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Neil Baxter - newly appointed secretary of RIAS

Neil Baxter, who became secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) last month, talks to Jaffer Kolb about the London-centric media, competitions, and why he has to stop writing about destroying buildings.

Tell me a bit about your appointment.
First a bit about the RIAS: It’s the RIBA’s sister institution in Scotland, but it’s fully autonomous. It’s a professional institute – a trade union for architects, owned and run by its members. It has a public role to shape the skills and capabilities of architects through teaching and promoting architecture. It also acts as a small publishing house.
Will you continue to work on your independent projects? The first thing I thought of when I heard of your appointment is your job writing reports on why historic buildings should be demolished.
Neil Baxter Associates will be wound down. It’s great to review over 20 years of work. Some of
our memorable projects include our campaign to get Glasgow designated the UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999 and the publication of my book A Tale of Two Towns (Neil Baxter Associates, 2007). I won’t be able to write as much now, but I won’t give it up completely.
My role as ‘building nemesis’ ends here. Previously I was allowed to do things that might not be compatible with this role, but now it’s not appropriate for me to write those types ofstatements… even if the buildings are crap.
How has the RIAS evolved since your last involvement [as assistant secretary] in the 1980s?
The aims are the same, but the way people practice has changed radically. Computing makes a huge difference. Now there’s the opportunity for a substantial website. This needs to communicate with people and offer a widely informed forum. RIAS is the proper communicator of Scottish architecture. We want to help Scottish architects contribute worldwide.
We have an excellence in architecture here worth shouting from the rooftops, but this hasn’t happened enough. If you’re in Scotland and design something brilliant, you rely on the awards system to acknowledge you. Journalism remains Londoncentric and we need to give people a reason to come up and see what we’re doing.
Education and competitions are obviously paramount to the RIAS. What are your thoughts on that agenda?
I was involved in competitions when I was assistant secretary. I believed in competitions to give architects more opportunities. Now I think competitions should be for iconic buildings. The Highland Housing Fair in Inverness (which will be held in summer 2009) is a good example, as it will eventually become a big expo. I’d love to see something of this scale every five years.
You’ve been involved with independent publishing for a long time. How will that experience shape what you do at the RIAS?
The publishing house role is one I’m particularly delighted about. The books we produced (under Neil Baxter Associates) were on a small scale – I’ve been that guy lugging a stack of my books to Waterstone’s on a Friday afternoon in the rain. We looked at independent book distributors and decided to do it alone. We’ve done about a dozen in the last decade.
Now I’m proposing to build on the RIAS guides – I think there’s scope to look at more technical
issues with these. The RIAS currently does practice information quite well.

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