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.
Elsie Owusu, RIBA councillor
‘The turnout is disappointing and council members must do much more to encourage and persuade architects to engage with RIBA.’
Seriously declining interest in the role evidenced by % voting though and it couldn't be easier nowadays. https://t.co/cond3oKbPR— Simon Carne (@simon_carne) August 9, 2016
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.’