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studied mayhem

Nick Hayhurst and Beth Kay are out to use the RIBA to make architecture students' lives better. They have secured institute support for a minimum wage for students, and are currently planning future campaigns by robert booth. photograph by david richards

There is no messing about when student leaders Nick Hayhurst and Beth Kay want to make a point.

'We are two students and we are causing mayhem, ' Hayhurst snaps. 'We've started to win and we are going to win more, and you can write that.'

In the guise of the national student architectural society, Archaos, the duo have been lobbying hard for student rights at the RIBA, where I met them planning this week's second national conference.

A sneaked look at their draft agenda for the event reveals that despite rubbing shoulders with RIBA president Marco Goldschmied, they haven't lost touch with their constituency of 10,000 students. For the more fatigued delegates they have thoughtfully pencilled in a session of 'general chilling-out' before business begins. Student politics looks fun.

Despite being the youngest people at the RIBA Council Hayhurst, 22, and Kay, 23, have managed to push through one of the most controversial policies of the last year. Earlier this month they used a combination of passionate speech-making and selection of influential allies to persuade the RIBA to endorse a minimum wage for all architecture students on work experience placements.

Hayhurst is a graduate of the Edinburgh School of Art and hasn't yet started his diploma studies, but he already has the patter of a seasoned politician. He trots out his politics with alarming ease and says smoothly of the RIBA: 'It needs to be direct, it needs to be quick, it needs to be accountable'. Hayhurst is currently on a work placement at Hyett Salisbury Whitely in London.

After his degree he took a job in a cocktail bar and found himself earning more than he would have done in any architect's office. Disgusted, he used the time before his evening shifts to write a report on the state of student finances in the UK.

The conclusions were to give Archaos enough campaigning material for a year. He and his Archaos co-founder Mark Corbett, found that 12 per cent were being paid less than the minimum wage. 'I know some people earning only £6,000 a year, ' he says. Hayhurst likes to make his point with passion and has developed a penchant for using hyperbole such as 'sweatshop conditions' in the normally staid RIBA council debates.

'The potential to make a change is really something, 'he says.'It gives you a buzz to stand up in incredibly austere RIBA council surroundings and say something in front of the people who make policy decisions on a national level.'

Kay's route onto the RIBA ruling body stemmed from her curiosity about the organisation. During her degree at Cambridge University there was no encouragement to become involved in the RIBA and she left feeling that something was missing from her education.

'I was fuelled by a lack of knowledge about the RIBA and when I went into practice I became aware of students doing two things for the price of one, ' she says.This drove her to apply for a position as student observer on council and now she travels down from her diploma studies in Glasgow for each quarterly meeting. But her first few forays into architectural politics have not been easy.

'I was really nervous making my first contribution and found it difficult to keep up with the debate, ' she says. 'But a lot of people do stand up and make the most stupid comments.'

She also remarks on the dominance of men and the lack of representation for young practices on the RIBA council. She predicts that this latter problem will be solved as computer technology allows young architects to rise more quickly through the ranks with better and bolder designs.

When Hayhurst steps down from council next July, Kay will become the main voice for students at Portland Place and will take Archaos into a new phase.

Its mission to secure a commitment to minimum wages for students is complete and it is planning research to check that employers abide by the suggested pay scales. Now the plan is to change the way architectural study is structured.

This is the subject of this week's conference and the duo's current thinking is that diploma students should have greater opportunity for specialisation in Part 2. 'Instead of producing the general architectural practitioner, courses ought to open up to far more specialised routes such as urban design or housing, ' Hayhurst says. 'This should become part of the main syllabus.'

They also think that students need to be taught stronger construction skills and Kay says she wants to see wider teaching of nuts and bolts skills, such as how to use the National Building Specification system. The thought of tutorials on this is unlikely to set student hearts on fire but this practical approach does not mean that their attitude to architecture is bland. In fact their aspirations are lofty.

'If I won the Lottery I'd like to be both developer and architect, ' Kay says. 'I'd buy a site in London, have a multi-faceted scheme with housing and a cafe and make it pay for itself.

Urban and cultural regeneration; that would be really exciting.'

Both name Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron among their heroes and Hayhurst mentions Dutch practice MVRDV. They admire these European architects for being 'adventurous', for 'strong visual imagery, ' and for their use of computers. Pushed to name favourite British architects they hesitate, before naming Caruso St John's Walsall gallery and Benson & Forsyth's Museum of Scotland. What about Rogers and Foster? 'Brand name practices are the main criminals in these low-paid, long hours jobs, ' says Kay.Hayhurst labels them 'catwalk architects'.

Archaos is still less than a year old, but with two hard-working and persuasive leaders such as Kay and Hayhurst, its future as the lobbying voice for the UK's student body already looks secure.

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