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Lifting the lid on RIAS subscription income

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It is encouraging to see that, after 80 or so years of existence, the RIAS has finally correlated its membership figures against the number of architects in Scotland listed on the Architects Registration Board register (Letters, AJ 2.11.00). However, in offering his best shot at the numbers of architects practising in Scotland, Sebastian Tombs only succeeds in further opening the Pandora's box of Scotland's professional institutional structures.

As Tombs well knows, the ARB figures, as well as those of the RIAS, include significant numbers of retired architects who maintain registration as well as membership (at reduced rates) of professional institutions. By and large they do not practise and their inclusion in Tombs' statistics merely distorts the true picture of the state of the profession in Scotland.

Second, a not-insubstantial number of Scots-born or trained architects who practise elsewhere maintain membership of the RIAS through the use of family or branchoffice addresses in Scotland in order to avail themselves of a second set of letters after their names. Any halfdecent statistical analysis of professional registers would have made this clear, although it is conceivable that such investigation might adversely affect the incorporation's income from subscriptions more legitimately due to the RIBA.

Third, a high proportion of architects in Scotland are members or partners in small practices, and it is clear from our own research that in a significant number of cases only one partner elects to subscribe to a professional institution, the others preferring to save their money and reduce the amount of detritus dropping through their letter boxes.

The RIAS has sought to circumvent this problem by invoking the concept of the practice subscription which offers a range of services many architects feel should be their right as individual members.

Fourth, there are a considerable number of architects practising in Scotland who come from overseas and who have made their homes (whether temporary or permanent) here. Most, of course, are not members of either the RIAS or RIBA, but an accurate summary of the architectural scene in Scotland is not possible without including this sector.

Fifth, in seeking to present the profession in Scotland as more involved in the RIAS than it actually is, it is a mite disingenuous of Tombs to conflate the number of RIBAmembers in Scotland with those of his own organisation. As he well knows, the two groups are not identical, and indeed that was the reason why this correspondence first began last June, when the RIAS announced its intention to create a new category of membership (and separate subscription base) for Scots architects based elsewhere.

If the RIAS is to attract additional members and actually achieve the percentage levels of involvement by architects as suggested by Tombs, a rather more sophisticated market analysis of the numbers in the profession is required than he offers.

For existing members the question must remain whether the largely meaningless affectation of 'Chartered Architect' is sufficient compensation for the low levels of remuneration available to architects in Scotland.

For potential members, Tombs' description of the feudal composition of the RIAS Council and its antediluvian procedures for electing a president must raise the doubt as to whether this is an organisation ready for the challenges confronting the profession in the twenty-first century.

With these points in mind, the RIAS might usefully ask itself not what financial contribution architects can make to its continuing existence, but what reforms are necessary for it to meaningfully support them?

Peter Wilson, director, Manifesto Foundation for Architecture, Edinburgh

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