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President Brady's grand ambitions

Angela Brady wants to revolutionise the RIBA once and for all. We should support her, says Christine Murray

As I sat down with Angela Brady last month to discuss her goals as president of the RIBA, I was struck not only by Brady’s notable energy and enthusiasm, but also the sheer number of campaigns she will be spearheading.

They range from lobbying the EU for changes to procurement policy (specifically Pre-Qualification Questionnaires), to launching a temp agency for practices requiring graduates for short-term work, to campaigning for more paid competitions, to making architects essential to the government’s Localism agenda, to opening up the RIBA to the public.

It appears too ambitious for a brief two-year term (inaugurated next week). However, Brady is determined to be nothing short of revolutionary. She is determined to bring transparency, openness, diversity and a welcoming public face to the institute, which celebrated its 175th birthday under her predecessor Ruth Reed. From our discussion, it is clear that nothing at 66 Portland Place is sacred, not even the building itself.

Not only has she swapped her office’s black lacquered desk for a round table, but she will also be avoiding the traditional council chamber, with its podium for the president, for council meetings, which will be switched to another room. ‘I want to make a statement from the very first that things are going to be done differently.’

Brady has even formed a committee to look at the suitability and potential uses of 66 Portland Place. A competition to design a new headquarters for the RIBA has not been ruled out (though it is hard to imagine the membership supporting a move from Portland Place to Hoxton, as Brady suggests).

More crucially, Brady appears to have cleaned up the in-fighting that has plagued the RIBA and bogged down its administration in recent years. ‘There has been in-fighting,’ Brady admitted, ‘But that’s done and dusted. I have a good relationship with Harry Rich. I am confident with the team, and I am pleased to say they are bloody good.’ She has also appointed a new group director of communications and outreach, Gill Webber, who joins from the British Library, to ensure that the members are kept abreast of internal issues. This is great news for a membership that has often felt in the dark about the RIBA’s workings, especially in the wake of the institute’s RIBA Trust U-turn.

If Ruth Reed’s strength was in education reform, communication is Brady’s stronghold. Her media experience makes her ideal for television soundbites – she almost speaks in quotation marks – and as such is well-suited to a role as the public face of architecture.

As a small practitioner, Brady is tuned into problems facing the profession, and has already met with heads of other professional institutes with a view to collaborating on issues affecting the wider industry.

Above all, Brady seems accountable and available to the membership. ‘I’m there to help our members, and if they have a problem, I’m on the other end of the phone,’ she said, then laughed, ‘I don’t know what I’m letting myself in for.’

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