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Can one of these candidates shake up the RIAS?

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It’s the first time since the 1980s that the members of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland’s (RIAS) will get to chose their next president. So what do we know about the two candidates?

Last month Gordon G Smith, a sole practitioner from Aberdeen, and Robin Webster of Glasgow’s Cameron Webster Architects were announced as the only contenders in the running to replace the RIAS’s outgoing president Stewart Henderson.

For the last three decades nominations for the organisation’s top role have been invited from RIAS fellows and then voted on solely by its council members.

But following a major shake-up at the incorporation, kickstarted in March this year when reformers managed to push through ‘significant regime changes’ at the RIAS, the membership will now get to elect its president again.

In the last 12 months, the RIAS has been rocked by problems with internal governance, the unexpected departure of its secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter and investigations by both the charity regulator and the police. So what do the two candidates plan to do if elected, and how can they turn around the fortunes of the 102-year old organisation?

Gordon G Smith: ‘We shouldn’t forget the RIAS’s achievements over the last decade’

What is your perception of the RIAS and how it has been run in recent years?
I’m proud to be a member of the RIAS with its history and traditions and at its heart its core values, which should not be overlooked.  However, it was acknowledged that the governance structure required updating, indeed much of it still reflected the original charter.

Mistakes have been made in the past, but steps have been put in place so that they cannot be repeated. We shouldn’t forget the achievements of the RIAS over the last 10 years. We only need to look south of the border to see similar issues within the RIBA. Admittedly this has been an unpleasant episode. We need to draw a line under it and move on, this is only a distraction from what we should be doing to serve our members.

What would you like to see change?
Build on, facilitate and implement recommendations of the new Strategy + Business Plan with a commitment to understanding how our work impacts on those who use our services and improving our procedures where appropriate to better meet the needs of our members, reflecting on lessons of the past, what we do next and how we best strategically achieve this.

Collaboration and co-operation lie at the centre of successful outcomes. Working together we can continue to progress and develop new ideas for stability and inclusivity and continued growth of the incorporation, responsive to changing needs.

What one thing would you hope to achieve in your first 12 months in the role?
Knowledge and mentorship are key. Therefore I’d establish mentoring by role models setting up partnerships that link employers, professional bodies and educators, to better understand supply and demand for talent in our sector and the type of skills that practices are seeking and to support and develop mentoring programs to build a more representative profession in Scotland, by implementing its own role models program, similar to that of the RIBA

How can the profession’s marginalisation be reversed?
We have been left behind. We have ceded various responsibilities to others in the design/construction processes.

It is important for the RIAS to step up for its members, positioning the profession and the important topics of the day so that the role does not diminish further. Lobbying has become more important and this is not something we are engaging with enough in our industry to highlight our role.

Architects must get out there and compete with the other agents that crowd the field

Architects must get out there and compete. Not with each other, but with the myriad other agents that crowd the wider field.

What immediate action would you take to tackle the gender pay gap?
It is practices that need to fix pay inequality. However, I do believe the RIAS can lead on this. The RIAS should develop a minimum standard for Chartered Practice status. Achieving pay equality is the foundation of building an environment in which creativity can flourish.

How do you get those with influence to listen to the RIAS?
We need to continue to lobby and promote the value of design quality with local and national governments on planning, procurement and Brexit, collaborating with other professional associations, in a joint approach; to create a stronger voice for the values of the profession going forward.

Which building by another architect do you wish you could have designed?
An Turas, Tiree, by Sutherland Hussey Architects in collaboration with artists Jake Harvey, Donald Urquhart, Glen Onwin and Sandra Kennedy. Scottish Building of the Year in 2003. 

Source: Donald Urquhart

It is in, and of, the landscape under a big sky, a building and an artwork, a landmark and a symbol. It is a place to shelter from the elements – and if you don’t know Tiree, that is the most important criteria.

Where is your favourite place?
Standing on top of a mountain in winter anticipating the next exhilarating decent!

The Mac – rebuild as was, retain and add, or restart?
What would Charles Rennie Mackintosh say himself? He was hailed as a pioneer of Modernism and he wouldn’t stand back from change. What do the people of Glasgow want? Personally, I would like to see it retained, recreated in part and added to in a way that is both sympathetic but an advancement of modern Scottish architecture.

What was the last book you read?
The book on my coffee table is Charles Rennie Mackintosh: A biography by James Macaulay, my former tutor at Scott Sutherland School of Architecture, Aberdeen.

Who is your hero?
My father. He was the inspiration for me becoming an architect. A joiner in the shipyard he made sacrifices to support me through my education and career choice – someone who I could look up to.

Who do you turn to for advice?
As a sole practitioner, and part of a local network group of similar small practices, it is my colleagues I turn to for information advice or just a chat.

