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Anger over RIBA’s plans to bring back ‘fellow’ memberships

RIBA Portland Place

A group of architects has hit out at the RIBA’s plans to shake-up its membership categories and reintroduce a ‘fellow’ category

The plans which were first mooted in 2014, would see a new membership category introduced for current chartered members who have made a ‘significant contribution to the profession’.

According to the institute, contenders must have ‘fulfilled’ a number of key criteria including having received an award or contributed to the enhancement of the profession. 

But critics, including Kate Mackintosh, Peter Ahrends, and Abe Hyeem, say the proposed move presents ‘another hurdle before one can present oneself to the public as a complete architect.’  The original fellowship class was scrapped by the RIBA almost 50 years ago after a poll – led by Mackintosh – discredited the membership status. 

The group is now urging RIBA members to vote against the change before a special general meeting on 23 February. 

The new membership class had been due to come in last year but was delayed due to issues surrounding obtaining Privy Counsel approval to the necessary by-law change.

The shake-up of categories was originally set to include extra classifications for graduates – distinguishing between Part 1, 2 and 3 students – and allowing Part 3 students to use a newly introduced ‘AssociateRIBA’ affix after their name.

But when this rejig was first revealed in 2013, architects raised concern that the ‘highly complicated’ proposals could confuse clients and devalue RIBA membership, and these have not yet come into play (AJ 26.09.13).

RIBA president Jane Duncan, responded: ’The new fellow membership class marks a shift away from traditional ”fellowships” and will recognise and celebrate those chartered members who have made significant contributions to the profession, regardless of their age or social background.

’Significant contributions might include humanitarian work, contributing to thought leadership, mentoring or leading on a project that has had a positive impact on society.’

She added: ’The new fellow class has been developed following the 2013 Membership Review, the most comprehensive for 25 years. The RIBA Council reaffirmed its commitment to the creation of the fellow class in September 2015. Chartered members have the opportunity to vote on the proposed by-law changes, with an outcome expected at the special general meeting on 23 February. I’m committed to improving the relevance and appeal of the RIBA to as many in the profession as possible.

’The new fellow membership offer is a key part in achieving this.’

RIBA membership

RIBA membership

Statement from the group 

It is to the credit of the profession that it is one of the most liberal and least hierarchical of the major professions. 

Sadly we now learn that a few status seekers at Portland Place are intent on reviving the discredited Fellowship Class nearly 50 years after a poll of the whole membership, led by Kate Macintosh, swept the divisive nonsense away.

To the already lengthy qualification period of seven years is to be added another hurdle before one can present oneself to the public as a ’complete’ architect.

Back will come all the anomalies and discrepancies that bedeviled the old system.

It is claimed that the suffix will signal to the public and potential clients that the bearer has achieved a superior level of competence. Leaving aside the fact that many architects produce their best work when they are young, all the original suffix indicated was that the Fellow was old. The main purpose of a suffix is to signal the level of expertise. 

It follows that only if the individual has acquired some additional specialism should an additional suffix be justified, as is continental practice.

RIBA members have an opportunity to prevent this retrograde step by voting against it at the upcoming SGM, scheduled for the 23 February 2016.

Postal and online voting is provided for. All corporate members will receive voting papers either in the post or online. To make things unnecessarily difficult no membership number is included in the meeting notice but it is required from voters. If not to hand this can be found on your last annual subscription request.

Print out your ballot paper and email or post to Portland Place. Votes must be received by the 22 February 2016, at the latest.


Hans Haenlein

Clare Frankl

Peter Ahrends

Kate Macintosh

Paul Collinge

David Rowley

John Bulcock

Jo Wright

Sean Macintosh

Mick Brundle

John Wybor

Gail Waldman

Abe Hyeem

Bob Giles

Derek Bradford


Readers' comments (3)

  • The problem with a fellowship class as proposed is that it rapidly descends into a reward for longevity rather than exceptional achievement. That is why it was abolished. There is, however, a case for a fellowship class based on proven individual design excellence. This would not put anyone off becoming an architect, any more than the QC class inhibits applications to the Bar.

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  • Chris Roche

    This is just plain daft. I remember the idea was first introduced to Council around 7 years ago when FRIBA was to be used to describe new members who were not Architects but associated professionals. It was not adopted then because it met with resistance, in particular from RIBA members in Scotland who still had FRIBA membership. I also participated in debates over a register for "Conservation Architects" which was deemed unnecessary and divisive, and yet was adopted. Ironically I can recall Past President Stephen Hodder arguing the Register of Conservation Architects would prevent his office undertaking certain Conservation Projects as they were not on the register. This is wrong and should be resisted by ALL the membership, however when Presidents continue to be elected un-opposed, or with a minority vote, it is clear it is likely to be approved with a minority of the Profession supporting the motion.

    Chris Roche RIBA / Founder 11.04
    Former RIBA Council Member

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  • RIBA did a membership survey in 2013 before taking forward the concept of the new classes and other reforms. this nuanced Fellow proposal was supported by members generally. So to say it's an initiative from a few 'status-seekers' is misleading and insulting to members who replied positively to the idea.

    It's also not true to say that all the old Fellows were 'old' (what's so wrong about being 'old' too?). My father became a fellow when in his very early forties ; he did not seek this out however and he was not a Portland Place-man, but his thesis (published in the AJ) helped bring about key legislative changes following publications by the Countryside Commission in the early '70s to reducing car access to national parks and park and ride schemes. He did not keep using his FRIBA and resorted to RIBA after the changes.

    This new scheme is not a longevity reward - it recognises special achievement and service.

    Finally, with deference to the eminent people who have contributed to the open letter, I think architects do mature at different rates and some do wonderful things when young and others need time to mature and develop and may have had family commitments which kept them realising their potential when younger.

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