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Alan Jones joins race for RIBA presidency

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Northern Irish architect announces intention to stand for RIBA president as Elsie Owusu hits out at election process

Alan Jones is to stand in the upcoming RIBA presidential election. He is currently a member of the RIBA governing council, and is understood to have emailed other members on the body outlining his plans.

He is so far the only challenger to HTA Design managing partner Ben Derbyshire, who last month announced his intention to run in the race to succeed current president Jane Duncan.

Jones was remaining tight-lipped about his candidacy when contacted by the AJ, and it is understood he wants to strictly abide by RIBA rules preventing electioneering until the close of nominations on 26 May.

When he was elected to RIBA Council last year, Jones received the second-highest quota of votes.

He stood on a platform of supporting higher fees for members when matched to a higher level of professional service, which he said ‘must translate to higher salaries for graduates and early career architects’.

Jones has been director of architecture education at Queen’s University Belfast since 2008 and was appointed as RIBA’s vice president of education for 2015-17.

He is currently serving his second spell on the council of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects.

Elsie Owusu

Elsie Owusu

Elsie Owusu

Meanwhile council member Elsie Owusu has confirmed she will not be running for president, having already reported the institute to the Charities Commission and Labour MP Karen Buck in regard to the election rules.

In a letter to Buck, Owusu claimed the RIBA ‘had put in place by-laws which effectively discriminate against women and ethnic minorities’ wanting to run for the position.

Owusu, who last year accused the RIBA of ‘a culture of institutionalised discrimination and conflict’, argued that she too was unable to meet conditions set out in guidance governing elections about the length of time candidates had served on council or another RIBA body - namely two of the last five years.

The architect has only been on RIBA Council for a year and believes the current guidance notes for candidates for the RIBA presidency showed a lack of ‘commitment to diversity’ and would lead to a ‘fight between the same demographic’ of candidate.   

Instead the former Feilden + Mawson partner told the AJ she was planning to back Derbyshire’s bid: ’[I support] everything Ben has said about making the RIBA more transparent and he seems to be taking the issues of equality more seriously than it has been so far.’

Owusu also hit out at the RIBA’s Role Models programme saying: ’[This] project was a more an exercise in tokenism. It was window dressing and I take a dim view of being used as a tailor’s mannequin.’

Responding to Owusu’s concerns about the guidance notes for candidates, the RIBA’s acting chief executive Alan Vallance reiterated that the service conditions were not a requirement but admitted the notes had been ‘edited’ following Owusu’s complaints.

He said: ’Candidates for RIBA Presidency should have served for any two of the previous five years on one or more of a branch committee or council, regional council, RIBA Council, a main committee or RIBA Board.’

Other potential presidential candidates must submit their applications, supported by 60 signatures from chartered members, before 5pm on 25 May.

Response from the RIBA

On the presidential election

’The guidance notes have not been substantively changed. Following correspondence with Elsie Owusu where she raised concerns about eligibility requirements as detailed in the guidance notes, we edited the notes to more accurately reflect the by-laws which state: ’Candidates for RIBA Presidency should have served for any two of the previous five years on one or more of a Branch Committee or Council, Regional Council, RIBA Council, a main committee or RIBA Board.’

’The by-law was introduced in 2013. We have received legal advice that this regulation is neither discriminatory nor unlawful.’

On the RIBA Role Models project 

’We are not aware that Elsie has expressed this view on the RIBA Role Models project [see above] and would welcome a direct approach from her with any feedback she may have.

’Through initiatives like the Role Models project we believe architecture can lead the way in championing equality, diversity and inclusion in the construction industry.

’The 12 RIBA Role Models, including Elsie, volunteered to explain how they have built successful careers in architecture regardless of gender, background, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or education.

’It is crucially important that we attract, retain and nurture talented young people. In particular, we must encourage those still at school to think of architecture as a profession that can offer them a fantastic future. There have been over 10,000 views of the RIBA Role Models’ stories on architecture.com and they have been invited to go into schools as ambassadors for the profession.’

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