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Architects, together, delivering

Alan Jones

As the only regulated profession in an industry facing huge responsibilities, architects must be more expert

The next six to twelve months will involve dramatic change on many fronts. How can architects as a collective profession, in practice and in education, be resilient and deliver actual, realised, positive change?

The RIBA has highlighted the risks of a no deal Brexit loud and clear. It has negotiated protections for our profession in that event and provides regular updates with information and advice for members and practices. But as I write my first column as your president, with the Halloween deadline looming, uncertainty is everywhere. In preparing for the worst while hoping for the best, I will ensure the RIBA continues to help members prepare and be stronger, deal or no deal.

Looking beyond leaving the EU, climate change will be towards the top of all agendas. In the UK, the new prime minister used his first House of Commons speech to renew the commitment to meeting the UK’s Net Zero target. The creation and running of the built environment is such a significant proportion of the environmental problem that architects have to be central to addressing this target.

The death of architects’ expertise is, in my mind, exaggerated. Recent events demonstrate what happens when expertise is made silent, or ignored, at the peril of quality, value and the well-being of society. The tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the construction horrors of the Edinburgh schools, for example, highlight the urgent need for new ways of operating.  Worryingly, post-Hackitt, the Building Safety Industry Safety Steering Group has reported resistance to change.

A new era of professionalism, duty and ­responsibility are converging in the construction sector and as the only regulated profession in the built environment, we architects have a vital and unique role.  We must be prepared to be more expert, deliver more and carry a greater duty. This will involve greater expectations for our initial education and continuing professional develop­ment. We will have to better manage innovation, knowledge, experience and risk, to maintain our businesses and satisfy insurers.  

Duty and responsibility are converging in the construction sector and we architects have a vital and unique role

RIBA can and will lead and support. The new RIBA Code of Conduct increases the environmental responsibility of every chartered member and practice.  RIBA Council agreed a declaration of a Climate Emergency; 17 RIBA Stirling Prize recipients have jointly declared the sameThe RIBA’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission report recommended how the built environment can best reflect and engage with the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals.  The RIBA CPD online delivery and recording platform is a powerful mechanism to confirm the expertise and development of architects. The RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety has been a strong and influential advocate for change to provide clarity to the industry and protect the public in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Increasing responsibility will surely bring greater relevance, but it must also be reflected by government-led reform. Increasing responsibility needs to be reflected with lower outward costs in securing commissions, the golden thread of continued involvement, procurement and planning, POE, and moving fee calculations away from construction cost to acknowledge architects’ greatest value is at the start, with briefing, ideas and strategy. Reforming and funding architects’ education appropriately is essential too.

Architects are a society, within an industry. We must focus, together, on our primary, common goal: to make our world a better place. We have this opportunity, an opportunity for all.