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Ultra-low RIBA elections turnout is ‘wake-up call’, says former president


Former RIBA president Jack Pringle has described the low turnout in the institute’s recent council elections as a ‘problem’ and a ’wake-up call’ for the Portland Place-based institute

Only 8.4 per cent of RIBA members cast their vote as candidates raced to fill a number of vacant national and student seats.

Pringle said the turnout was a marker of how well the elections were advertised to members and how relevant architects thought the RIBA was to them.

The former institute chief, whose comments were echoed on social media (see below), added: ’If the election turnout is as low as 9 per cent, RIBA has a problem.

’This may turnout to be existential, as UK architects have pay to register with ARB and they may consider the RIBA to be an expensive irrelevance.

’In fact, in the long run, the RIBA is vital to the health of our profession and the quality of our architecture, so members need to get behind it and support it. [This is] another wake-up call for the RIBA.’

Another former RIBA president, Owen Luder, agreed. He told the AJ: ’It is little wonder there is so much apathy among the ordinary members.

’Since 2009 the RIBA has been, and is still, being run by a small group. And for six years the elected council was excluded from carrying out its duties and excluded from disastrous financial and management decisions.’

Responding to the criticism, outgoing RIBA president Ben Derbyshire said: ’Turnout is generally lower for elections that do not coincide with a presidential contest but we will certainly look at what more can be done to encourage members to vote.

‘We are working hard to connect with our membership and I am sure my successor Alan Jones will see this as a priority. I’d like to thank all our members who support the institute and the profession in different ways, including via branches, committees or representing the Institute in the UK and globally.’

The elections saw Alfred Munkenbeck and Maria Smith voted in as national councillors and Victoria Adegoke and Maryam Al-Irhayim chosen for the student seats. There were also appointments to a number of uncontested regional seats.


Robert Firth, former RIBA councillor and RSAW past-president

Turnout has been going down for years. There are a number of reasons.

The later millennials (Gen Z) in particular, are not interested in being ‘members’ anywhere near as much as older generations.

The RIBA is also often viewed as being interested primarily in the climate, sustainable design, diversity in the profession, design awards, ethics for practice and lauding trendy architects. All valid areas, but none of these is necessarily core in the survival of practices and architects.

Although I have seen much of the above emerge from the RIBA, and much of it very good, too, I get the impression that many architects are looking elsewhere for their CPD and advice.

Perhaps they feel that the advice the RIBA issues helps their competitors, too, so they need a different angle to be one step ahead of the game.

I can’t complain. My architectural clients would not have come to me if the RIBA was satisfying their need.

I now have seven architectural practice clients. Ex-rugby players coach rugby teams; ex-footballers coach football teams. It makes absolute sense for the RIBA to encourage architects to coach architects.


Readers' comments (13)

  • It would be interesting to report what proportion of the vote was from London as opposed to the other regions...

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  • I voted. But only just. The list of candidates didn't inspire. The only candidate statement I had any faith in was Alfred Munkenbeck. Also the only architect of note and worldly experience. Most of the others gave the impression of "those who do, do, and those who don't, sit for council" Over simplification and ungracious to some, but when a candidates opening words are about diversity in the profession I turned off.
    We aren’t good self-publicists and we are being marginalised and underappreciated. The general tendency for architects on council to be from marginal areas and more interested in peripheral issues than correcting those 2 factors diminishes us. Kevin McLeod has done more for my practice than anything the RIBA has done in recent years. He publicises and emphasises our benefit in a highly public arena. We need the RIBA to do this. It’s of primary importance. If we regain exposure and mass appreciation, correcting other things that marginalise will follow, often by default. I would make him honorary vice president. We need full page ads and internet advertising in mainstream media, Youtube publicity to intercept clients at an early stage, as an education programme like consumer product manufacturers do. People know more about their car purchase than their house, which costs far more.
    Most architects work in small practices without the budget to do this, and so the RIBA, as a central body, should and can. I would pay double the subscription if it did so effectively.
    Not currently interested in a deprived kid getting a shot at university when the profession is under such threat. They'd be financially better off doing something else anyway. Or equality agendas that don't carry out worthwhile multivalent analysis rather than just looking at pay. This is all internal virtue signalling missing the elephant in the room, namely the smaller practice end of the profession is going down the pan and wrt the profession as a whole, the public don't understand what we do or the value of it. End of rant, got to get back to working for nothing!

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  • RIBA the most usless architectural organisation of them all. No really. The only job it does is it protects the client by making sure that "non-architects" cant call themself "architects"... but what of it? What does it do for architects? IT REPRESENTS NOBODY!!! It does NOT stand for us. In other countries you cant build anything without an architetct's signature, you have fixed rates. What do we have in the UK? The stupid mandatory educational system that plummets us into unrepeyable debt. The ability of ANYONE to submit a planning application renders architects bloody irrelevant, so whats the result? A ratrace to the bottom. Yeah thank you RIBA for taking our money and doing absolutely f#@! all about it.

