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Duncan: 'I have every intention of making sure RIBA's council is effective'


Incoming RIBA president Jane Duncan talks to the AJ about her plans for her next two years in office

How are you feeling about becoming RIBA president?
Absolutely excited to bits. I’ve got such a lot of work to do.

What will happen to your equality and diversity role now?
Virginia Newman is taking it on. I’ve got every faith she is going to do all sorts of exciting things with it. We’re going to re-enliven women in architecture.

What are you planning to do with the presidential office?
It’s not about decoration for me. Because my presidency is about a better future, my office is going to become a changing exhibition of the work of students and emerging practices. It is going to be a studio for creative visions. I’ve written to all the schools of architecture already to urge them to propose pieces of work. I don’t want them to be expensively created final products. I’m looking for models and sketches that are in development. I’m very keen to bring students into the institute. I will invite all those whose work is chosen to come and meet me and have a look at their work up on the wall. They’ll get a plaque and it may turn into a more permanent exhibition somewhere else or we may move it around the country. I’m very excited about it. The work that architecture students produce now is more than amazing. The profession has a wonderful future. I want to be stimulated every time I walk into the room.

What are your aims for your term in office?
I have a number. One is internal – to make our governance structure more effective and efficient through guidance, leadership and collaboration. To make sure we bring forward really excellent policies which are turned into real-life projects for the institute. My membership project is engagement. I want closer ties with senior members, council members and the general membership. I want there to be a lot more sharing of news, research, and exciting ideas. I’m going to email all members inviting them to get in touch with me about issues and ideas. I’m also having a monthly open surgery – once a month anyone will be able to come talk to me. I’ll also be holding surgeries if I’m traveling – there are already dates in for the south and Manchester. I want to open up the discussion. I also want to create a digital system for sharing and collaborating.

What can you achieve in the next two years?
I’m looking back on two years as equality and diversity champion and there has been a change of mindset here. I’d like to continue making a difference. I want to open doors here. The industry needs a rethink on a lot of items. I don’t know if we can lead this but we can certainly contribute a lot.

How did Stephen Hodder do as president?
It has been great to get to know him in the last year. He is a very steady, sensible, charming man to work with. He has been a great chair. That is very important – the institute needs a good council chair.

The institute is now looking outwards

Hodder’s presidency struggled with conflicts between the board and council and the controversial Israel motion. Is this all sorted now?
There were a few months which were very difficult for him. What happened as a result of the Israeli motion has been fantastic. There has been a change of direction. The institute is now looking outwards and considering its ethical and moral duties in the world. That is magnificent but we should have been doing that before. The motion and its wording did have some negative impacts but its legacy is something fantastic. In the last year both council and the board has settled down a lot. We’ve done some really good work. The education review was outstanding.

You’re about to become the third female president, what was the turning point for women in this role?
People tell me I’m the third woman president but to me I’m just the 75th president. Was there a turning point? The right character simply came forward at the right time. I love balance in everything in life. We’ve had 72 male presidents and just three women, so the next 70-odd should be women to keep it equal. But true equality is when you do not look at the gender you simply look at the right person for the role.

One of my heroes is Sunand Prasad

Which past presidents do you admire and what for?
I’m very fond of presidents who have an altruistic goal. One of my heroes is Sunand Prasad. He had an outstanding ability to bring the sustainability agenda to prominence.

Just nine per cent of members backed you to be president. What do you need to do to connect to the RIBA membership?
One of my dearest goals is to connect the entire membership. I want them to have a dialogue and a discourse and to help each other to succeed.

Has the RIBA council lost its power? Do you have any plans to shake up the council?
The truth is that it hasn’t lost any power but the question is how well it uses it. The RIBA council is the supreme governing body of the institute. I have every intention of making sure it is really effective.

How do you plan to make it effective?
I want them to talk to me. I’m going to speak to all of the council members – if not collectively then individually – to remind them what their role is. It is a very important role. I also want them to be the conduit for conversations back to the rest of the membership, their regions, and their areas.

