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Weekend roundup: Simon Allford hits out at ‘irrelevant’ RIBA

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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: Simon Allford urges RIBA members to storm the building • Architects’ confidence plummets • Signs of hope as construction sites reopen • Appeal victory bolsters ZHA UK workload

AHMM co-founder Simon Allford has unleashed a furious tirade against the RIBA, describing it as an asylum and ‘sadly ever-less relevant’.

Is he kicking an organisation while it’s down? The institute has not had the best few weeks of its 186-year history. The coronavirus epidemic has led it to put nearly a third of its staff on furlough while it sails on rudderless, its president having taken an unexpected leave of absence while the institute investigates whether he used RIBA funds to further an alleged extramarital affair.

Allford was, however, responding to the announcement that a lawyer with no apparent architectural background, Nigel Carrington, has been appointed to chair the new RIBA board. Carrington is currently vice-chancellor of the University of the Arts.

The new nine-strong board will take responsibility for operational detail from RIBA Council, the 50-strong body elected by members. The council, meanwhile, will be responsible for ‘collecting insight from the membership’ to guide the board’s strategic direction.

The change was prompted by an independent review in 2017, which concluded the RIBA’s running was ‘fundamentally flawed’ because RIBA Council remained the ultimate governing body. This limited the board’s powers, meaning it should not have been approving the institution’s annual budgets, even though it had been doing so since its creation in 2010.

But Allford, himself a former RIBA vice president of education, doesn’t think this is the change the institute needs. He urged members to ‘storm the building, taking it back for architects and architecture’. 

And he called for the RIBA to shrink its duties to running bars, restaurants, debates, lectures, exhibitions and awards.

He was joined by former RIBA president Jack Pringle, who raged: ‘We are a learned institute of architects that educates and supports architects. We should be headed by one of us. Can anyone see the Law Society selecting an architect to head up their main trustee body?’

RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance has championed the changes, saying they will enable the institute to be ‘even more efficient, effective, and focused on better outcomes for our members’.

And another former president, George Ferguson, also praised the changes, saying RIBA Council had never been the right place to deal with financial matters.

Poll: Do you agree that the RIBA has become irrelevant and that its members should take it back for architects and architecture’?
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Vote here

Last week’s poll asked whether you would welcome the ARB’s proposed move to test architects’ competence throughout their careers. Votes were almost tied, with those in favour at 49% and those opposed at 51%. 

Architects’ confidence plummets

Shutterstock gloomy

Shutterstock gloomy

New data confirms what many would have already gleaned from personal experience. Architecture is suffering badly from the current pandemic.

The monthly RIBA Future Trends survey, in its figures covering March, shows the steepest fall in architects’ confidence since the survey began in 2009. The poll, which compares those practices expecting an increase in work with those predicting a fall, dropped from +22 down to -11.

Larger practices have been hit harder than small ones, while the worst-affected area of work was the private housing sector.

The figures are in keeping with the results of the AJ’s own survey on the effects of coronavirus. These show the situation has significantly worsened since our previous survey in March. Then, only 33 per cent of respondents said work was on hold as a result of the pandemic – a figure that has more than doubled to 69 per cent. A further 7 per cent reported projects being completely cancelled.

Glimmers of hope as major projects restart



Amid the gloom, there are signs that the construction industry is resisting going into complete shutdown.

While the government never explicitly ordered building sites to close, many firms halted work anyway as a precautionary measure. Some believe they have now found ways to recommence work without endangering lives.

Multiplex says it is carrying out limited work on four London projects: PLP’s 22 Bishopsgate, set to be the City’s tallest tower; Squire & Partners’ The Broadway; Eric Parry Architects’ third phase of Chelsea Barracks; and Make Architects’ 80 Charlotte Street.

This follows Mace’s decision to reopen 20 of its construction sites following a two-week shutdown, having reviewed which of its 80 sites could operate while maintaining social distancing and hygiene rules.

Also keen to get things moving again is HS2, which has been given the go-ahead to begin detailed design and construction. The work includes Moxon Architects’ two new viaducts in the Chilterns.

ZHA’s UK prospects brighten after appeal victory

Zha vauxhallcrossisland 02 visualbyslashcube

Zha vauxhallcrossisland 02 visualbyslashcube

Zaha Hadid Architects’ latest accounts, published earlier this month, showed that, while it was thriving in Asia, its UK turnover had fallen by 75 per cent from the previous year to £709,000.

That could prove a short-lived trend, following housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s decision to grant permission for the practice’s £600 million two-skyscraper scheme in Vauxhall, south London. It will be ZHA’s first major mixed-use residential and commercial development in the UK.

Lambeth Council approved the scheme in 2018 but Jenrick’s predecessor, James Brokenshire, called it in last May following objections from campaigners and neighbouring Wandsworth Council. The towers will provide 257 homes, including 23 affordable homes, as well as shops, offices and a hotel.

Backing the scheme, the planning inspector, John Braithwaite, said that while the towers breached the 150m height limit set out in Lambeth’s local plan, that limit had already been discarded for other towers that would form the Vauxhall cluster.

Meanwhile, David and Victoria Beckham have acquired a little piece of ZHA’s work for themselves. The celebrity couple have bought a penthouse flat in the practice’s recently completed One Thousand Museum tower in Miami, Florida, reportedly paying $24 million. The flat comes with its own helipad and fitness centre with treatment rooms, as well as a swimming pool and balcony.

Practice founder Zaha Hadid started working on the design in 2013, three years before she died following a heart attack in a Miami hospital.

Beckham is basing himself in the city while he works on developing a 25,000-seat stadium for Inter Miami CF soccer club, which he co-owns. The stadium has been designed by HOK and local practice Arquitectonica.


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