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richard hastilow

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With 32 years in the Royal Navy behind him, the new chief executive of the RIBA, Richard Hastilow, is ready to steer the institute into calm waters. With his key political contacts, will it be plain sailing? by robert booth. photograph by ross young

When Richard Hastilow, the new £100,000 a year chief executive of the RIBA and former sea captain, starts work at the end of the summer he should have few problems coping with the institute's often fraught internal politics.

Hastilow spent 1993 to 1995 in charge of five British warships cruising the Adriatic and 'keeping the sky clear of warring factions, ' while peacekeepers and aid agencies struggled to do the same on the ground during the war in Bosnia.

With this kind of experience, spats and disagreements at Portland Place should be easily managed by this ex-captain of HMS Invincible.

Hastilow spent 32 years in the Navy and left in 1996 after scaling the career ladder to the high rank of captain. He quit the senior service after what he regarded as a successful mission in Bosnia, retrained and was soon in charge of 200 staff and a turnover of £35 million at Hampshire Training and Enterprise Council (HTEC). It was a major change in lifestyle from six month tours on Invincible to living all year in a small village at the foot of the South Downs.

Hastilow will now commute into London and says he wants to be at the RIBA for at least five years. If he achieves this he will outlive two presidents and he will be responsible for maintaining a continuity of vision at the Institute.

This doesn't seem to daunt him, and he is sure that his ability to operate in environments as complex as the Navy, and as political as the government-backed HTEC, will see him through.

Neither does he lack opinions on architecture, and he is primed with a list of his favourite buildings.Admiralty Arch does not make the cut, however, and his selection is resolutely contemporary. 'The Millennium Bridge which links Newcastle and Gateshead by Mr Wilkinson is incredibly exciting, 'he says, rather formally.He's also a fan of Foster and Partners' new glass roof at the British Museum, which he describes as 'very effective and very beautiful.''It's fit for purpose, 'he says.'This comes first and its appearance comes a close second.'And he admires the 0resund bridge which connects Denmark and Sweden: 'it captures the imagination as well as being well engineered.'

Hastilow has given himself about three months to work out his priorities in detail, but has already sketched out plans which could lead the RIBA in a new direction.

'I am particularly interested in developing services to members which will be valued by the people who are coming into the profession now and by those in their twenties and thirties - the architects of the future, ' he says. 'This means developing the internet and electronic services.'

He is understandably vague on the detail after being announced as the new chief executive only last week, but his focus on the internet as a vital communications channel, and possibly commercial outlet, for RIBA members echoes the views of the outgoing director general, Alex Reid, who has been widely praised for pioneering this medium. He wants to increase the level of 'business to business' activity, perhaps selling more advertising on architecture. com or setting up services such as a revenue-generating architect and client matchmaking service.

He also wants to improve the way the Institute interacts with other similar trade bodies such as the Institution of Civil Engineers.

'I've been looking at things from the consumer's point of view and there is scope for work with other professions and other institutes so that our industry can provide a joint response, ' he said.

Hastilow is keen to spend his first months getting to know the RIBA's ruling council and regional structure before he risks treading on toes with new ideas. 'I must listen to council and the members first, and learn, ' he says.

One policy area he already claims some expertise in is the voguish topic of the regeneration of brownfield sites. Through his current job he is deeply involved in the regeneration of Portsmouth Harbour, which is being transformed from a series of former Ministry of Defence sites. At HTEC, Hastilow manages the training of local people and smalland medium-sized businesses to take advantage of such regeneration, and he says he wants to use his contacts with government, commercial developers and regional development agencies to boost the RIBA's role in this area. This is likely to please president Marco Goldschmied, who has urban regeneration as a key theme of his two-year term.

'I know leading members of the RIBA are well involved in this and I will do what I can in communicating this to government and to commercial development, ' he says. 'These are areas I am very comfortable with - particularly regional development agencies, which are becoming increasingly important.' Other goals include making better contacts with architects overseas, ensuring that continuous professional development for architects is supported strongly by RIBA, and using his influence among government departments, gained from working at HTEC, to help enforce the decisions of RIBA's ruling council.

When asked whether the RIBA's purpose is to promote architecture to the public or simply to serve its members' professional needs Hastilow predictably argues that it needs to do both.

'It's simply that if you do not provide good services to your members then you don't have a platform to promote the profession more widely, ' he said.

On his future relationship with Goldschmied, he takes a careful line: 'I'm very used to supporting a non-executive chairman and I'd like the highest profile to go to the president, ' he says.'I am used to having quite a lot of influence, but I'm the new boy and my influence will only grow as I've learnt where my strongest areas are.'

He sets out his vision in a measured and committed way. He is persuasive, and comes across as extremely well networked.

Hastilow will start work at the beginning of September at the latest, but may take up his post during August. The RIBA looks to be on an even keel.

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