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Hodder’s presidential agenda derailed by dysfunctional RIBA

Emergency task group to be set up to tackle ‘legal and management mess’; Derbyshire, Assael and von Bradsky stand for election on shake-up ticket

President Stephen Hodder has been unable to implement the ‘ambitious programme’ of reform he planned for the RIBA because of serious problems with its governance, he has admitted.

Ten months into his two-year term and speaking following an RIBA Council meeting largely held in secret last week, Hodder said issues with the way the organisation is run dating back to Ruth Reed’s presidency between 2009 and 2011 had ‘just not been addressed’.

His admission came as the institute agreed to set up an emergency task group, headed by ‘an experienced lawyer’, to sort out ongoing problems with the way the organisation is run.

The RIBA did not comment on why it is choosing a lawyer to lead the process, but council member and former president Owen Luder said after the council meeting: ‘It is now clear the RIBA has not been run in accordance with charity law over the past four years, which has created a legal and management mess that must be rectified without delay.’

Speaking about the difficulties facing him, Hodder said: ‘My time as president has been very hard so far. There are a lot of issues which have been going on since [previous president] Angela [Brady]’s time, even dating back to Ruth Reed, which have just not been addressed - issues of governance within the RIBA. ‘These have meant I have not been able to tackle what I originally set out to do. But I want to get them sorted.’

Hodder’s manifesto promised procurement reform and an improvement in RIBA’s communications. He had previously promised that the council meeting would be open to press and public, including sessions on the institute’s controversial Israeli and a report into architectural competitions.

Jane Duncan, who is standing in the current RIBA presidential elections, said: ‘It is vital that the workings, decisions and outputs
from the [governance] group are fully transparent and agreed by council prior to being formalised.

‘Too much seems to go on behind closed doors and this is an area which could impact all members.’

Meanwhile a powerful trio of leading architects in practice - Ben Derbyshire of HTA Design, John Assael of Assael Architects and Andy von Bradsky of PRP - have joined forces in an attempt to shake up the troubled institute by winning election to RIBA Council in September.

Former presidential candidate John Assael said Hodder needed ‘much more support’ and fewer distractions if he was to make any headway.

He said: ‘[Hodder] needs to focus on promoting British architects, practices and architecture and not have his agenda hijacked. I hope the
election will see [us] in a new cabinet to support [these] mutual goals. Otherwise the RIBA will continue to be a talking shop that achieves nothing.’

Derbyshire said ‘continuity’ was needed between the council, board and presidency over different presidential terms to achieve change.

He added: ‘Continuity is required between the elements of the organisational structure; council, board and presidency and over time so that strategic initiatives can be carried over subsequent electoral terms because change will take time.

‘We need to reorganise in order to achieve this. Working together, over time, we see the opportunity to regain the ground lost to design in the construction industry.’

An RIBA spokesman said: ‘Council has agreed a review of governance to examine and make recommendations to ensure clarity and consistency within the RIBA governing documents.

‘The review group, to include the president or presidentelect, honorary secretary, the council representative on the RIBA Board and five other
council members, will report to RIBA Council in September.’

The RIBA has also announced a new ethics working group to look at how the institute tackles problems facing overseas communities following the
controversy surrounding its Israel motion.

Derbyshire, Assael and von Bradsky’s joint manifesto

Voting has opened for the election to seven seats on the RIBA Council and ends on 23 July.  A number of us feel that structural changes to the way the Profession is organised and a shift in the strategic emphasis by the Institute is needed. Architects need to recover a position in society that would enable them to be more effective in delivering their design expertise, improving the quality of the environment.  Our status has slipped badly and we need to act coherently to recover it.  So with colleagues Andy von Bradsky and John Assael, both leaders of substantial Architectural Practices, we have decided to go for election to Council.

We do not present ourselves as any kind of formal group, but we do have a lot in common and we are hoping to achieve a consensus for change with others within the RIBA and outside around the following key points:

1) Architecture is the remit in the Royal Charter but unless architects and practices are well placed in relation to the needs of society and commerce, good architecture can’t happen.  There should be more emphasis in the RIBA on the promotion of its members’ interests.

2) Architects’ interests are best served by an Institute that understands the need for cross industry and inter-disciplinary working with engineers, surveyors, other professionals and their institutes.  We should present ourselves as having a particular contribution to the collaborations necessary to improve the quality of built environment, working with, not competing against or denigrating the contributions of others in the supply chain.

3) We need to support strongly efforts to reform architectural education and the regulation of quality in the profession.  The current arrangements are dysfunctional and not fit for purpose.  Change is in the air and we should focus on achieving clarity and consensus to push change through.

4) In particular, recent innovations in information technology, digital media and consumer feedback offer enormous scope for Architects to regain lost influence in the design of the built environment.  To take advantage of this we need to understand how to redefine professionalism, working more as Architects in Industry and Society and less as elite professionals.

To achieve these kinds of change, there needs to be better continuity in the organisation of the Institute, with more effort on behalf of the executive to understand and promote the thinking of members, both those who contribute to its hard working specialist groups, and more widely, regionally and amongst large and small practices.

Continuity is also required between the elements of the organisational structure; Council, Board and Presidency and over time so that strategic initiatives can be carried over subsequent electoral terms because change will take time. We need to reorganise in order to achieve this.  Working together, over time, we see the opportunity to regain the ground lost to design in the construction industry.


Readers' comments (16)

  • ..and this is the organisation that considers itself fit to take over regulation of the profession and so do away with the ARB? The RIBA can't manage it's own affairs, despite the extortionate fees it charges, so what hope does it have of serving the public through a disciplinary process?

