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Architects sans frontiers: how the RIBA is extending its ambitions

Alan Jones

The RIBA is transcending boundaries to create a far-flung community, based on core ambitions and common goals, says Alan Jones

There are many bases for connection – we can harness them all.
There are many bases for connection – we can harness them all.

Accomplishing anything of any significance requires persistent effort and attention, both in the immediate and longer term. I recall Steven Holl reflecting on the goals of architecture and architects. He admitted that dealing with the every day can be distracting, but emphasised that it is only through engagement with the now that long term outcomes are achieved.

It is the near and far that we balance as individuals, practices and profession, and are at times also frustrated by. But we must keep trying. No one wants to be pushed and pulled by winds and currents; we need our own propulsion to set a direction. There will still be ups and downs, and unforeseen events, but it is better to agile and manoeuvrable, have a goal and the means to try to travel there. Without impetus and means, dreams are likely to remain dreams.

The RIBA will be 200 years old in 2034 – and that star on our horizon raises the question of where our profession and our institute wishes to be. Once we know that, we can turn our attention to how we get there. The ‘train of direction’ will have a variety of people on it as they enter and leave office. Reflecting RIBA governance is council, representing the members; it will hold and champion the long-term goals, advising the board as it sets shorter term plans. The previous system of five-yearly strategic plans was at times at odds with a president’s election commitments to members, causing a ‘zigzagging of the supertanker’, to quote our chief executive. Now council is aligned to long-term goals and the board to a two year strategy cycle that acknowledges the president’s commitment to the members, working with the executive and in day by day, month by month operation and delivery. A rolling review will continually check and adjust this approach.

Who we are, and what we do, is also near and far, local and global. We respond to our location as we provide services and deliver positive impact, but we are part of a broader world, industry and profession. The individual architect, practice, branch and region have tried different ways to connect to each other, and a new digital membership hub is now being trialled. It sees no boundaries between location, role, scale of practice or future – early career or seasoned architect. Within this digital hub, members will connect focussing on building types, education, delivery, location, climate, practice, research and business interests, and other groups. Council has warmly welcomed it, noting how it can bring together members across the world, reducing isolation and increasing knowledge and fellowship. That local and global realisation has also informed a proposal to amalgamate Nations & Regions and International Committees to create a single committee from ­2021-2.

And notice how the forthcoming elections make no reference to ‘national’, as council seats are now open to any chartered member anywhere, local or global.

As my term as president nears its end, I am pleased such structural changes are in motion, to make us more effective and connected globally and locally, a near and far network of individuals and practices.