A profession without an institute which is ‘of the members, by the members and for the members’ is a profession in trouble, says Paul Finch
Having only recently written about the way in which the Architects Registration Board has stripped architects (who fund it) of meaningful representation, it is disappointing to have to write about the RIBA in similar terms.
A prolonged period of institute self-examination has produced a governance structure whose key decision-making committee is headed by a non-architect, with other non-architects also involved.
Why on earth does the profession think it is wise to abandon its own responsibilities – and, in the case of the RIBA councils, its fiduciary responsibilities – to third parties?
In the case of the ARB, architects have had to grin and bear it while the Privy Council’s external worthies take over. In the case of Portland Place, there seems to have been a collective loss of nerve.
This looks like the triumph of the secretariat over the people who pay their salaries.
One expected this situation had come to a close when president Jane Duncan sacked CEO (or whatever fancy title he gave himself) Harry Rich, who imagined that he, not the elected president and council of a membership body, was always the most important person in the room.
Looking back over the past 40 years, it does not need the skills of a Hilary Mantel to detect the long-running rivalries between elected members and the people who are responsible for day-to-day running of the institute.
In the end, it is the elected who have the authority, as former president Owen Luder proved after a showdown with the then chief executive, who had refused to let him see papers regarding institutional finance on the grounds that they were ‘operational’. The president got his way.
RIBA secretariats need to remember that they are actually clerks to the council
All RIBA secretariats need to remember that, whatever personal job titles they may hold, they are actually clerks to the council. They are not in charge – even if, as is currently, unfortunately, the case – the president is absent.
I cannot be the only observer to have been surprised that a fundamental change to the governance structure of the institute should be announced with the president in absentia. Why not wait until his return? Remembering Mantel, I wasn’t so surprised, after all.
Some weeks before the lockdown, in my annual talk to Part 3 students at the Bartlett, I encouraged them to join the RIBA because the idea of professional independence, the promotion of knowledge and the culture of design are important in an uncertain world.
I still believe this to be the case, but a profession without an institute which is ‘of the members, by the members and for the members’ is a profession in trouble.
This is a sorry situation. So, if there are architects out there committed enough to challenge what is being done in their name, and at their expense, all power to their elbows.
Even in this time of crisis, architects need to get up off their knees in respect of their own institute and, eventually, the ARB.
Covid-19 calls for creative responses
Buildings will, inevitably, change as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Unless we find a vaccine, cultural habits are likely to change to avoid unnecessary contact.
This has huge implications for the design of buildings. Trends will be towards sliding doors, non-metallic surfaces, unless they are metals that are anti-bacterial, as some are; a decline in the provision of intimate spaces in favour of more airy volumes; and a new emphasis on interior design where large numbers of people congregate.
The world of delivery will flourish, so architects need to think about things like drone deliveries to high-rise apartments. As ever, health challenges will require creative responses, and not just from doctors.