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What we want from a new RIBA president

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As voting for the RIBA's three presidential candidates - Alex Reid, Paul Hyett and Brian Godfrey - gets underway, we ask architects from around Britain to voice their expectations

Kevin Drayton Partner, One Seventeen AD, Huddersfield

I want an articulate, passionate, combative, charismatic president, smack in the public eye, making design an everyday topic of conversation.One who can fight the cause of architects as proponents of good design where it matters: in the popular media.

A crusading president grabbing column inches and prime-time exposure with the message that the designed environment is as critical to the quality of life in this country as education, healthcare or law and order. A president who can make it plain - with charm, humour, self-effacement and disarming courtesy - that society's current design standards are shameful.

Forget running the RIBA, forget the squabbles between London and the regions, big practice and small, no president can cure all our ills.Members divide crudely between those who understand and appreciate everything that the institute does and those who don't care (or imagine it does nothing anyway).The untrumpeted spadework will carry on without the interference of the president.

But 99 per cent of members care passionately about design, yet know that we are seen as overpaid dilettantes - with no technical, financial or management skills - flouncing about like Changing Rooms presenters.This view needs to change.


Murray Armes Armes Associates, London SW11

The RIBA should improve the Client Advisory Service so that it becomes the place where potential clients really want to go, rather than a place of last resort (perhaps with workshops for potential clients).

Could we have student architects with at least some awareness of the industry they are getting involved with? Realism would go a long way to helping the image of the profession.

Given that the majority of RIBAmembers are in small practices, formal methods of networking should be established. The introduction of single project insurance would help: each member of the team contributing a proportion of the premium; even project managers could take their fair share of responsibility.

Strength (and economy) in numbers also applies to fees. A more widely known, accessible and cheaper version of the current Cap It All fee recovery scheme might convince clients that architects are not a soft touch.

On the basis that you get out only what you put in, greater participation by a wider membership might help the image of the RIBA, not just as perceived by the general public, but by the membership too.


Sarah Wigglesworth Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, London

All a president can do in two years is tinker at the edges of an administration too cumbersome, too unaccountable and too protectionist to permit any change. The RIBAmust cease its internal bickering and turn outwards to address the real issues which threaten architecture. Any leader must have a strategic, modern vision for the future profession, one which is inclusive, diverse, contingent and capable of transcending the banal realities of commerce.

The future depends on attracting the best people into the profession - in particular, it must improve the gender balance.To do this we need to secure better wages and better conditions for all within the industry, which means acting strategically and collectively for once. The profession urgently needs a revised set of values and a new social contract, one which can give it a renewed relevance to the emerging, the small, and the regional practices, together with the public in all its manifestations.

Finally, the rift between education and practice is widening. If the RIBA wants a say in education (it could leave this to ARB) then it needs to involve the experts - educators themselves.

Wake up RIBA, and respond to the changing society around you!


Julian Cowie Julian Cowie Architects, London SE5

The London-based gentleman's club which is the RIBA is outdated and ineffectual, providing poor service to both architects and the general public alike.

Rebranding the institute requires more than a new face at the top or a change of stationery.

Getting the public into Portland Place by introducing a successful chain of patisseries has improved things a little, but think how much better it could be the other way round; if instead the RIBA had been introduced into the high street environment. By getting rid of the current institution and using the proceeds from the sale of Portland Place, the RIBA could take architecture to its members and the public through regional centres providing information, exhibitions with fine coffee and cakes, and access to the RIBA resources, library and bookshop, available online.

'Architecture Republic', 'Costa Construction' or 'ARIBA'would have to be an improvement on the current state of affairs.


Richard Murphy Principal, Richard Murphy Architects, Edinburgh

With a few obvious high-profile exceptions, it seems that the bigger the building, the worse the practice; even more so with increased use of public private partnerships. Huge chunks of our cities are currently being designed by humdrum offices and yet there is clearly so much architectural talent in the country at the moment. That so little of it is utilized for major building projects, public or private, is a scandal.

Educating our commissioning classes must be a top priority for the new president: promoting a procurement system that allows the obvious talent in the profession to rise to the top.

That procurement system must also force government and other national institutions to look beyond the holy huddle of London architects for their shortlists. The RIBA president has a vital role here to counteract the inevitable centripetal London effect and the crass assumption that if you are not in London you must be B grade. The RIBA is constantly falling into this trap and I look forward to a president who, in his attitudes and actions, understands that three out of four architects in the RIBA are from outside the capital.


Steve Naylor Associate, Geoffrey Purves Partnership, Newcastle upon Tyne

The RIBA should:

Help members gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The ARB/RIBA division of responsibility is not helpful. The institute needs to back up its role as a voice of the profession with a concerted effort to provide real practical support, particularly to the smaller practices, the regions, the newly qualified and those about to set up on their own.

Improve the quality of practical and technical training of students in the hope of increasing the employability and wages of architectural trainees.

Improve access to RIBA lectures by providing videos of all lectures to the regional offices.

Consider providing limited free access (possibly web-based) for members to construction information services and other RIBA systems as these are not within the budgets of smaller practices.

Maintain a comprehensive reference library of all mainstream publications at the regional offices (including reliable stocks of contracts etc). The institute should also consider providing part time 'experts' in practice matters regionally for face-to-face support.

Provide more than a 10 minute free advice service. Members should know that, where they have been treated unfairly, the RIBA will provide a legal safety net and meaningful support.


Peter Trebilcock Head of architecture, AMEC Capital Projects, Sale

The president should:

Be elected by the membership at large, with an advance term as vice-president.

Be allocated a specific presidential budget with a manifesto declaration of how it is to be spent.

The RIBA should:

Provide greater access to information/publications/ competitions.

Ensure that, to enter RIBA awards, one of the design team must be an RIBA member.

Include the fees for displaying the practice's portfolio on the RIBA website in the subscription fee.

Insist that all new staff in membership, practice and education departments of the RIBA have been in architectural practice for at least two years.

Scrap (or rigorously enforce) the RIBA registered practice rule that 80 per cent of all office architects must be members.

Introduce a Part 3 Diploma in Professional Practice for young architects, practice principals and partners, which should bring a reduction in professional indemnity insurance from PII providers.

Develop a consistent and transparent Client Advisory Service information database.

Lobby government to raise the profile of architecture and increase the recognition of the value of using an architect.

Promote the statutory use of architects on jobs over £100,000 for planning and building regulations.


Kevin Sutton Davies Sutton Architects, Pontyclun, South Wales

The RIBA should:

Improve education. Part 3 students cannot even be relied upon to accurately measure and record an existing building, let alone have a working knowledge of the Building Regulations.

Target publicity. The architectural journals are full of glamorous schemes being promoted to other architects, but architects do not commission other architects. Raising public awareness and aspirations would be a much better use of resources.

Revaluate the Client Advisory Service. What does it provide? Clients and architects surely deserve better.

Defend specialisation. Why did the RIBA disband its specialist list without consultation, especially since government bodies have confirmed that grants will only be given to projects administered by accredited professionals?

Devolve authority. Why does the RIBA duplicate the role of the ARB? Why does the RIBA need an empty corporate 'gentleman's club' in the most expensive part of the country? Exposure of the institute to architects and the public can only be successfully achieved through the regions. Presidential tenure is not long enough to be truly substantial and presidential visits to the regions should promote architects' skills to the public, not be aimed at 'getting to know' architects who the president will not be able to serve in the near future.


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