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RIBA centre's funding is a disgrace . . .

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It comes as no surprise to any of us on the riba Architecture Centre board to learn of director Victoria Thornton's resignation (aj 2.4.98). The only surprise is how long it has taken to arrive, given the byzantine approach the riba has adopted towards the centre's funding and the ambivalence that those arrangements have implied in its attitude towards the centre.

The Architecture Centre has been amazingly successful when any reasonable person considers the way in which it has been required to operate. Its continuing success relies on riba members understanding that it should always be pointed in the direction of public interest, not professional self-interest - something Thornton understood very well. This should not dilute the centre's most powerful role in promoting architecture, which of course benefits architects in a much more believable way as far as the public, and for that matter government, is concerned. A thriving independent architecture centre is a much healthier way of healing the divide between public and architecture than a profession telling people that architecture is good for them (because it sounds like 'good for us').

All this is easy to say, much harder to bring about. David Rock's inclination towards creating an institute for architecture would benefit the notion of an independent architecture centre, provided its ruling body built proper Chinese Walls between the cultural role and the professional role and had serious lay representation. The shadow of professional interest is what has made the Architecture Centre's short life so troubled. Having said that, it is not really the riba's fault that this is so. How can economically-troubled riba members be expected to fund their own interests and a major cultural activity?

If members can take on board this distinction and successfully persuade private or public bodies to back the notion of an independent architecture centre, or institute of architecture, then they will have cracked the problem of their own future as a professional body, which should surely have at its heart a disinterested role in providing the public with what it really needs - knowledge of architecture and a wholesome, outward-looking, modern profession.

The other subject worth mentioning is this context is the abject collective failure of the profession to resolve the problem of the drawings collection - a fabulous national jewel. While it remains unresolved it provides all the evidence a wary public needs, however erroneous, that architects are not very good at managing things - which would also seem to be implied by Thornton's resignation. All British architects should blush at the thought of this ageing blot on their profession.


London W1

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