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RIBA ‘losing touch with architects' following low election turnout

Profession responds to low turnout in RIBA elections as John Assael and Ben Derbyshire are elected to council on shake-up ticket

Architects have slammed the ‘shockingly’ low turnout in the RIBA elections, blaming the institute for a ‘lack of engagement’ with its membership.

Just 16.7 per cent of members voted in this year’s ballot - meaning less than 10 per cent of the RIBA’s membership voted in favour of Jane Duncan to become the next president.

Among the other national council members elected yesterday (23 July) were John Assael, who pulled out of the race to be the next RIBA president, and Ben Derbyshire. The pair joined forces last month in a bid to drive through ‘structural changes’ and a major ‘shift in the [institute’s] strategic emphasis’. Andy von Bradsky, the third member of the group, did not get voted in.

In recent years the number of people voting in the elections has dropped considerably. In 2006, when Sunand Prasad was elected to the post, more than a quarter of the RIBA’s membership turned out.

While 2013 Manser Medal-winner Carl Turner described the figures as ‘quite shocking’, Darren Bray of Hampshire-based PAD Studio said he wasn’t surprised by the low turnout, but added that it showed ‘the RIBA is losing touch with its members’.

Bray, who missed out on a national seat on council, added: ‘There is clearly not enough diversity and [there is] a lack of engagement with the members and the next generation.

‘I have already been asked to put myself forward again next year and I will almost certainly, because the RIBA needs to move with the times.’

Nigel Ostime, director of whiteroom architecture, who also missed out on a national seat on council, said the institute needed to deal with the low turnout ‘as a priority’.

Engagement with members is the most critical issue for the RIBA

He said: ‘Engagement with members is to my mind the most critical issue for the RIBA. 16.7 per cent is a very poor turnout, particularly as voting is electronic now and therefore as easy as making a few clicks of the mouse.

‘The institute needs to deal with this as a priority and one way is to improve the value it brings to the profession - in a clearly measurable and demonstrable way.’

Russell Curtis, of RCKa, who will be sitting on council as a regional member for London, said: ‘It’s a real concern that the voter turnout was so low - I’m not sure whether this is down to general apathy about the RIBA in general or a reflection of the similarity between the two candidates.

‘This points to a general malaise in the organisation and a perception among the membership that the institute is becoming increasingly remote. This is certainly something that will need to be addressed in future elections, but I think the immediate priority for the RIBA is to work harder to convince members that they are its priority.’

Walter Menteth, who was re-elected to RIBA national council, said the low turnout signalled a watershed moment for the institute. He said: ‘This suggests the institute is at a watershed.  To engage the membership there’s a pressing need for it to strengthen its advocacy, effectiveness and relevance.’

Previous turnouts

2014 Jane Duncan 16.7%

2012 Stephen Hodder N/A

2010 Angela Brady 18%

2008 Ruth Reed 18%

2006 Sunand Prasad 27%

The criticism comes as the results of the RIBA elections were announced.

The institute has been approached for comment.

The RIBA election results

National council members

  • John Assael
  • Ben Derbyshire
  • Daniel Leon
  • Walter Menteth
  • George Oldham
  • Flora Samuel

Overseas council members

  • Goh Chong Chia
  • Nela de Zoysa

Regional council members

  • Robert Frith, RSAW
  • Bob Brown, South West
  • Antony Clerici, West Midlands
  • Russell Curtis, London
  • Mark Kemp, South West
  • Julia McLoughlin, South East
  • Nick Mills, Wessex
  • Shariar Nasser, London
  • Peter Oborn, London
  • Owen O’Carroll, London
  • Vinesh Pomal, London
  • Kerr Robertson, Scotland South
  • Kevin Singh, West Midlands
  • Meryl Townley, London
  • Carl Turner, London
  • Edward Williams, London

Further comments

Carl Turner, director of Carl Turner Architects and RIBA regional council member for London

‘The low turnout is quite shocking, reflecting both a lack of engagement by the RIBA and a worrying level of apathy amongst architects generally. Perhaps architects need to think what they can bring to the table at the RIBA rather than constantly griping about how little the RIBA does for them. The RIBA also needs to work harder to engage architects through social media for instance, and make the voting process more immediate. After this election, it may take more drastic action such as compulsory voting to turn things around.

The RIBA needs to work harder to engage architects

‘I have just been elected to London Council, along with some fresh faces such as Russell Curtis from RCKa. I decided to stand to try to make the RIBA more relevant to small practices, fight for issues such as excellence in housing and put pressure on council to talk about relevant issues and not in-house procedure.

‘The RIBA in London has instigated many good programmes over the last couple of years, such as Regent Street Windows and Guerrilla Tactics aimed at helping the little people, and this thinking needs expanding. The RIBA Awards are also regarded as among the most rigorous in the world, and the RIBA needs to remind its membership of the things it’s good at.’

Sam Webb, who failed to be re-elected to council

‘Only a few times have I come across organisations where there is such a mismatch between the person in overall control and the staff. That comes out very strongly in the ‘Great Place to Work’ survey. You can draw your own conclusions as to why [the unpublished report] was sat on for such a long time.

‘The RIBA needs to get in touch with its members starting with Council. What is the reason why so few members of Council, around half, are not on any committees even though they have expressed an interest? 

‘I nominated Jane Duncan and also asked her to stand a while ago. She was the best of the two and will make a good president. Whether in two years she can take a grip remains to be seen. They all have a lot to lose. They run practices, unlike me.’

Previous story (AJ 23.07.14)

Jane Duncan elected as next RIBA president

Jane Duncan will become the third female president of the RIBA after narrowly beating rival Oliver Richards

The Buckinghamshire-based architect, who will take over the two-year presidency from Stephen Hodder on 1 September 2015, received 52 per cent of the vote.

Just 16.7 per cent of members voted in the elections which closed yesterday (23 July). In 2006, when Sunand Prasad was elected to the post, more than a quarter of the RIBA’s membership turned out.

Duncan will be the 75th RIBA President, a position previously held by Giles Gilbert Scott and Basil Spence among others.

Just 16.7 per cent of RIBA members voted

She said: ‘I am delighted to be elected and to have the mandate from RIBA members to undertake my election pledges on improving pride, fees and diversity within the architecture profession.

‘Over the next year I will be working hard to support Hodder and visiting and talking to members and staff across the UK.’

Currently the RIBA’s equality and diversity champion, Duncan stood on a three-point plan focused on ‘pride, profit and people’.

The Bartlett-educated architect, who has run her 16-strong ‘award-winning’ practice in Amersham since 1992, was backed by Denise Scott Brown, the RIBA’s first female president Ruth Reed (2009) and her successor Angela Brady (2011).

Her fellow presidential candidate Richards, founder of London-based ORMS, had pledged to give the institute more of a voice and make the RIBA more outward facing as part of his campaign entitled Putting Architects First.

Speaking shortly after the announcement, Richards said: ‘Jane has fought a committed campaign and I am sure that she will make an excellent president. I have offered her my congratulations and my full support.

‘Of course it is disappointing to be narrowly beaten by only 172 votes - but I am sure that this election has been good for the RIBA and its members and for architecture. That is what I care about.’

Readers' comments (1)

  • The problem is probalby historical , if you look at Wikipedia two things stand out; the RIBA was originally "Royal Institute of British Architects in London" and the size of the riba entrpreises staff. Its really a publishing house with a legacy which inclueds an historice headquaters, library and a menbership orgazation incogrously tacked on....

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