Do you have any plans to shake up the council?
I have plans for a team on council who are going to be looking into improving engagement from particular groups who perhaps haven’t been at the forefront of everybody’s minds. Salaried architects are one group I would like to give more attention to. There is a lot of discussion about principals in both small and large practices but the people who work for them haven’t really had much of a voice. I also want to get retiring or retired architects involved with helping the profession. They have a wealth of experience and we shouldn’t be letting them off the hook.

Who are you looking at recruiting to this special council team?
I have a number of people in mind but I haven’t signed anyone up yet. I’ll have three groups that I’m going to be relying on - principally my vice president. We’ve been developing a new strategy for the RIBA for the next five years. It’s not there yet but its developing brilliantly. The format will go to council soon. It says all the right things for me.

What is your view on the ARB?
At the moment I’m waiting to see what happens. Things are going in the way that the RIBA is pleased with. I’m glad we have confirmation of protection of title. We need to make sure the ARB is doing things fairly and for architects but that it is also doing the right job for the public.

Is the RIBA too London-centric?
It’s difficult for it not to be London-centric considering how many of the UK’s architects are based in London. The capital attracts a lot of clients and a lot of people use London as a springboard to the rest of the world. There has been a lot of work done regionally to support offices. Will things change? Yes. With devolution we’ll be looking at a different world but the UK’s centre of gravity will not move out of London.

Does the RIBA need to change how it addresses the needs of different sized practices?
It is already doing it. The small practice and large practice groups are very active. There is a lot of stuff going on.

Does the RIBA need to increase its engagement with the profession and the rest of the construction industry? What are your plans for this?
The RIBA is the profession. Does it need to talk amongst itself more? Yes. Do we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and feeling that we are isolated? Yes. Without a doubt we need to open our doors and be more collaborative with other members of the industry.

How do you plan to juggle the demands of being the RIBA president with running a practice?
In the same way I have always juggled my life. I’ve always had lots of different things going on. I’ve always been involved in other things to architecture and perhaps that benefits practice. It gives you perspective. If you want to do something you can do it – it’s just a matter of being organised.

Duncan: 'I have every intention of making sure RIBA's council is effective'


Readers' comments (2)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    I think many architects, and small practices especially, recognise in Jane Duncan a practitioner who understands their struggle. As a result she has an excellent constituency for driving some necessary changes at the RIBA. At a recent RIBA Council meeting she acknowledged that leading the change was 'the opportunity of a generation'.

    I agree with her and with the need to identify a meaningful strategy capable of leading architecture in increasingly challenging times. There is a palpable sense in the profession that we need to shift up a gear to be able to face the future with confidence.

    'Leading Architecture 2’; the RIBA's Strategy 2016 to 2020, is intended as a framework of priorities within which the RIBA Board will prepare annual business plans. Jane's most important task, because it is (or should be) over-arching everything else, is to create and deliver this strategy.

    No further governance reviews or changes to byelaws are necessary to instil the necessary leadership and create a management strategy and structure that's fit for purpose provided sufficient council members are in agreement about how to do this.

    If council is ever to be really effective in a strategic role it needs to be weaned off its propensity for dwelling on marginalia to the detriment of the really important issues. Jane promises chairmanship and a tighter rein on time wasting points of order, procedural and reporting issues which should be dealt with outside the meeting.

    Leading Architecture 2 needs SMART objectives in relation to strategic themes. Council should adopt a management process for regular review of the strategy. The Board should report to council on how successive business plans are proposing to meet strategic objectives and whether the institute is succeeding in delivering objectives. At the very least the chief executive and president’s annual review should be related to performance against the five year strategy.

    Ben Derbyshire.
    Managing Partner, HTA Design LLP
    Chair, The Housing Forum

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  • Tim Bailey

    Judging from what I have witnessed over the last year Jane Duncan will prove to be a level headed, hard working President. Building on the excellent work that has started under Stephen Hodder and adding her own practical and relevant agenda this President can help architects address the significant changes ahead for practice and individual alike. Institutions don't move fast but with the collaborative and positive mood engendered by the incoming President there is a chance that the RIBA can move faster than ever before to form and lead opinion in the field.

    Tim Bailey
    xsite architecture LLP
    RIBA Council

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