A letter from RIBA councillor Ben Derbyshire to his 59 fellow councillors, uncovered by the AJ, calls for the institute to focus on its members
In the email, Derbyshire says the RIBA needs to ‘offer [architects] better value for their subscription’, give ‘more clarity in the ethics of professionalism’ and become more of a mouthpiece for the industry.
Derbyshire is managing partner at HTA Design and was elected to council last year. He has vowed to drive through a ‘major shift in the [institute’s] strategic emphasis’, calling on his fellow councillors to unite ‘to give the institute the leadership and direction that it needs’ (see AJ 24.07.14).
He says: ‘I believe we must to restore an appropriate balance between the RIBA’s role as a promoter of architecture on the one hand and as an association of architects on the other.’
As part of this ‘clear cultural change’ Derbyshire sets out a 10-point action plan which he hopes will go some way to repairing the ‘growing disconnect between the membership and their aspirations and the RIBA’.
When contacted Derbyshire refused to comment on the contents of the email.
The RIBA said it would not be responding to Derbyshire’s comment.
Letter in full
Dear Fellow Councillor,
You may be aware of my view that Council should take the opportunity of its newly confirmed Trustee status and the task of setting the next five year strategy for the Institute, ‘Leading Architecture 2’, to signal a clear cultural change at the RIBA. This is particularly timely in view of the conclusion of Stephen Hodder’s recently published and inspired research, ‘Client & Architect’, which reveals that our clients want and need us to take the lead once again.
I believe we must move to restore an appropriate balance between the RIBA’s role as a promoter of architecture on the one hand and as an association of architects on the other. I am writing in an attempt to clarify how much support exists for this proposition among fellow councillors and so I would be grateful to hear from you about this.
In both the member consultation undertaken as prelude to drafting the strategy and also in the discussions I have had with members of Council, as well as others who do not currently participate in RIBA affairs, a clear theme has emerged. Architects feel the RIBA needs to offer them better value for their subscription, more clarity and definition in the ethics of professionalism, more support and more of a voice in the various challenges that lie ahead. In the words of one, we need to do more to repair the ‘growing disconnect between the membership and their aspirations and the RIBA’.
There is nothing in our Royal Charter to prevent members taking the lead - in the Institute, in society and in seeking to attract new blood as part of the Institute’s approach to marketing. To put it another way, rather than ‘Leading Architecture’ , ‘Architects Leading’ should be our rallying call. It is about allowing members rather than the executive to lead and become the voice of the Institute.
Neither is it necessary for this culture change to signal a bout of organisational introspection - quite the reverse, in fact. If the resources of the Institute were to be channelled to support architects to debate, promote and communicate through the good offices of the RIBA we would surely benefit from a multiplier effect applied to our outward facing communications, manifest in a variety of ways:
- A renewed focus on value for money for members and a drive to increase numbers.
- A shift of priority to supporting practices in their local markets - letting a thousand flowers bloom.
- An outreach strategy that promotes diverse and innovative practice as much if not more than the stars.
- A new status for members working groups - the engine room of the Institute.
- A focus on members’ contribution to research and innovation.
- A plan for the development team built on cross cutting collaborative research amongst practitioners.
- Debate and discourse in the Institute amongst leading and new practitioners about new forms of practice.
- A register of practitioners to speak for the Institute on different topics and themes.
- A promotion about architects leading, not just in the development team, but in public life and commerce.
- A priority to collaboratively develop and standardise a code of conduct/ethics across the built environment
And so on…
And it does not mean we ignore our cultural role. Indeed I see an increased role for the British Architectural Trust and its chair, Sir John Tusa, to promote a much more open source, high-profile programme of debate, discourse and academic research as well as exhibitions in the Institute.
Can we, as Council members, come together with sufficient clarity and purpose to give the Institute the leadership and direction that it needs? I believe so.
Council should respect the chairmanship of the President with the quid pro quo that the President works with the authority now vested in Council as Trustees. Council should endorse a consensus about clearly articulated overarching strategy. If that were to be along the lines I suggest above the overarching theme would be a new focus on ways in which we can improve and communicate quality and value for our membership - the lifeblood of the organisation.
I’d be grateful to hear your views.