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RIAS response was well wide of the mark

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Questioning the modus operandi of the RIAS Council clearly is to invite vilification, but in imputing malign intent on my part, Keith Macdonald (AJ 3/10.8.00) is wide of the mark.

Both Sebastian Tombs and Mr Macdonald suggest that the sizeable cost (in terms of legal fees, stationery and signage) of a change of preposition (from in to of ) is justified by the possibility of an extra £23,000 income which would be consumed in providing services to geographically dispersed members. The words 'sledgehammers' and 'nuts' come to mind.

When it comes to the activities of RIAS Services Ltd, however, Macdonald obfuscates by invoking the notion of a professional body devoted solely to fulfilling its charter objectives.While this may be so, it is nevertheless legitimate to view RIAS Services Ltd as a commercial company endeavouring to maximise profit - why would it exist, if not to utilise the fiscal advantages applicable to charities and their trading companies? In a normal commercial situation the ongoing losses of this company would render it insolvent were it not for the note in the RIAS accounts which unequivocally states that 'the RIAS has undertaken to provide financial support to RIAS Services Ltd to meet the deficiency in shareholders' funds'. In suggesting this should not be read literally, Macdonald offers no guidance on what other way the statement might be interpreted, other than that the RIAS as a charity provides ongoing financial support to its own trading company.My point was that a professional institution undistracted by superfluous activities could be more focused upon its stated objectives, and actually promote architecture more effectively.

This brings me to the most disturbing aspect of Macdonald's letter - the relationship of the RIAS to the Lighthouse. He avoids comment on the news item 'RIAS plans competition for new expanded HQ building' (AJ 13.7.00) which stated that 'the RIAS has set up a working group to consider the options which involve establishing an architecture centre to rival the Lighthouse in Glasgow'.

Given his assertion that 'the RIAS has for some time been carefully assessing how it might be involved in it without exposing its members to financial risk', one can only speculate on the real extent of RIAS Council commitment, since the Lighthouse has been open for more than a year, and was in gestation for five years before that. Quite why the RIAS Council believes further Lottery money will be available for its own rival development is a moot point, when a Lottery-funded Scottish architecture centre already exists, and from which - sensibly - any complementary proposals to promote architcture ought to be coordinated. Certainly, a second bite at the cherry would seem unlikely if the architectural profession in Scotland continues to avoid supporting the existing facility.

Macdonald makes much of RIAS Charter objectives, and I suggest he reads them again before asking himself whether the behaviour of council as described above is really intended to 'organise and unite in fellowship the architects of Scotland, and to combine their efforts for the general advancement of architecture'? While more precisely-defined objectives to meet the twenty-first century needs of the profession and society may well be in order, such a change might also require the removal of a feudal system of council which vests authority and decisionmaking power in the hands of an unrepresentative few.

Peter Wilson, director, Manifesto Foundation for Architecture, Edinburgh

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