The riba's Future Studies initiative had its first public airing this week, appropriately with the two main speakers from outside uk architecture. The intention of the initiative is to focus on architecture rather than on architects, exploring half a dozen themes in the first two years by commissioning studies from experts in the chosen fields. Architects might be included. Themes being considered are the economic benefits of good design, how regulation relates to quality, standardisation, sustainability, stimulating demand for quality and globalisation. The goal is to change general thinking on architecture, not to make riba policy.
Invited speaker John Thackara of the Netherlands Design Institute described how his government-funded institution acted as a facilitator for national debate on future issues of design. Describing it as a 'think-and-do-tank', he said that it spent only about 20 per cent of its resources on thinking, 40-50 percent on facilitating debate and the rest on sharing knowledge and communication. John Lyall of the Future Studies group praised this as a model for riba Future Studies.
Ken Worpole of think-tank Comedia pointed up the importance of the urban scale and of focusing on the 'software' of cities. He is optimistic, for example, about the existence of more than 400 town-centre managers, many of whom have moved on from a narrow focus on retailing to wider concerns such as opening hours, safety and the use of public space. He also described city-scale time management initiatives for cities in Italy, co-ordinating access to buildings, transport and other services.
It is early days for the riba. You can keep track at www.riba.net, then follow 'About riba' to 'riba Future Studies'. The Netherlands Design Institute is at www.design-inst.nl