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RIAS' all-male list shows either laziness or ignorance. Either way, it’s time for change

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The professional body for architects in Scotland must try harder to represent its constituency

There is a laziness about the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) having booked 21 male speakers and no women for its annual convention in Aberdeen, described as ‘the single most significant event in the Incorporation’s annual calendar.’

Neil Baxter, RIAS secretary, claims the single-sex line-up was unintentional, that RIAS ended up, ‘not by intent or design, with an excellent group of speakers, all of whom happen to be male’.

But it is deeply troubling that any professional body claiming to represent the profession should ‘end up’ promoting a male-only panel of this size.

The promotional brochure features portraits of 21 speakers, with the only women pictured appearing in an advertisement for outdoor kitchens. The convention title? ‘Re-engaging with the Past’. Ain’t that the truth.

Baxter says the programme shows a lack of positive discrimination, but I would argue the RIAS convention shows their ignorant perpetuation of the status quo.

‘We did speak to a number of female architects about potential participation in this year’s convention, unfortunately, as it turned out, none of them were able to manage,’ said Baxter. The irony is that there is a glut of talented, high-profile women in Scottish architecture who are ‘managing’ very well indeed.

Kathryn Findlay, principal of Ushida Findlay, is designing the architectural elements of 2012 Olympic Orbit tower, Karen Anderson, who runs Anderson Bell Christie, is chair of Architecture and Design Scotland (Scotland’s CABE equivalent), Clare Wright of Wright & Wright, recently shortlisted for AJ Woman Architect of the Year, is an established success story, while Jude Barber, co-founder of Collective Architecture (shortlisted for AJ Emerging Architect of the Year) is an exciting young voice in Scotland.

Well done to Kieran Gaffney of Konishi Gaffney for bringing the RIAS conference to our attention via Twitter, and with his letter to RIAS questioning the ‘21 male faces’ in the conference brochure. It is ironic that this war of words broke out the very week we announce that the percentage of women architects employed by AJ100 practices has gone up to 26 per cent, matching its peak in 2009.

The data tallies with the results of the RIBA Future Trends survey, which show women representing 25 per cent of all architectural staff, including architects and architectural designers.

If the RIAS claims to be ‘the professional body for all chartered architects in Scotland’, it must try harder to represent its constituency. Women architects in Scotland can help: Baxter points out that the reason there are no female candidates on this year’s council election ballot, is because ‘no female architects have stood for election.’

Until 2009, the RIBA had never had a female president, and now has had two in a row. I hope women choose to stand for election to the RIAS council next year, and be the change they want to see.


[Note: Since going to print, Kathryn Findlay has confirmed that she was asked to speak at the RIAS convention, but was forced to decline due to a prior commitment to speak at the National Architecture Conference in Brisbane, Australia from 10-12 May. ‘I was certainly asked, as I was last year, but couldn’t make it.’]

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