What is your biggest extravagance?
I used to think it was the upkeep of my old Mazda RX8 but looking at my bank statements, it’s Lego.

What do you collect?
I have a growing collection of artisan Gins.

How would you celebrate if you won?
You are asking a Scotsman that? Seriously, it would be both an honour and privilege to serve the membership in the capacity of president. I would raise a glass to those that are no longer here, who would be proud of my achievements in reaching the pinnacle of one’s career.

What is your motto?
Listen and Lead

 

Robin Webster: ‘The RIAS had become one man’s fiefdom’

What is your perception of the RIAS and how it has been run in recent years?

It seemed to have become one man’s fiefdom, with a lot of superficial public relations fluff. Its governance has been a mess, and what real work it has achieved has been poorly communicated. There are some great people there, and practice services have been much appreciated, but a very self-satisfied draft strategy document issued last year gave rise to much discontent.

A New Chapter formed by many architects both within and without the incorporation has raised issues that, with the help of many members, have now begun to be addressed by the different chapters and council. I am encouraged by a sense of engagement, but there is still much to do.

What one thing would you hope to achieve in your first 12 months in the role?
A more collegiate Incorporation, with a better balance of gender and age, keen to contribute and take us forward.

How can the profession’s marginalisation be reversed?
We can push at an open door regarding the need for the architect’s impartial professional role to ensure well-crafted buildings – both safe and better value. The government needs to hear about this and how the talent in our profession can be better sourced.

What immediate action would you take to tackle the gender pay gap?
Ask all offices to examine and reassess their pay structure and report back on how they will improve it.

How do you get those with influence to listen to the RIAS?
By encouraging better communication, organised networking, and publishing articles by knowledgeable and experienced architects with clear and ethical views.

Which building by another architect do you wish you could have designed?
Maison de Verre by Pierre Chareau.

Where is your favourite place?
My flat in Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s Walmer Crescent, Glasgow.

The Mac – rebuild as was, retain and add, or restart?
Rebuild as it was to Mackintosh’s drawings and details, and take over the rest of the urban block down to Sauchiehall Street to give the Glasgow School of Art more presence there and enliven the failing street.

What was the last book you read?
AA Files X: full of stimulating stuff, like conversations between Cedric Price and Frank Newby.

Who is your hero?
Kazuyo Sejima for her spare and elegant buildings.

Who do you turn to for advice?
My partner Stuart Cameron, my children and my wife.

What is your biggest extravagance?
Wasting time.

What do you collect?
Drawings and ideas.

How would you celebrate if you won?
Take a deep breath, and ask my supporters to join me for a drink in the Laurieston pub.

What is your motto?
Deus Textor Vitae Nostrae (family motto).

Voting opens the week and closes on 1 October 2018. The results will be announced next month and take up office as RIAS President at the AGM.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • I hope that every member will take the opportunity to vote!

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  • Robin Webster is the only candidate capable of bring about sorely needed reform.

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  • Gordon Smith says “it was acknowledged the governance structure needed updating” and then admits: “Mistakes have been made in the past but steps have been put in place so they cannot be repeated.”

    Well guess what, he was about one of the last people on Council to acknowledge this. I have found him not just a poor advocate for change, but one of a small group who was less than supportive to those of us who tried to raise concerns.

    The small group he supported formed themselves in to a “Governance Review Group” most of whom had a conflict of interest. Despite claiming to have met 33 times this little group did not produce any report, did not identify any failings and did not even produce a set of minutes. How can steps be in place to stop problems from repeated when the problems have never been identified in the first place?

    When it was finally accepted that the members should vote for the RIAS President, instead of this being ‘decided’ by Council, some of us fought to open this up further by having this role shared by 2 people. This was to make the role more attractive to people who could not afford the time away from their work and families - perhaps younger female architects.

    Gordon Smith, as he admitted at the Edinburgh Hustings, was one of those who voted against this, helping to ensure this opportunity was lost.

    The failings Gordon Smith refers to all happened on his watch.

    Just like the former Secretary, I note Gordon Smith has to indulge in some unfair and uncalled for RIBA bashing to deflect some criticism away from the RIAS. There is no such comparison with the RIBA and this statement is highly misleading. So much for a his claims of collaboration being the key to success.

    Robin Webster, since he joined Council earlier this year, has shown himself to be a breath of fresh air, a person of true integrity, progressive and a genuine advocate for change - with no hangover from the previous regime.

    I would urge all RIAS members to look closely at what each of these candidates has achieved over their professional lives - and what they are saying here. It is easy to make grand statements about what you would do if you became President, much harder to deliver.

    I therefore agree with that last person to comment above: Robin Webster is the only candidate capable of bringing about sorely needed reform.

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