AHMM’s Simon Allford has made a stinging attack on the RIBA, urging the profession to storm its London HQ and ‘take it back for architects and architecture’
The Allford Hall Monaghan Morris co-founder and former RIBA vice-president of education hit out after learning of the latest governance shake-up at what he called ‘the sadly ever-less relevant’ institute.
Last week banker Murray Orr and Google AI principal designer Matt Jones were named as members of a new, nine-strong board of trustees, which will oversee the running of the RIBA. It will be chaired by lawyer and University of the Arts London vice-chancellor Nigel Carrington.
The other new appointments to the board include Jo Bacon, managing partner of Allies and Morrison and chair of the RIBA Awards Group, and Nicky Watson, director at JDDK Architects and current RIBA vice-president for education, as well as Royal Academy of Arts director of academic affairs MaryAnne Stevens.
The appointments followed a change in the RIBA’s constitution aimed at ‘streamlining its governance structure’. The new board will assume fiduciary duties, meaning the 50-strong council will no longer deal with operational detail.
However, the switch was derided by Allford, who told the AJ: ‘It seems the lunatics (the council) have now left the asylum and a new motley crew has been invited in by the ringmasters (the executive) to run the empty shell.
It is rarely full of anyone related to architecture – though it is big on corporate events. And now even the staff have gone
‘The president is [missing], though it matters not, as she, or in this case he, makes no difference. The building is now completely empty, which also matters little as, sadly, it is rarely full of anyone related to architecture – though it is big on corporate events. Even the staff have gone.’
Saying ‘enough is enough’, Allford called on the profession to act.
He added: ‘First we storm the building, taking it back for architects and architecture. Then we get rid of the ringmaster and his new crew, while simultaneously shrinking the payroll back to what is needed to run bars, restaurants, debates, lectures, exhibitions of the best drawing collection in the world and the celebration of excellence in education and awards.
‘Imagine 66 Portland Place as a fun palace for architects, and anyone who is interested in architecture: what it was, what it is and what it might become – with Architecture, with a capital A, as the engaging backdrop to the theatre of everyday life that we are all missing so badly.’
Allford was supported by former RIBA president and current Perkins & Will principal Jack Pringle. He said: ‘It has been one new low after another.
‘Mismanagement, leading to a financial crisis, selling off the family silver, closing the great Florence Hall Conran restaurant, where we could entertain clients or politicians so RIBA could build a staff canteen up the road, and bringing in an overarching trustee body where the chair does not have to be an architect. “Jack, it will never happen” [I was told].
‘Now, the coup de grace. We can’t even find an architect to head up the new trust body and we appoint a lawyer.’
He added: ’We are a learned institute of architects that educates and supports architects. We should be headed by one of us. Can anyone see the Law Society selecting an architect to head up their main trustee body?’
Pringle concluded: ‘Some serious architects need to get elected to council, execute a palace coup, have another SGM and straighten some things out.’
RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance had previously hailed this month’s appointment of trustees as a ‘historic moment’, which marked ‘the culmination of almost three years of detailed member consultation and development’.
Our new governance structure will enable us to be even more efficient, effective, and focused on better outcomes
He said: ‘Our new governance structure will enable us to be even more efficient, effective, and focused on better outcomes for our members.’
Another former RIBA president, George Ferguson, welcomed the creation of the board as ‘a good move with a bit of added Google whizzery’. He told the AJ: ’I’m sure there will be kick-back from some members, but RIBA Council has never been the right place to deal with financial matters. It should be the place to defend the RIBA’s spirit and purpose of raising standards in architecture and place-making.’
Ferguson, a former mayor of Bristol, went on: ‘I’m impressed with the choice of Carrington, who has had a great outward-looking track record at the University of the Arts. The president, in ordinary times, should be vice-chair and the principal link with council.
’Our wonderful drawings collection will have a great friend in MaryAnne Stevens. Murray Orr has an impressive financial CV and has, incidentally, been a generous benefactor to his old university of Bristol.’
He concluded: ‘It is vital that the new board maintains the RIBA on a sound footing and reaches out to architects, educators, students and clients. The RIBA should be outward-looking and at the heart of the debate about the making of good places and defending a fragile world.’
Details of the new board were released just days after the RIBA reported a ‘serious incident’ to the Charity Commission, involving its president, Alan Jones, who has temporarily stood down.
An inquiry launched on behalf of the institute is examining whether Jones abused his position as its president or used RIBA funds to further an alleged extramarital affair.
Kerr Robertson, RIBA honorary secretary
The RIBA has been transformed. After almost three years of groundwork, last week the RIBA Council appointed a new board of trustees - some of the most influential and experienced minds in business, law, architecture, digital transformation and culture.
The new structure has been designed to improve the influence of architects on their Institute - elected Council members will no longer have to deal with operational detail and focus instead on the real issues that matter to their profession.
We are in good financial health and set up to be more efficient and effective, and better placed to support our members now and in the future.
In response to Simon’s suggestions for our London HQ – there is no need to storm the building! When the lockdown is lifted, the doors will be open again and everyone is welcome to enjoy the vast range of cultural experiences on offer.’