must try harder?
A £5 million TV deal to screen the Stirling Prize on Channel 4, £125,000 spent on the rebranding and shake-up of the RIBA management and solar panels hung from the 1930s facades of Portland Place.This is just a flavour of the 67th RIBA presidency, Marco-style.
Marco Goldschmied, the 56-year-old Richard Rogers Partnership managing director, has taken a high profile during his first half term, appearing on The Big Breakfast and Radio Four's Any Questions to preach his gospel of design-led planning and sustainable development to the public.And in the coming months he will test the strength of his sustainability agenda with London's planners by lodging a provocative planning application to erect wind turbines on the RIBA headquarters.'I'll be very interested to see what Ken Livingstone and his adviser Lord Rogers make of my windmill application, ' he says.He has presided over the institute's first annual conference in years and has attempted to revive links with planners, engineers and surveyors by offering the Urban Design Alliance a home at Portland Place.There have been internal political struggles however, resulting in the early departure of director general Alex Reid and the supposed sacking and reinstatement of communications chief Roula Konzotis.
On the face of it he has been busy, but he has been frustrated by the ponderous mechanisms of the institute.'I found it really quite tricky to operate with policies set in stone months ahead and the institute almost makes a virtue out of being unresponsive, ' he confides.'I have found the whole machinery of the RIBA an enormous challenge - it's over-complex and I'd like to strip it down.You have to search for every penny to get, say, an extra £20,000 for Architecture Week which could be the difference between hitting 100,000 people or half a million. Its like spoiling a ship for a ha'porth o'tar.
That's very unlike the Richard Rogers Partnership, where we probably lay far too many layers of tar far too lavishly over too many things.We never didn't do something because of a budget.'
So, Goldschmied is planning to introduce more streamlined accounting and decision-making systems.The structure he hopes for will be more like a public limited company and less like a 'gentleman's club', as Lord Rogers describes it, with senior executives joining elected members on the decision-making board.'One of the key messages to come out of our consultations is that the institute is extremely cumbersome in its decisionmaking process and needs to be more nimble, the way the Architecture Foundation and CABE are.We have to be relevant and we have to be fast.'
He has also presided over the start of the refurbishment of the RIBA headquarters and he brushes aside complaints that his plans to do this and to rebrand the institute are proving too expensive: 'We are talking about a root and branch review of the whole set up - this isn't an annual thing and will come perhaps every 20 years. Someone has got to invest for the future here and I think the bulk of members would not begrudge an extra £5 once a decade.'
Goldschmied is clearly concerned about the image of the profession and thinks that the RIBA could attract sponsorship from the corporate world, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, if it smartens up its act. In particular, he hopes to build on the glut of recent TV coverage of architecture. 'Once the big sponsors feel that design, architecture and lifestyle are the right thing [to be associated with], I feel confident that this will become an established platform of revenue, ' he says.
But on his key theme, sustainability, he admits to being 'moderately cynical' about his ability to influence the industry.'Unless [designing unsustainably] hits the pocket, it will be difficult to persuade industry to change, ' he says.Neither does he expect results quickly.'When people ask me how it's going, I say ask me how it went in three years time. I do feel that we are laying foundations. I don't feel personally that I have anything to prove during my presidency.Changes in architecture and the construction industry are a long-term business.'
He is also frank about the RIBA's failure to win influence at government level: 'I don't feel we've made as many inroads as I'd like, but if CABE or Richard Rogers are influencing government, that's OK.It doesn't have to be the RIBA.We haven't had enough contact with MPs and I want to concentrate a lot on that this year.'
THE FORMER COLLEAGUE DR ALEX REID (former director general): 'If there were differences between us it was on the respective roles of the director general and the president at the RIBA and the boundaries between them. But I don't want to dwell on that. Two achievements come to mind. He has pressed for sustainability to be an important item on the agenda and he was instrumental in getting an agreement with the ARB that sustainability should be part of the curriculum in professional exams.
Secondly, he has been successful in promoting awards schemes and achieving major TV coverage for this year's Stirling Prize.'
Reid's verdict: no mark given
THE SUSTAINABILITY CAMPAIGNER BILL DUNSTER: 'I think he's doing quite well. He is one of the first presidents to suggest that architects have a moral obligation to build sustainability into their code of conduct. He also backed the London Living City exhibition at headquarters which was very important but terribly underfunded. There has been lots of well-intentioned moves such as hanging solar panels on Portland Place, although it wasn't such a good idea to block out the light - which shows that he's perhaps not so conversant with the details.