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  • Interesting that John Assael is one of the trio, because he himself has (I'm sure unwittingly) dropped a clanger in his own practice information. As a board member of ARB, he should surely have realised that to describe all the directors of his practice as not only being registered architects but also being members of ARB, is really not on.

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  • Nigel Ostime

    "Without measuring we can't improve."

    Assael, Derbyshire and von Bradsky raise some important points. Another key issue facing the profession is recognising what represents value to our clients - all of whom have different needs and different drivers for their projects, both large and small - and using that information to improve our 'offer'. The RIBA Client Liaison Group that I currently chair is leading on this and the findings of our discussions with contractors – the first ‘sector’ we have chosen to tackle – will be published next week.

    The group is looking to
    - make the RIBA more outward facing in support of members’ needs;
    - provide a forum to hear views directly from client bodies and
    - act as a vehicle to feed ideas and initiatives from the Institute back to them.

    We have also spoken to housing and retrofit clients (feedback to be published in the autumn) and others are planned. Ultimately this will cover all sectors and become an ongoing, continuous improvement exercise. This initiative will not only help the profession raise its game but also its profile within the industry – an important matter when we want to attain higher fees and re-establish our position in the structure of the project team.

    So I am also standing for election to Council, with the aim of making sure this important initiative is properly supported.

    Nigel Ostime
    whiteroom architecture

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  • Whoever "Corblimier" is, he could not be more wrong. The Arb disciplinary process simply isn't fit for purpose and is one of the foremost reasons why this parasitic and pointless organisation has to go. The RIBA model, (which is arms-length from the Institute) is exemplary by comparison.
    As one of the RIBA's sternest critics, I will always readily concede that as a member organisation, it will always be subject to diverse opinions, but at least, most of any soiled linen is washed in public by contrast with the secretive and undemocratic self-serving bureaucracy of the Arb. I know; I spent the most frustrating six year's of my life as an Arb Board member attempting to protect the profession from the ARB's expansionist ambitions.

    George Oldham.

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  • How does one access "The RIBA model"?

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  • It is encouraging to see Assael, Derbyshire and von Bradsky promoting the idea that the RIBA needs to respond to the inter-disciplinary nature of the world in which great (and not so great) architecture is created, or risk becoming redundant.

    The silo mentality of the vast majority of the professional institutes – the RIBA included – is legendary and I fear that it will take more than three brave souls to instigate any change whatsoever. There are too many vested interests within the institutes for any of them to be brave enough to put the needs of the industry before their own and their members’ short-term concerns. If change is to happen then there needs to be a ground swell of demand, across the professions.

    Those of you who are not aware, might be interested to know that The Edge has recently undertaken a Commission into the role of professions and their institutes in today’s construction industry. Chaired by Paul Morrell and supported by the Ove Arup Foundation, the Commission received representation from the main institutes on four aspects of professionalism: the market economy, the environment, society, and the future: sharing and cooperation. The results are due to be published later this year.

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  • I take it Mr Oldham has merely assumed what my gender is.

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  • You need some people who know about architectural education on this team which is why I'm up for Council too.

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  • Vote for Flora!!

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  • RIBA members particularly in the provinces have known for years that the RIBA seem to have its own agenda, which had little to do with architecture or promoting the profession. There has been apathy as the architect's role has been diminished and trivialised. The latest being the CDM change to designate the coordinator as the Principal Designer.

    But why a lawyer? Surely an experienced troubleshooter from the industrial or commercial sector is needed with organisational skills. In fact, the very skills an architect is supposed to possess but clearly is lacking in the RIBA.

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  • Just for information.....The RIBA is not planning to take over regulatory functions of the ARB - the policy direction was changed recently.....which was a good thing too.

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  • Quite right Francesca; the profession doesn't require any form of statutory regulation. Iit should rid itself of government control by the Arb and be self-regulatory as are all the other professions in our highly regulated building industry. We don't require the comfort blanket of protection of title; we have the Fraud Act to do that much more effectively, so let's save ourselves £3million a year and be free of the Arb's officiousness.
    As for Corblimier's pedantry; I couldn't care less what sex he or she is - all that matters is stopping the appalling injustices perpetrated by the Arb's disciplinary processes, well covered in the architectural press.

    George Oldham.

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  • Stephen Hodder should be supported and congratulated in seeking to shake up the RIBA as its governance in certain corners seems crazy. It should be streamlined and better focused on the RIBA's true remit.
    I am standing for Council, and if elected, would support Ben Derbyshire in his proposal, but keeping an eye on how smaller practices are better supported.

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  • Thank you for the information F M Weal. I was not aware of this change in the RIBA's policy.

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  • Well said, GO, but it's surprising the RIBA itself hasn't argued against regulation rather than dither about ARCUK and now ARB for 35 years. Did you know the RIBA have commissioned several high profile reports, all of which have recommended deregulation, but persisted with supporting it regardless ?

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  • I would like to applaud Assael, Derbyshire and von Bradsky's joint manifesto and their recognition of the problems in the RIBA. However, I would like to temper this by saying that some of us on Council have been aware of the problem for some time now and have been working extremely hard to remedy the disconnect between the Board, Council and Executive and particularly with the membership.

    This process was started by a motion which I submitted a year ago to Council and which led to the first review and recommendations, some of which were implemented and others not. The current review is the result of continuing pressure on the Executive (including the Board) from this group of Council members to sort out the governance problems of the RIBA . This group includes me, Sam Webb and Walter Menteth. We are all up for re-election as national members of Council and I feel it is important that we remain on Council to ensure continuity. Elspeth Clements

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