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Your verdict: Was Stephen Hodder a good president?


Last week Stephen Hodder’s eventful two year stint as RIBA president came to an end. So what did the profession make of him and his achievements?

Jack Pringle, former RIBA president
‘Hodder was president through a difficult period; the profession was just, but only just, coming out of recession and he had the inheritance of Palestine-Gate to deal with and contain. But importantly, he reached out to the wider construction industry; contractors, developers, consultants and clients and didn’t stay in the architect’s bubble which is so many’s comfort zone. That was real progress.’

Roger Hawkins, Founding Partner, Hawkins\Brown:
‘Hodder has proved himself as a good listener. Gone are the days of the arrogant architect dictating the whole design process. He has recognised that we are team players, working in collaboration and identified the ‘need to find the keys to the hearts and minds of clients.’
‘His soon-to-be-published special report Client & Architect – developing the essential relationship promotes this attitude and suggests a proactive way the profession can get more involved rather than being marginalised as moaners.’

Owen Luder, former RIBA president
‘The institute is like the curates egg. Very good in parts – not good in others. So rightly or wrongly the high point of Hodder’s presidency was the exposure of the incorrect governance by the RIBA Board who were acting illegally as the RIBA Charity Trustees. The board had taken  control and management as RIBA Charity Trustees ousting the elected RIBA Council who were always the legal Trustees under Charity Law. Neither the president nor the board were prepared to listen to any suggestion this was wrong and they were acting improperly.
‘It was only after the third Council Governance Committee Report confirmed the legal opinion that had been obtained by Council members  the Board and Stephen were forced to accept the legal position and rectify the problems it had created.   
‘The other disaster area was the financial policy of deficit budgeting, financed out of reserves which lead to a potentially disastrous drain on cash reserves. Again only reversed after outside pressure.
‘It is to be hoped that RIBA Finances are now under control although the sudden departure of the finance director, Andy Munro, may indicate there are still unresolved problems.’  

Ben Derbyshire, managing partner of HTA
‘The high point of Stephen’s presidency was educational reform - long overdue, sufficiently radical and handled with aplomb. The low point was the West Bank farrago where an ambushed establishment occasioned an institute to climb down, having gone far beyond its legitimate political reach. A Stirling Prize winning president raised the status of the office despite the uncontested election which undermined it.

The low point was the West Bank farrago

‘Left undone: reform to enable the profession to reclaim the institute. When that happens and Portland Place is a hive of research, innovation, discourse and debate we will no doubt have queues of Stirling winners wanting the job.’

Sarah Williams of Sarah Williams Architects
‘Hodder has been quietly effective as a president. The review of architectural design competitions by the competition task force was a good piece of work and produced a set of recommendations that I hope will be enacted. Education reform too has long needed addressing and the RIBA  now has a set of sensible looking recommendations. Hodder’s report on the client and architect relationship, which launches on 15 September, should be very interesting and again this sort of evidence should go some way in helping our profession ensure we are actually delivering what clients want. So overall, I would say he has managed to produce some good concrete plans that will ensure his legacy.

‘However, I would like to have seen more lobbying of the government to promote our profession and the need for quality in the built environment. This is the level at which the RIBA ought to be operating as it needs to be more outward facing and connected within the UK.’ 

John Assael, RIBA national councillor:
‘Hodder has been a tenacious president.  He has dealt with issues that could have deflected him and I admire his strong leadership.  I’ll miss him.
‘Jane Duncan is an experienced operator and will have seen how Stephen has managed to pursue his agenda, and I am very confident that she will use her considerable charm to harness support to achieve her objectives.’

Paul Testa of Paul Testa Architecture:
As a practitioner, I feel Hodder has taken a robust position to a number of issues; especially that of architects’ ethical and moral responsibility. I have often felt the RIBA have sidestepped issues such as this, so this is a positive step.
‘As an educator, there’s a lot to thrash out before we understand the implications of the RIBA education review. It has the potential to be confusing and damaging, but it is also an opportunity that we have to grasp to make our education more relevant, diverse and cost effective for future students and practitioners.

David Liddicoat of Liddicoat & Goldhill:
‘The climax of Stephen Hodder’s Presidency is a report on the all-important Client-Architect relationship. While full of warm, fuzzy advice about understanding clients better, collaboration, developing technical expertise or marketing, it misses the elephant in the room: fees are low because there are too many architects chasing too little work. No amount of collective action to raise fees will help.

