The arb's quest to find a new chief executive descended into farce just before Christmas when four enraged architect members of the board resigned in protest at the way in which it pulled a remarkable U-turn and dropped its preferred candidate for the role, Francis Golding.
A bizarre series of events began when the arb sent cabe secretary Golding a letter to tell him he was the preferred candidate for the £70,000-a- year post after successfully passing a series of interviews. He was duly invited to attend the board's Christmas lunch on 9 December, with what would be his final ratifying interview immediately afterwards.
But, just three hours before he was due to attend the meeting at the board's headquarters, on Weymouth Street, Golding was telephoned by the arb-hired headhunter company, Norman Broadbent, and told he was no longer required. It is thought that members of the selection panel who were initially outvoted on Golding as preferred candidate 'nobbled' arb chairwoman Barbara Kelly and persuaded her that Golding was too 'close' to the architectural community to be effective in taking the arb forward as a balanced body.
Architect member of the selection committee Amanda Levete immediately resigned at what she branded the 'flawed' selection process and was unable to be persuaded otherwise by Kelly, who called her to try and get her to change her mind.
'I think the process was badly and inelegantly handled and not made in a proper way,' said Levete. 'It makes me sad because I could feel we were making some progress, but recent events do seem to set us back yet again to the days of architects against the others. I was given no material reasons for the change of mind. I was not consulted.'
The board has now also been rocked by the resignations of riba Gold Medallist Sir Colin Stansfield Smith, past president Frank Duffy and even the current riba president, Marco Goldschmied.
Goldschmied said: 'I'm not happy with the election process - there was a preferred candidate and for some reason which was not explained to my satisfaction, he was not presented.' He added that the arb's lack of 'transparency' and 'accountability' to its 30,000 architects was at the root of his concern. The process had been 'autocratic and opaque' and, in a statement, Goldschmied called for the eventual selection process to exclude all board members involved in the aborted process.
Because four architect members have resigned, the arb is now inquorate and must appoint a new architect member to serve until April. This will be offered to the best-placed losing candidates in the last elections - Jack Pringle, Mike Jenks and Roger Shrimplin, respectively. The board is currently made up of eight 'lay' representatives and just three architects, but will probably defer rubber-stamping the new chief executive until it has elected new architect members in April.
Sources close to the arb suggest that Golding's shabby treatment resulted from further fallout from the meeting at which Golding was voted preferred candidate, since there were two notable opponents to his being chosen. The arb's vice-chairman and past riba president, Owen Luder, and management consultant Mike Dewey are understood to have expressed opposition to Golding. Both are thought to have considered him 'too close to architects and architecture'. Luder has ambitions to take over as chair after Kelly, who is almost certain to stand down in March.
Frank Duffy could also become the new chair, but the theory goes that having an 'architect-friendly' chief executive and an architect as chair could be seen to compromise the consumer-protection function of the board established by the Architects Act 1997. Golding claimed the job specification's 'understanding of the world of architecture' was actually 'a potentially insuperable obstacle to appointment'. And in a letter to the press this week he writes: 'I find it depressing that the arb appears to have enshrined as its core value the maintenance of a distant relationship with the profession. It is also disquieting to see a body which so prides itself on its regulatory functions prepared to make up and vary its procedures as it goes along.'
All of the resigning architects bar Sir Colin Stansfield Smith are standing for re-election, Goldschmied talking in his election statement of the need for a 'lean organisation' providing good value for its £1.7 million per year income.
Long-time critic of the arb Paul Hyett cancelled a meeting last week with the board, the riba's director of education Leonie Milliner and schosa on education because of the current situation. It would have covered signing important validation agreements, and conversations about sustainability and technology in courses.
The arb's depleted selection panel met on 5 January to decide on a new preferred candidate, and was thought to be veering toward the unnamed second contender - a lawyer. This will have to be ratified by the main board.
Former arts council architecture chief Rory Coonan also applied for the chief executive job, but, despite his impressive list of referees - culture secretary Chris Smith, Lord Rogers, Bill Rodgers, Lord Hutchinson qc and Colin St John Wilson - he received a standard letter of rejection.
Golding, meanwhile, is to continue working at cabe for three days per week for the next four months as consultant and is hoping to firm up a similar arrangement with Foster and Partners. He worked with the practice on honing the Greater London Authority headquarters design.