The newly elected chair of the ARB talks to Richard Waite about her plans for the board
If you live in Liverpool you will already have heard of Beatrice Fraenkel, the new chair of the Architects Registration Board (ARB). A Liberal Democrat councillor in the city for 23 years, Fraenkel (above) hit the headlines in May last year following her high-profile defection to the Labour Party.
Fraenkel said she was ‘embarrassed and ashamed’ of the Liberal Democrat Party and blamed standards at local level for her departure. The Lib Dems hit back, questioning her absence from important meetings.
As far as Fraenkel’s ability to head the ARB is concerned, the spat is irrelevant. But at a time when apathy towards both the role and purpose of the regulator seems to be growing - only 15 per cent of the architecture profession voted in the recent ARB board elections - the arrival of a character like Fraenkel gives personality to
an often inscrutable board.
Her rise to the ARB’s top spot has been meteoric. She was only appointed an ARB board member last November, after responding to an advert. ‘I never expected to become the chair,’ admits Fraenkel, who was already busy chairing the Cosmopolitan Housing Association and the Mersey Care NHS Trust. ‘I was very flattered when asked if I would let my name go forward.
‘However, I said I’d only be interested in the post if I was regarded as an independent… and got a good majority. I can only work with a consensus.’
Alleged factions on the ARB’s board, as well as long-running disagreements with the RIBA, are well-documented. Most ‘internal’ criticism has come from elected architects operating under the banner of the ARB Reform Group, which has repeatedly attempted to curb what its members see as the ‘unaccountable’ and unlawful extension of the board’s remit beyond its statutory powers - namely to maintain the register.
Yet, despite having only been in her new post for three weeks, Fraenkel has achieved an initial ‘consensus’ by taking the time to telephone all the board members. She has also chatted ‘over coffee’ with RIBA president Sunand Prasad.
Unexpected praise for her ‘collaborative’ approach has come from ARB reformer George Oldham. He says: ‘Fraenkel is a breath of fresh air, an independent mind and an experienced client who knows and respects the profession. In view of the exemplary way she appears to be informing herself of the issues and priorities, it is our view that she should have the space to make her own initial judgements without undue pressure.’
Fraenkel is both an independent mind and an experienced client who knows the profession
Fraenkel, who has promised an ‘increasingly open and transparent’ board, is no stranger to the political world, starting her career as a councillor in Liverpool’s tumultuous 1986 administration. ‘Liverpool’s political arena was an excellent training ground,’ she admits.
However, Fraenkel’s trump card is her knowledge of the industry. She qualified as an industrial design engineer, before studying ergonomics at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and working as a consultant for YRM. She later helped set up the first design review panel in the North West while heading the North West Regional Centre of Excellence.
Fraenkel says: ‘Architecture is an incredibly diverse profession, and I have a passion for it. I love buildings from the “Bling Bling” building in Liverpool by Piers Gough to Wilkinson Eyre’s bus station [at Liverpool One].
‘Part of the induction of new members will be to spend time in an architect’s office. It’s so important we build up an understanding of what the board is for, and that we build bridges between ourselves and the stakeholders,’ she adds.
‘This is the start of a new journey for a lot of people. I am now an ambassador for ARB…
I do hope people start inviting me to things.’