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Low RIBA election turnout ‘depressing’ and ‘disappointing’, say architects

RIBA Presidential Election 2016

Architects have slammed yet another low turnout in the RIBA elections, with some questioning the institute’s relevance to the profession

Turnout in the election dropped again, with just 15.2 per cent of the 27,351 eligible voters returning their ballot papers – meaning only 8 per cent of the RIBA’s membership backed the institute’s next president, Ben Derbyshire. 

In recent years the number of people voting in the elections has dropped considerably. In 2006, when Sunand Prasad was elected to the post, more than a quarter of the RIBA’s membership turned out.

But in 2014 just 9 per cent of the RIBA members voted for current president Jane Duncan.

Two years later the level of interest fell even further, from nearly 5,000 in 2014 to 4,042 in 2016.

RIBA councillor John Assael said he was ‘appalled by the low turnout’. 

He added: ‘To make me even more depressed, this follows a trend – 20 per cent less voted in this election than the last one. This is the clearest evidence that the RIBA is seen as irrelevant to most of the profession.’

Fellow RIBA councillor Shahriar Nasser agreed. He said: ‘[The turnout] is desperately disappointing, but not surprising. So many architects have lost faith in the RIBA. 

‘We find ourselves in a serious crisis and we need to deal with it urgently. We talk around it but do not deal with it and the young are not interested. They all have the same message: the RIBA is not relevant to them. Why should they care? Why should they pay for membership of an institute which is not relevant to them?’ 

Darren Bray of Hampshire-based PAD Studio added: ‘The turnout for the vote is depressingly low and I have spoken to some very experienced RIBA-registered architects who just did not see the relevance of voting for an RIBA president.

‘I have struggled to debate and convince these people why you would vote, because SMEs outside of London keep asking the same question: “How does the RIBA reflect me and my practice?”’ 

But past president Stephen Hodder was less concerned, saying voting within other professional institutes had shown a similar downturn. 

He said: ‘While somewhat disappointing, I am assured that this turnout is commensurate with other professional institutes. The RIBA was quite diligent in seeking an increased return. It needs to continue the debate regarding engagement and to intensify its efforts.’ 

Alan Jones, who missed out to Derbyshire in the presidential election, agreed. He said: ‘I understand a 15-16 per cent return is typical of many profession-based institutes. 

‘To significantly improve the return, more of our profession and members need to link how the RIBA is essential and relevant with the qualities and skills of those who lead and represent the institute. More will then take the time to consider where to place their vote. Next year I hope our student members, our future profession, will also have a vote, which will raise the debate between education and practice.’

The RIBA’s ambassadors for young architects have been attempting to change the voting rights to allow students to have a say in who becomes the next president of the institute. One, Albena Atanassova, raised a motion in March calling for student members to be able to vote in the institute’s regional and presidential elections. 

Students currently make up 29 per cent of RIBA’s membership but are not allowed to vote in the elections.

Further comments

Elsie Owusu, RIBA councillor

‘The turnout is disappointing and council members must do much more to encourage and persuade architects to engage with RIBA.’

Russell Curtis, RIBA councillor and founder of RCKa

‘Once again the turnout was excruciatingly low and is, if any were needed, confirmation that Ben has his work cut out in attempting to reunite the institute with the membership.’




Readers' comments (3)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    This is how coups happen, not enough people care.
    Then a little cabal organises their voters and sneak in.
    If RIBA members want to have the RIBA represent them, then they better get out their vote.
    15% means nobody cares.
    Probably for good reason.

    The RIBA presents itself very poorly to the profession -especially small practices. They can't even convince newspapers and magazines to name the architects in building articles.

    I have barely heard of a committee reporting on anything of significance in decades.
    I think the Cafe in Portland Place (and the Library) is about the most useful thing we have.

    If I were the RIBA, I would go to the PII insurers and ask them to support a minimum feescale to ensure architects at least have the man-hours built into the fees to do a competent job. It is a pathetic situation where almost all architects dread going to construction, and if they do, pray for variations to offset their losses.I would then go to whoever is the Monopolies Commission and start throwing our weight about a bit.

    Let's hope the new President is fired up -but maybe RIBA Council is designed to resist any change.

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  • "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein

    If you want to re-engage with the membership. Do something different..
    The really interesting facts:
    1. The calamitous fall from 27% to 18% happened around 2006 between Sunand Prasad and Ruth Reed. Since then it has been in decline slowly but surely.
    2. "15% means nobody cares." - But they still pay the best part of £400pa.

    Disengaged but still 70% of architects still shelling out. Maybe it's the RIBA that shouldn't care?
    There's an insight in all this.......

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  • Chris Roche

    If this worrying trend continues it will not be long before the only members voting are the candidates themselves, and whoever has a dog will clinch it.

    Chris Roche
    X RIBA Council

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