But the president has little power, all he really has is a platform. He is using that well.'
Dunster's verdict: 8.5/10
THE PAST PRESIDENTS DAVID ROCK: 'I think he's doing so-so. Sustainability is a difficult theme to pursue in terms of how to apply the message in working and practical terms. I am disappointed that Marco has 'raided' the reserves in that no money is being put away in 2000 as happened over the past five years to return the RIBA to the black. I am also disappointed that Marco found it necessary to push out former director general Alex Reid before his planned departure at the end of this year. It has meant that there has been no handover with the new chief executive and a cost of around £60,000 to pay Alex to the end of his contract.
In terms of the branding exercise, the upgrading of the RIBA image is taking up so much resources. The profession's image is always a good theme but it can easily swallow up a lot of unquantifiable expense. I am pleased he is recognising procurement as a key issue and that he is supporting the Urban Design Alliance.'
Rock's verdict: 6/10
ROD HACKNEY: 'Marco Goldschmied will be remembered for his work on sustainability, but he won't receive the plaudits now and he shouldn't expect them. The question is whether architects working on designs will be influenced by the RIBA's mood and encouraged to design more sustainable buildings.
The RIBA has realised that it has a wonderful brand and that it is not getting the most out of it. Marco has seen the need for an internal reorganisation and an opportunity for a change in branding and that is to be welcomed. He has also proved himself sufficiently capable as a leader to be persuasive with people at the RIBA who want to leave the organisation as it is. He has done well within the restraints of the bureaucracy.'
Hackney's verdict: 8/10
THE SMALL PRACTITIONER STUART HENDRY: 'I think David Rock was doing more for the 32 per cent of RIBA registered practices which are one- or two-man bands. It seems that the RIBA fails to promote the greater use of architects on building schemes. I feel that we have lost ground to project managers and building contractors. This is particularly the case unless you happen to be one of the big name practices. The RIBA does too much to advance these household name practices and doesn't seem to recognise there is a vast chunk of small practices out there.
On the positive side, I welcome the televising of the Stirling Prize. Anything that promotes architecture as approachable in the nation's living rooms is a plus.'
Hendry's verdict: 6/10
THE POLITICIAN SIR SYDNEY CHAPMAN MP: 'I haven't heard much from the RIBA and I've only met Marco once, so my advice in the second half of his term is that architects in both the Commons and the Lords are here to help him. I've always been anxious to help but the RIBA has hardly been in touch.'
Chapman's verdict: no mark given
THE FEMALE ARCHITECT EVA JIRICNA: 'I'm sure he has tried to have an impact, but I really haven't a clue what he has done or what he has tried to accomplish. Somehow the RIBA is an organisation which isn't close to my heart and I feel that it doesn't contribute to any architectural practice.
Having spent a year or two on RIBA Council under Richard MacCormac, I feel that I don't belong to that group.'
Jiricna's verdict: 5/10
THE PLANNER KEVIN MURRAY (RTPI president): 'There is a danger in saying that architects should lead the urban design process, as he has done. I'd dispute that every urban design project should be run by an architect - I think it should be an urban designer.
I've found him positive in his thinking about urbanism. He doesn't just think about design but also the legal processes and economics behind projects and he has a knowledge of precedents which stretches back 150 years.
In thinking about how we modernise and keep institutes up to date Marco has been willing to explore and be inquisitive and his willingness to grapple with the issues of membership and finance in the future at the RIBA has got to be admired.
It is ironic for Marco that one of the problems for architecture in influencing the government is the high profile of Lord Rogers because he may eclipse the input of other key players.'
Murray's verdict: 7/10
THE CLIENT DICKON ROBINSON: 'Marco seems to have been particularly energetic on sustainability and this is very credible but I don't think we can measure his impact for some years to come because customers, house buyers and office users still have to be convinced of the importance of sustainable design. The tricky thing for Marco is to make sure sustainability is taken seriously and not seen as a crank issue. To do this you need government support and my impression is that the RIBA now has this.'
Robinson's verdict: 8/10
CABE AND THE ARB Both declined to comment.