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RIBA set to investigate ‘institutionalised racism’

Sir Peter Blake and Elsie Owusu at the front door
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The RIBA is set to launch an investigation into ‘institutionalised racism’ following a complaint by architect and council member Elsie Owusu

Owusu, who left Feilden + Mawson earlier this month, accused the RIBA of ‘a culture of institutionalised discrimination and conflict’.

She said this was ‘demonstrated by the lack of ethnic diversity on council, the board and within the executive’.

The institute had planned to appoint barrister Stephen Hockman to carry out an inquiry into racism at the organisation after the complaints by Owusu, but yesterday (1 December) he was stood down after the plans were taken to RIBA Council in a confidential session.

According to sources, councillors were angered by the level of Hockman’s fees – in the region of £1,000 an hour.

Hockman, who is also a deputy high court judge, chaired the RIBA’s review of its governance structure last year.

It is understood that RIBA honorary secretary Roger Shrimplin will now produce a report for council, outlining the terms of reference and brief for any inquiry, before any further investigation can progress. It is expected to be put before council in March 2016.

Owusu had already been contacted by Hockman, who had asked her to supply ‘all relevant information’.

She said: ‘I refused to cooperate with [Hockman’s] inquiry on the basis that I do not believe this is an acceptable way to spend subs paid by architects, many of whom struggle to find the cash.’

‘Progress is being made in fighting discrimination against women with the campaign started by the AJ. However the issue of institutionalised discrimination against black and minority ethnic women and men, both within the RIBA and within the culture of the profession as a whole, must be addressed.’

Owusu added: ‘These are serious issues, not only for the RIBA, but the profession as a whole. They should be dealt with by a properly constituted committee, chaired by an eminent figure with suitable expertise - with no fear of vested interests, conflicts of interest, or cover-ups.’

A spokesperson for the RIBA, said: ‘I can confirm that the RIBA’s solicitors have appointed a barrister to undertake an investigation related to matters raised by an RIBA council member.

‘We will not comment further at this stage.’ 

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • It is relatively easy to fire off accusations of sexism or racism or any other kind of ‘ism’ and to be told that racism goes through architecture like a stick of rock is an appalling indictment. The accusation that it starts at the top with the RIBA amounts to libel, unless it can be supported by real evidence. There will now be a very expensive inquiry funded by the RIBA members to see if there is any truth in these accusation. Before taking this step it would have been interesting to know what evidence has been produced to support these claims and whether there has been any attempt to find others who have a similar view.

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