Responses from 635 practices reveals nearly half are ‘dissatisfied’ with the work of the RIBA, calling for more benefits, lobbying and services, writes Merlin Fulcher
Nearly half of the RIBA’s chartered practices are dissatisfied with the services it provides, according to a new institute survey.
The surprise findings emerged from a study of 635 practices, carried out ahead of a wide-ranging overhaul of institute communications, membership classes and benefits.
The results come as the institute announced it was increasing its annual membership fee by 3.5 per cent to £383 following a four-year price freeze.
At its council meeting last week, the RIBA also confessed it was £500,000 in the red due, in part, to a £388,000 shortfall in income from bookings at its Portland Place headquarters for events and weddings.
According to the survey, 4.7 out of 10 chartered practices are now dissatisfied with the RIBA as a support organisation. For non-members, dissatisfaction was 3.7 out of 10.
Respondents said they wanted more government and industry lobbying and a review of professional education.
They also felt the institute could do more to promote quality and professionalism in the sector and needed to up its efforts in preaching the value of architecture to the public and clients.
It was also thought the organisation should do more in the regions outside London and the south east.
Respondents to the survey, which will not be released and has been described by RIBA officials as an ‘internal intelligence document’, rounded on chartered members’ benefits, with the fees calculator described as ‘clunky to use’ and a business support hotline said to be ‘insufficient for an inquiry of any complexity’.
RIBA Insurance was also doubted to be the ‘best on the market’ while the discount offered on advertising in the Yellow Pages ‘attracted widespread derision’.
RIBA executive director Richard Brindley said the survey was already shaping the institute’s review of its communications and membership classes and benefits (see comment below).
Outcomes of the communications review, which includes plans to bring RIBA Journal back in-house, have already come under fire with RIBA Council member Francesca Weal criticising proposals to scrap the 15-year-old RIBA Net online forum, which is said to cost the institute £16,000 annually.
The institute’s plans to train and accredit members of local design review panels were also criticised by council member Walter Menteth who warned: ‘By setting up a separate [accredited] standard we are undermining architects as the gold standard.’
Bryan Avery of Avery Associates Architects called for a major review of the ‘entire professional and educational structure of architecture in the UK’.
He said: ‘Ever since I’ve been a member, the institute has wallowed rudderless, drifting helplessly in every political and economic squall that has blown in.
‘Every year I, like so many others, have dutifully paid the membership fee like a tithe, for no reason except to promote the good of the profession and every year the institute finds a new way to obfuscate and cede our collective authority, status and prosperity to others.’
Avery mooted an ‘interregnum’ whereby Portland Place is sold or rented out to allow a ‘year or two of focussed debate’ to take place in somewhere ‘more convivial’.
But Chris Romer-Lee of Studio Octopi rallied to defend the institute, which he said was ‘hugely supportive’ in bringing new opportunities to his Southwark-based practice.
‘Of course we’ve had our frustrations with the RIBA, but the support offered by client services, particularly in the early years, was second to none,’ he said.
Praising the survey and the attempt to ‘assess and adapt’, Clare Wright of Camden-based Wright & Wright said the RIBA was a democracy and if members were unhappy they should take action.
‘What is lacking more than anything is general involvement,’ she said.
Views from the members
The RIBA membership is good value for money and it always seems to do a lot with the money it gets from membership. Few people realise how much RIBA Enterprises subsidises the RIBA’s activities. As with any membership organisation, the subscription costs seems better value the more you get involved. Membership benefits are only worth something if you use them. The £13 increase is modest and is merely keeping up with inflation after four years of effective reductions. One inconsistency, though, is the modest cost of RIBA chartered practice membership compared to individual membership; a tiny amount relative to the size and turnover of the practice and relative to the membership benefits. A curiosity not helped by the fact this has been frozen for 2012-13, whereas individual chartered membership has not. Luke Tozer, director, Pitman Tozer Architects
The question ‘is the RIBA value for money?’ reminds me of the Monty Python film Life of Brian. Instead of the Romans, we superimpose the RIBA. The conversation might have gone like this: ‘All right, all right… but apart from better lectures and a bookshop and education and RIBA Journal and regional offices and public debate programmes and road shows and sustainability hub and social networks and fundraising auctions and job adverts and advice on appointments… what HAVE the RIBA ever done for US?’ The RIBA could be a lot more proactive. For instance, I would like to see it lead more on lobbying the government and industry, or promoting architects to a wider audience and diversifying education to allow architects to lead from the front, rather than giving away roles such as BREEAM, SAP Calculations and CDM to another consultant. Peter Morris, director, Peter Morris Architects
The RIBA champions better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members.
How we will do this is set out in our ambitious 2012-2016 Strategy ‘Leading Architecture’. Our vision is that by 2017 we will be recognised internationally as the leading authority on architecture and the built environment. This is a challenge, particularly within the context of the current global economy. But the RIBA is prepared for this.
The strategy was developed through extensive consultation and involvement with RIBA members. The RIBA Chartered Practice Survey, produced in November 2011, formed part of this and it has helped us better understand the perceived benefits, weaknesses and expectations of chartered practice membership. Since
then we have undertaken a comprehensive membership review to ensure that we deliver the best for our members.
The RIBA Board has approved an increase of 3.5 per cent in membership subscription fees for 2013 which was endorsed by RIBA Council when it met on 21 June. This subscription fee rise will help the RIBA achieve its strategic vision, from the redeveloping the RIBA website, creating user friendly online directories, working with policy-makers and demonstrating the importance of architecture for the economy.
- Richard Brindley is RIBA executive director for membership and professional support