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Debate on riba restructuring leaves members in the dark

Halfway through the morning session of the members' forum at the riba this week, in the middle of a speech by Roger Zogolovitch, the Jarvis Hall started to go dark. In common with the rest of Portland Place, riba hq suffered a gradual, but ultimately complete, power cut.

The onset of darkness rather interrupted Zogolovitch's talk on the strategy behind the riba's re-structuring plans, but even reading his notes by torchlight he was the most pertinent and coherent of the day's speakers, presenting a brief for a corporate five-year plan to re-position the profession of architecture.

Working from the basis of the Touche Ross 'Strategic Study of the Profession', commissioned under Frank Duffy's presidency, Zogolovitch identified developments necessary for architects to improve their popular standing and economic position. Having broader business experience than most architects, he understands that posing the right question improves one's chances of getting a useful answer, and he has questioned some of the traditional assumptions about the nature of the professional role.

Zogolovitch was followed onto the stage - so far as one could tell in the continuing complete darkness - by Colin James, riba treasurer, who will run against Marco Goldschmied of the Richard Rogers Partnership in the riba presidential election.

James, in charge of the operational review in the forthcoming re-structuring, cannot be said to sidestep confrontation. When asked about the changes, he insisted that every member must be aware because it had had such full coverage in the press, and that anyone who had questions clearly had not been paying attention. A show of hands among the 80 or so regional members present, showed that although 90 per cent claimed to read the major journals thoroughly, only 5-10 per cent could claim to be fully familiar with the proposals. Members are due to vote on the proposals on 21 October.

The major proposal is to telescope the existing 36 committees into two super-committees. James explained that 'riba committees tend to be made up solely of people who like sitting on committees. It's like the round of golf. You turn up whether there's any business to do or not.' When a member opined that this might be considered un-democratic, James countered that 'no-one votes regionally anyway'. He later suggested that no services, and possibly even no membership, should be available to those without an email address. Low as voting levels are, the 5 per cent of members who use ribanet at present would not suffice to elect James to the presidency.

James also asserted that every last expenditure of the institute's resources should be assessed for usefulness of aim and efficiency of delivery, and reminded employers of their responsibility to their employees, among others, to be businesslike in their enforcement of fair fees and general practice management.

The day concluded in the dark once again with the video produced as part of the riba's 'Brownfields First' initiative, part of which was due to be broadcast on the Nine O'clock News this week. James, who presents the film, is unlikely to win political friends for the profession with his proposals for compulsory purchase of disused urban sites, incremental tax increases on vacant property and schemes to build on over-large corner gardens on council estates. Has the riba ever had a president as radical as this?

Gerry MacLean

Farrell to formalise his calls for urban design council . . .

Terry Farrell is to formalise his call for the formation of an urban design council (aj 10.9.98) at this week's first annual conference of the Urban Design Alliance. Farrell, chair of the uda, which represents five professional groups plus the Civic Trust and Urban Design Group, said that other organisations asking to join udal have been turned away because there is not the administrative resource to deal with them. 'The conference will argue,' said Farrell, 'for a larger coming-together of urban groups. Is there a need for a larger body such as an Urban Design Council?'

The conference, on Thursday 15 October, will form the centrepiece of the first Urban Design Week, which will include talks and walks around the country. On 16 October a think tank of experts - including sociology professor Richard Sennett, Dutch political scientist Maarten Hajer and Ricky Burdett, lse director of the cities planning and engineering programme - will consider the form that cities will and should take in 2028.

The result of a joint study by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute into the potential for restoring watercourses to enhance the environment will be discussed at a meeting at the Institution of Civil Engineers on the evening of Monday 12 October.

Other highlights include a guided walk from London's Festival Hall to the Design Museum with reports from those involved with the various projects on Saturday 17 October, and a discussion on Friday 16 October at the school of architecture, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, of ideas for Gateshead.

Details of all events can be found on the rudi (Resource for Urban Design Information) website at http://rudi.herts.ac.uk. To book a place at the udal conference call Samantha McDonough on 0171 307 3677.

. . . as Architecture Foundation responds to dcms proposals

The Architecture Foundation has responded to the culture department's proposals for architecture under the comprehensive spending review by favouring a new independent body for architecture. This body should, it says, develop and implement a cross-department policy to monitor the quality of proposed schemes, act as a catalyst for improving design criteria in public procurement, and promote leading and emerging talent. The Architecture Foundation rejected options two and three (an advisory council within dcms or closer relations with the Arts Council architecture unit) because it would preclude links with the detr and other departments.

The riba has confirmed its desire to see a champion of government architecture within the detr to chair a ministerial committee for architecture.

Planning minister Richard Caborn launched the Architecture Foundation's latest roadshow in London's Tower Hamlets on Wednesday. It will produce design proposals for five sites, with teams led by practices including Penoyre & Prasad and Tony Fretton Architects.

Redevelopment plans for Treasury building resurface

mps are said to be about to relaunch plans to redevelop the Treasury building, a £200 million pfi flagship torpedoed by Labour after it came to power last year, with a scaled-down version for half the cost, approved by the Treasury Taskforce. The previous scheme by Foster and Partners was commissioned by the last Tory Government but deemed bad value by the Labour one.

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