The client-architect report misses the elephant in the room

‘Low fees mean low profits, low salaries, poor maternity pay, and lower resilience to economic shocks. It leaves practices short of funds to invest, carry out R&D or market themselves. All of these factors combine to diminish the quality and care of service Architects can provide, which further erodes our standing.

‘We find our clients 100 per cent committed to good design. They never doubt the value we add, and how the architect is often the glue at the centre of a job. But they are also rational consumers who do not pay over the odds when there are cheaper alternatives. We’ve had to pitch against good architects making zero-fee bids.

‘Until the RIBA addresses the issue of over-supply the profession will continue to cut itself off at the knees.’


Readers' comments (7)

  • Define the criteria for your question.

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    It's a shame that Stephen Hodder's 'Client & Architect - developing the essential relationship' was published only after he handed on the presidency to Jane Duncan. I received my copy after writing my comment above and, actually, I think its is almost (but maybe not quite) as important as his achievement in instigating educational reforms with David Gloster.

    Stephen, Linda Stevens and the team are to be congratulated on an important piece of work which will hopefully be taken up as a big theme in Jane Duncan's presidency. It's a great legacy and we must all ask ourselves what should be done now to make the most of it.

    Ben Derbyshire
    Managing Partner HTA Design
    Chair, the Housing Forum.

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  • Chris Roche

    I find it remarkable that Stephen Hodder's period as President was so unremarkable, and for many this will be seen as a good thing, particularly in light of recent presidential controversies. He promised to look into and improve Client Services and whilst the RIBA web site is much improved, particularly in it's presentation of Architects Information, within Find An Architect, one suspects for many small practices, there is still much left undone, particularly with regard to the initiative commenced by Stephen Hodder's predecessor on Local Government procurement.
    I would of like greater connection with the membership and greater support for small practice - something I believe Jane Duncan has promised.

    Chris Roche / Founder 11.04 Architects and former RIBA Council Member

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  • Tim Bailey

    Interesting to read many beat their own particular drum in assessing the merits or otherwise of the Hodder tenure. I have witnessed Stephen navigate very choppy waters with skill and determination both not to shirk the responsibility of the matter at hand but also not to be diverted from his stated task of offering members a clear window on to the opinion and operating world of the client. No mean feat within two years of Presidential term with all its usual calls on duty and ceremony.
    Tim Bailey xsite architecture and RIBA Council

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  • Philip Allsopp

    Its very hard to make a judgement call on good, bad or indifferent as far as RIBA Presidents go. We have an ineffective system of bringing in practitioners to serve for a short two year period during which time they appear to have little power or time to exert proper executive control over a bureaucracy which too often seems out of touch with the business and professional realities faced by architects and also by students.

    I would advocate for a major change in governance whereby the President & Chief Executive Officer is a single role elected for a period much longer than the 2 year revolving door that currently exists; maybe a 5 year properly compensated term. The elected person would have the power to reshape the innards of the RIBA, and also the Institute's position relative to policy-making and legislation impacting human health and wellbeing, where built environments play a decisive role in almost all cases. Under the control of that Chief Executive/President role would also be education; an area in need of major overhaul in my mind so that graduates are significantly better equipped in the future in the sciences, the physics of built environments, human wellbeing and the design of human habitats, a deep knowledge and expertise in BIM and new laser scanning and digital photogrammetry technologies and business. If architects want to operate as orchestra conductors, they had better be able to read music and play a large number of the instruments before them.

    My comments may to some be off topic but the question of whether or not a particular RIBA President was good or bad has a great deal to do with their ability and tenacity to shape governance changes, corporate strategy, education and public policy, all of which depend on talent, experience and the ability to occupy the role for more than the very short two year tenure as it stands today.

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  • Dear AJ - I think it unlikely that many would add negative comments, whether through reticence or diplomacy. The architect's world is a surprisingly small one, so discretion is probably the rule.
    I suspect this is for your update page, to stir up a bit of debate. Don't think this is going to work in this case - way too personal a question.
    A better question may be 'Can an architect be an effective RIBA President?'

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  • Very Good choice for Royal Gold.

    Very bad choice to advocate & pursue the rescinding of the Council's Decision to request the UIA penalise the Israeli Architects Institute for failing to act on the illegal involvement of their members in the theft & development of Palestinian land.

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