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Gordon Davies, president-elect of the RIAS, cut his teeth on the New Towns. Aspirations for social change have characterised his career, but now his task is to steer the incorporation into a new relationship with the RIBA

In contrast with the RIBA's squabbling over its presidential accession, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland's selection of president-elect Gordon Davies was a seemly affair. Davies, an architect planner, is urbane but determined; characteristics that render him well qualified to help redefine the role of the incorporation within a changing Scottish political scene.

Davies will also need to be something of a diplomatist in steering the incorporation into a new relationship with the RIBA and in discussions over the possibility of removing the RIAS from a building rich in history but low on practicality into a custom-designed, more publicly accessible headquarters.

The most notable aspect of Davies' early education in his native Liverpool was the presence, in the same form, of Paul McCartney. Davies recalls that they shared a passion for Dylan Thomas. They met up again in the late 1960s when he found McCartney surprisingly unchanged. Other old boys from his school included Maxwell Fry and the comic Arthur Askey, the latter, of course, a much more significant hero figure to Davies' contemporaries.

The vigour of Liverpool's buildings, particularly the sheer scale of the Anglican Cathedral, created a lasting impression.

Davies never liked the modernity of the Roman Catholic Cathedral, preferring Lutyens' unbuilt masterpiece. He stayed in Liverpool for his architectural education.

The School of Architecture was avantgarde, espousing a method of teaching focused on principles of design. Particularly inspiring was Richard Hews, a naval architect whose teaching challenged Davies to explore the fundamentals of structure and aesthetics.

Davies spent his year out in the design office for Skelmersdale New Town. The impressive chief architect, Derek Lyddon, would meet the year-out students every few weeks for lunch. Davies was also thrilled at how much attention was paid to his own thinking about the centre of the New Town. After finishing his studies, he returned to Skelmersdale. Like most of his contemporaries he saw the public sector as the area where things were really happening, particularly in the rash of New Towns designated during the 1960s.

After four years he moved to a ruthlessly commercial private practice in Manchester 'which shall remain nameless'. The experience was not a happy one and after less than a year he moved to East Kilbride to work on the development of Stonehouse New Town. As much of his work was on design briefs and policy, he took a part-time diploma in planning.When Stonehouse was de-designated in 1976, all there was to show for a huge effort was '96 houses and a field full of concrete'. The latter has reverted to grazing and is probably, Davies reflects ruefully, 'the most stable pasture in Scotland'.

With Stonehouse off the agenda, Davies stayed in East Kilbride as head of planning.

Innovative thinking was applied to the town to boost the economy by providing leisure facilities, augmenting its retail offer. In the late '70s Davies participated in a successful lobby to government arguing the case for the continued concentration of resources on the growth of New Towns.

In 1982, to return to more mainstream architectural work, he moved to Livingston, initially as chief architect then technical director. The early focus was on the selective demolition and remodelling of housing stock. Blame for the deplorable condition of relatively new housing was, according to Davies, entirely due to the political new-build numbers game in the early days of the New Towns. Initially acrimonious consultation with residents was ultimately very beneficial in this process of regeneration. Davies insists that credit for this and much other excellent work produced by Livingston Development Corporation should go to the architects on his team.

In the latter years of the corporation the architectural team developed a significant commercial portfolio.When the corporation closed down in the mid 1990s, this enabled Davies and Livingston's senior architects Roy Nimmo and Ray Stevens to establish their own practice, Davies, Nimmo and Stevens.

The firm has considerable expertise in working for hi-tech corporations requiring stringent environmental controls.

Gordon Davies has been involved in the working of the RIAS since the late 1980s. He has served on the liability, exhibitions and public affairs committees, done a term as president of the Edinburgh Architectural Association and edited the RIAS journal, Prospect, for two years.

When considering the issues at the outset of his presidency, Davies is conscious that the Scottish Executive's Policy for Architecture may be a double-edged sword.

He is concerned that it should not become merely a set of rules and much prefers the notion of a policy that encourages real quality throughout the built environment, not merely the public realm. Davies feels the RIAS is potentially a tremendous resource for the executive.

The financial relationship between the RIAS and its sister institute recognises the substantial role the incorporation plays on behalf of the RIBA. Davies is hopeful that a similar arrangement will persist. Challenged on whether an unfavourable renegotiation would persuade the Scots to declare independence, potentially providing a substantial boost to the incorporation's income, Davies refuses to be drawn.

The other major issue is the proposal to move the incorporation out of its historic home. Davies acknowledges that a five-floor Georgian filing cabinet without a lift is not ideal. It certainly would not suit the substantially greater public access which he wants to encourage.

In its new president the RIAS has an articulate advocate. His communication skills are allied to the aspirations for social change which have characterised his career.

There is no doubt that, under Davies, the RIAS will continue the fight to put architects in a central role to achieve a better designed Scotland.

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