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Weekend roundup: The ungentlemanly practice of remuneration

Simon Aldous’s take on the big architectural stories of the week: RIBA admits to paying president • Holocaust Memorial protest • OFIS’s micro-home • Liverpool Art Deco building hit by fire

It has tried to stay tight-lipped over the matter, dragging its heels over making the admission, but the RIBA has finally admitted its darkest secret about whoever takes the job of president … they get paid.  

The institute has quietly dropped the quaintly pre-20th-century notion of it being somehow vulgar for such services to involve any exchange of money (see also MPs pre-1911). It has emerged that the ungentlemanly practice of remuneration first occurred around three years ago when Jane Duncan took over the job, and has continued into Ben Derbyshire’s presidency, the HTA boss picking up around £60,000 per annum for his time and efforts – ie less than a third of what chief executive Alan Vallance receives.  

Since the job can be pretty full on, and likely to interfere with one’s regular money-earning activities, a salary (or honorarium as the institute prefers to style it) hardly seems to be the most outrageous way of spending membership fees.  

What makes things stranger still is that those who have for many years called for the job to be a paid role argued that expecting the president to give their time for free was a deterrent to many architects from standing.  

Indeed this year’s second-placed candidate Elsie Owusu didn’t appear to know she’d be paid if she’d won the vote, telling the Evening Standard last week that the job was ‘designed for somebody who has a private income [and] is in a practice that can afford to shelter them for the four years’.  

The RIBA has, in recent years, gained a reputation for excessive secrecy, but in this case, its lack of openness surely helped to negate the very point of making the post a paid one.  

Poll: Should the RIBA president be a paid job? 

• Yes, around £60,000 a year is fine 
• Yes, but only the Living Wage 
• Yes, but it should be means tested 
• No 

Vote here

Adjaye’s Holocaust Memorial provokes angry mobette

Memorial protest wv

Memorial protest wv

The construction of David Adjaye’s national Holocaust Memorial in Westminster is, apparently, not going to take place without a fight – though perhaps not a very big one. 


Objectors to the memorial picketed an event in London to launch the latest designs for the structure, brandishing placards with the slogan ‘Right Idea, Wrong Location’, but the AJ’s reporter only counted around 20 people protesting.  

Their beef is not with the idea of a memorial, but that it is being built on Victoria Tower Gardens – ‘London parks are very precious, there are very few of them, and they need to be protected,’ said ones. The project’s lead architect Lucy Tilley said the design addressed this issue by retaining 85 per cent of the park’s green space.  

Strangely, while the Adjaye-led team won the commission with some sharply rendered visualisations, the revised design has been represented by soft-focused watercolour-style images that give far less of an idea of what the memorial’s surroundings will look like.  

Meanwhile, as evidence that such protests are having no adverse effect on Adjaye’s rising stock, he has been announced as chair of this year’s Stirling Prize jury.  

Also appraising the six shortlisted buildings will be ex-Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly; Almacantar property director Kathrin Hersel; RIBA president Ben Derbyshire; and Alex de Rijke of dRMM, which won last year’s prize for Hastings Pier.  

They will now visit each building before deciding on a winner on 10 October.

Surfing the micro-wave

Micro home

Micro home

Tackling the housing crisis demands radical thinking, but a bold and innovative attempt to think outside the box seems to put its occupants firmly in the box. 

A prototype micro-home scheme by engineer AKT and Slovenian architect OFIS Arhitekti comprises three modules, each 10m2, made of timber frames and plywood boards. 

Micro-homes are apparently booming – OFIS claims 8,000 are being built in London each year; but how trendsetting will its contribution prove to be? 

AJ readers commenting on the project have been fairly derisive, criticising its inefficient use of the limited space, of which a sizeable chunk is used for the stairwell. Others have queried the lack of any toilet or washing facilities. 

‘This does not test compact living,’ wrote one reader, ‘it tests the patience of anyone trying to devise a reasonable approach to solving the current housing crisis.’ 

Those living or working in the Shoreditch area may want to judge for themselves by visiting the prototype which has been assembled in Old Street Yard behind AHMM’s White Collar Factory. I did (see picture above) and was reassured that I wouldn’t have to stoop if I chose to live there.

Another architectural landmark is hit by fire

The Littlewoods Pools building in Liverpool is the latest iconic structure to be hit by a fire. The 1938 Art Deco landmark caught fire last Sunday, however, initial reports by an engineer suggested that the building’s structural integrity had been preserved.  

Architect ShedKM had been planning to convert the building into a film studio and said it was hopeful that the scheme would still go ahead.  

The fire came less than a week after Belfast city centre’s Bank Buildings were gutted in a considerably more damaging fire. City fire services reported the collapse of the internal floor in the Grade B1-listed building, which was leased by clothing retailer Primark.  

The blazes, in England and Northern Ireland, follow the earlier one in Scotland that caused severe damage to Glasgow’s Mackintosh Building. Custodians of any historic buildings in Wales might be advised to take thorough precautions. 

Also this week

  • Architect MJ Long has died at the age of 79. US-born Long moved to England in 1965, working with Colin ‘Sandy’ St John Wilson – who she later married – designing the British Library building at St Pancras, a project that took nearly two decades. In 1994 she set up a new practice, Long & Kentish, with Rolfe Kentish, which went on to design a £3 million library for Brighton University and the Jewish Museum in Camden among other schemes.  
  • The death has also been announced of architectural historian David Watkins, a devoted Classicist and fellow of Peterhouse College Cambridge. He was best known for his 1977 critique of Modernism Morality and Architecture. The title may sound familiar to fans of 80s synthesiser pop as it was the inspiration for Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s multi-million selling album Architecture & Morality.  
  • Avanti Architects is to reconfigure and expand David Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate, Kent. The practice has previously worked on reviving Modernist buildings such as Wells Coates’ Isokon Flats and St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. The initiative follows Chipperfield’s speculative design for a hostel next to the gallery.

Simon Aldous’s Weekend Roundup is emailed exclusively to AJ subscribers every Saturday morning. Click here to find out more about our subscription packages