Christina Gaiger, 33, is to become the youngest ever president of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)
The architect at Edinburgh-based Helen Lucas Architects, who officially takes over from Robin Webster incorporation’s annual general meeting later today (30 June), is only the second woman to be voted into the role in the organisation’s 104-year history.
Gaiger saw off Karen Pickering, chair of the board of directors at Page\Park, and Gordon Smith, director of GSS Architect, in the poll of RIAS members which attracted 805 votes, representing 22.9 per cent of the electorate.
In her manifesto, Gaiger, who will serve for a two-year term, vowed to continue overhauling the institution, which was accused of lacking proper governance following the resignation of long-time treasurer Neil Baxter in 2017.
Police Scotland and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator both have ongoing investigations into financial irregularities at the RIAS. The results of an internal probe into the incorporation’s governance during the same period was handed to both bodies last year.
Changes at the RIAS since 2017 were prompted by lobby group A New Chapter. More than 100 Scottish architects demanded change amid claims RIAS was secretive and lacked accountability.
Since then the institution has published a strategy document for how it will ‘inspire’ improvement across a range of issues in Scottish architecture.
Gaiger said she hoped to ‘lead the incorporation into a more engaging, relevant and forward-thinking future’, adding: ’Those who know me, are aware that I am rarely lost for words. But the support from the membership was overwhelming and the clear message for a bolder direction left me speechless and filled with hope.
The clear message for a bolder direction left me speechless and filled with hope
’I wish to thank everyone who supported me and took the time to vote. I also wish to thank our outgoing president, Robin Webster, for laying the groundwork for reform, alongside Gordon Smith and Karen Pickering for an engaging campaign and election process.
She concluded: ’The hard work begins now. I look forward to building a supportive architectural network and to use our platform for stronger advocacy, to publicly stand up for architecture, architects, quality and diversity across Scotland.’
The only previous woman to hold the presidential title was Joyce Deans from 1991 to 1993.
Who were the presidential candidates?
Christina Gaiger has worked at Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Paris and Tsao & McKown in New York. She has worked for Helen Lucas Architects since 2014. Gaiger became a council member for the Edinburgh Architectural Association in April 2019, before becoming an Edinburgh chapter representative for the RIAS in September 2019.
Karen Pickering joined Page\Park in 1992 after graduating from the Glasgow School of Art and is currently chair of the board of directors, as well as leader of the practice’s Creative Workspace team. She is also a board member for Women in Property Scotland and Employee Ownership Scotland, as well as an awards assessor for the Civic Trust and a business contributor to the Scottish Government Economy and Fair Work Committee.
Gordon Smith has been a sole practitioner for more than 35 years. He was the only candidate to run against Robin Webster in the previous RIAS election in 2018 and has been a nationally elected RIAS council member since 2016.
He was also president of the Aberdeen Society of Architects from 2009 to 2011 and remains treasurer to the organisation. Smith was also RIAS’s North Scotland representative to the RIBA Council between 2010 and 2016.
Q&A with Christina Gaiger (taken from previous article dated 2 June)
Do you think Robin Webster has succeeded in reforming RIAS – and what are the issues facing the organisation?
It was a result of Robin Webster becoming president that I joined the RIAS and actively wanted to become more involved. I have worked closely with him over the past nine months on council, witnessed and contributed to the changes and plans which have been put in motion. This period will always be looked back on as a pivotal time for the RIAS. There is still work to be done and the reform is not complete.
I want to build on the start that he has made, take the mantle and run with it, completing the governance structure changes to enable a more contemporary and dynamic organisation. One of the biggest issues we’re facing, alongside supporting the profession through the repercussions of the pandemic, is how the RIAS finds it’s voice for members; how it communicates, advocates and binds the profession together.
What is the biggest issue facing architects in Scotland?
I cannot talk about issues facing the profession without first acknowledging the coronavirus outbreak. There are architects up and down the country that are going through an incredibly difficult time. It will affect us all in different ways. For some, understandably, their primary focus will be job security and financial stability and the RIAS should do it’s best to support the profession through this time.
Alongside this, architects are concerned that there has been a loss of focus on the larger overarching issue of the global climate emergency. It is key that architects are central to conversations about the post pandemic environment with a focus on carbon reduction. We should take this opportunity to stop and think about our next move, as opposed to rush to build again by any means. To innovate, collectively problem-solve, share knowledge and design responsibly.
Why are you the right person to take the job?
Running for president really wasn’t on my mind when I first joined the RIAS. Having backed reform through A New Chapter, I got involved to make a difference. I’m standing as a direct result of being inspired and empowered by those around me.
As president, I would want to do exactly that for every architect in Scotland and beyond – inspire and empower. My thoughts and intentions have been clear and consistent from the beginning of my campaign. My passion is clear and I’m excited for what the RIAS could be: a vibrant, active and influential community of architects in Scotland.