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  • Yevgeni Oleynick doesn't help the debate by getting the facts wrong - it's the Architects Registration Board that ensures that only people registered with them can call themselves an architect.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    I don't think the RIBA knows what it stands for, or what it's purpose is.
    I don't think the membership knows what their elected Councillors do or don't do.
    Not a surprise that the 91.6% of the general membership refuse to vote, and doesn't appear to even want to encourage anyone like-minded (whatever that means) to stand on it's behalf.

    I read the Minutes of the last RIBA Council meeting -the major topics were zero-carbon and sustainability, plus a new term to me -the Holocene Extinction Event (happening in a town near you apparently).
    The RIBA don't say what they did during the past 5 major extinction events on this planet, and other than talking a lot of hot air, don't propose much this time either. The only saving grace was that a vote to destroy all worldwide economic activity (probably even food production) by 2030 instead of 2050, was defeated.

    If the RIBA had any guts, they would ban all demolitions and all new buildings, except low-carbon. If they had any sense, they would leave us alone to our own sensibilities, shut up, and let us each judge whether CO2 is plant-food or the greatest poison on earth.

    If they focused on Planning, Building Control, Taxation, the Housing and Skills shortages and the feescales, then the rest of us could sort out the planet in our own tiny ways.

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  • Industry Professional

    How can the AJ criticise "ultra low turnout" for elections which it completely failed to report? If you don't think your readers are sufficiently interested in the RIBA to inform them of the election, surely they wouldn't be interested in this article... or is the opportunity to score points enough justification for your editorial team?

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  • The RIBA is just a private member’s club, with an ostensible role for education, as in exempting the schools from imaginary RIBA exams. They have tried to get hold of ARB’s statutory role, so they can charge a fortune for practice certificates, like the Bar Council, and failed. This is no longer a profession in crisis, it is on its deathbed, and the RIBA is performing the role of undertaker rather than physician.

    So, physician, heal thyself, with a root and branch overhaul to transform yourself into a trade union, rather than an abstract public relations machine, run for the benefit of elite members and an over-remunerated Portland Place cadre. Ask your general membership what you can do for them or face extinction. Adapt or die. Services such as employment law advice are more relevant than expensive dinners and annual conferences in exotic locations.

    Learn from the recent membership overhaul of the RIAS, and the canny politicking of the RICS. Sell Number 66 and move into modest premises off Parliament Square, and employ Dominic Cummings to lobby government to bring back public sector architects to build council housing etc...create the vision for a new golden age. Above all, make yourself relevant and pertinent to the average practitioner. George Clarke for RIBA President! Viva la revolucion!

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  • Once I had eliminated everyone from London, and everyone who spouted the latest trendy political phrases, there was no-one left to vote for.

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  • I speak from the experience of re-building and running an RIBA Special Interest Group (Conservation) that consisted of partners in the most significant practices in the field to expert specialist sole practitioners from across the country; finding our work traduced and sidelined at every corner by the executive and condescended to by Trustees; taking a National Council seat in order to try to change things from the inside and finding Council treated with contempt by the exectutive; and being instructed by a salaried 'Director' to stop trying to build initiatives as they had more important things to do than listen to Members' needs.

    I can therefore only agree with all the previous comments. I could write at length (indeed, a book on the lost values of Professionalism is on the stocks), but it's enough to say that the Institute is irrelevant to the the vast majority of a dwindling Membership (now only 60% of those on the ARB Register?) and needs dramatically to reform, slash overheads (is it still over 400 staff?) and reconnect training, education and practice into a coherent and properly skilled force that industry can once more respect, while also celebrating the widest range of small to medium projects that are presently kept out of sight by a suffocatingly narrow presumption of what constitutes "Good Design" (and I include the AJ in this) - i.e. anything glassy, tall, backed up by over-glamourised 'super-realism' aerial views at dusk, from any one of a few favoured practices. If it can't do that it should gracefully expire and leave professional and educational standards to ARB, and the 'Architectural Debate' to the numerous almost zero-cost and excellent forums that are now appearing, and that we can all relate to.

    At least the Drawings Collection is now in a safe place at the V&A; now it's time for the books to be properly looked after by the British Library. Then there will be no reason for RIBA to continue to exist. Sad, but increasingly inevitable.

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  • Well said Robert...traduce is indeed the operative verb so far as the the RIBA executive are concerned, for anything remotely useful for the membership at large, the average member on the Clapham omnibus, that is. Let us speed the demise of this dreadful cancer and stain on humanity, that gives not a fig for its members, by cancelling our annual subscriptions.

    ARB could then extend its remit and rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the funeral pyre of RIBA, to become AIRB (Architects’ Institutional Registration Board), the true voice of the profession! The money saved on annual subscriptions to the defunct RIBA could be ploughed into council housing to help build the new Jerusalem.

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