Twenty-six years old is really quite young to be the director of education at the riba. Or a director of anything, come to that. But, last week, Leonie Milliner, a former student representative on the Institute's ruling council, stunned heads of schools nationwide by securing the post at precisely that age.
'I've set myself a number of things I want to achieve' she says. 'They're personal targets, really, for the next three years, which I'm reluctant to discuss.' Gently prod her, however, and she talks of 'building an awareness of architecture and the role of architects as valued professionals in society', and of turning the riba into an institute which 'is not just about architects, but architecture, and encouraging diversity'. It is also about 'advancing architecture and developing the architecture department as a centre of excellence - education in the broadest sense', and Milliner is eager to get going at Portland Place when she takes up the reins in June.
As to her age and the lack of experience, she brushes the issue aside. Her dealings with school heads - as a consultant to Sir Colin Stansfield Smith's review of architectural education, post-Dearing - have thus far presented no problems. 'I hope to bring a fresh approach,' she adds.
Milliner trained at Kingston University, achieving a postgraduate diploma and then an ma. She was also the president of the Guild of Students while she was there, responsible for a £2.2 million turnover. Her first stint in the real world, though, was at Tibbalds Monro as design assistant under the direction of Chris Colbourne - the previous director of education at the riba. She must have impressed. The Colbourne link continued when, as the riba's public affairs man, he commissioned her, pre-Dearing, to publish a national survey of student poverty. She found that besides the frightening level of poverty, what she calls 'gender facts' cropped up. 'Women tend to spend more on course material. From personal experience I spent a lot of money presenting my work really well because I wanted good results,' she recalls.
In 1996 she presented a paper at the 50/50 Conference, 'Women in Architecture & Construction'. Currently she is in private practice with Wigfall Group.
Milliner says she's familiar with the way the riba works, having spent her time on council as a student representative, and is therefore 'going in with her eyes open'. She adds, 'Things look great at a strategic level on paper. It's how to achieve them that's the thing.'