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out of office

Marco Goldschmied's two-year sojourn as RIBA president is drawing to a close. But he still has a few plans for the institute before he returns full-time to his long career at the Richard Rogers Partnership

Paul Hyett's victory in the RIBA presidential election last week set the clock ticking on Marco Goldschmied's remaining time in the presidential office at Portland Place.

The managing director of Richard Rogers Partnership has four months left before the removal men wheel out the original Peter Cook drawings and Eileen Gray furniture which he brought in from RRP's riverside headquarters to make his three-day-a-week office a second home. In July, Hyett will bring in his own style and the Goldschmied era will be over.

So with time running out, the 56 year old is forced to consider his future. A return to full-time work at RRP looks certain, he says, and he is putting the finishing touches to a book, provisionally titled Visions of the Twenty-first Century, which features contributions from architects and thinkers from all over the world. He wants to concentrate on the thorny issue of masterplanning and develop, in his own words, 'a new planning methodology'. He explains that the system remains too topdown and has created an environment where modern architecture has 'taken fright'. But on the question of whether these projects are undertaken alongside an active role at the RIBA, he is open to advice.

'Some past presidents tell me you should be very actively involved, others say you should disappear without trace, ' he says. 'I haven't decided yet.'

If he does disappear from the RIBA scene, it will be a loss to the institute - and not only because he is one of the only big-name designers to actively support the RIBA while others, such as his high-profile partner Lord Rogers, have preferred to keep the institute at arm's length, criticising and helping in turns.

Today Goldschmied can celebrate pushing through two key reforms of the profession: establishing sustainability on the curriculum of architecture courses; and allowing non architects onto the board of the RIBA to improve its management. The latter, he says, is a challenge to 'the oldfashioned arrogance of the architect thinking he can do everything'.

His approach to architecture is broader than most and his appreciation of the way social, economical and technological changes affect the profession is deep. It is a sensitivity which, he says, has been heightened during his time as president.

Goldschmied's ascent through the architectural ranks has been smooth.When he was 19, family friends who helped him choose between places at the Architectural Association and the Bartlett included the famous housing architect Walter Segal. 'I'm of a certain background, slightly left wing, where you have access to these sort of people, ' he says.

He then joined Rogers, with whom he has stayed for his entire career, riding a wave of glamorous projects from the Centre Pompidou - an early plan of which is hung on his office wall - to the National Assembly of Wales. And although already well connected (he shares a love of the same fine cigars as his friends Renzo Piano and Frank Gehry), he freely admits that his three days a week on presidential duties have opened his mind to the broader issues around architecture.

'I suppose I have had the advantage and disadvantage of never being sacked, ' he says.

'I've never worked anywhere else. So in that sense this position has given me thinking space and different connections and perspectives.' And he is in expansive mood to explore those 'connections and perspectives'.

Goldschmied has become particularly aware that architects need to fight back against recent political history, which he claims has sought to disparage the role of the professional.

'One hesitates to brand a particular party with a particular image but if we go back to the 18 years of Tory rule and its legacy, it has left, among other things, a suspicion of all professionals which I think is highly damaging to the nation, ' he says. 'You can point to the naughty doctors and architects but every day people are doing very, very good service in a quiet, unpublicized way.

This climate of suspicion is a nasty legacy and the Tories need to somehow get over that.'

With a similarly broad political analogy he argues that the RIBA should operate less like a trade association and more like a cultural institute.

'If we are only a membership organisation then we might as well just register as a trade union. Fine if that's what you want, but frankly who listens to people like Arthur Scargill any more? So that's not enough and I find it a dangerous reduction of what the RIBA stands for. The cultural dimension is the one that is weakest at the moment, the one that has been neglected, and perhaps not surprisingly after 18 years of government with an almost anti-culture bias.'

Goldschmied's grasp of historical events and their impact sits alongside a keenness to talk about the way changes like faster information technology will affect the world.

His clothes are often up-to-the-minute fashions such as Prada, and his mobile phone lights up with a gimmicky neon glow when it rings - all of which speaks of a youthful determination to stay in step with the latest trends. The course of the presidency has also produced a more slimline Goldschmied. A regime of cycling and working out has seen this famous car lover's weight fall visibly - by pounds or stones, he won't say. But while his aptitude for seeing the big picture is undeniable, he shows a tendency towards a short fuse when it comes to the minutiae of life. A simple exchange with his personal assistant over whether he would like a coffee quickly becomes awkward and tense when wires get crossed.

As his time in charge ebbs away, he still has a few tricks up his sleeve for the RIBA. First will be the controversial application to put 3m tall windmills on top of 66 Portland Place as part of an effort to halve the building's energy bill - saving the cash from 250 member subscriptions each year, he has calculated. Then there is the expected general election, at which the RIBA will make a string of policy announcements, as 'a challenge to the government to say how it will deliver on its beliefs'. Then he will be gone.

During negotiations over constitutional change at the RIBA at the end of last year Goldschmied rejected the idea of extending his term, and as that comes to a close he has no regrets.

'I think two years is fine. Sometimes it has been a bit of a drag, but looking at it in the round, if you've laid some foundations that are worth something in the future, then you should be very happy with that.'

The fact is that the presidency has given Goldschmied a much-needed break from relentless practice, and the foundations which have been laid seem to be as beneficial for him as for the profession.

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