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Mission possible: Recast the profession

Alan Jones

Alan Jones on his Fact-Finding Mission, High Road to 2034, which produced a strong message of the need to research, reconnect and constantly remake the case for architecture

The RIBA as an umbrella. Sketch by Alan Jones following a conversation with past president Sunand Prasad.
The RIBA as an umbrella. Sketch by Alan Jones following a conversation with past president Sunand Prasad.

‘The case for the profession needs to be constantly remade – to the public in all its diversity, as much as to policymakers and professionals – if it is to avoid being sidelined from having the impact that it craves on society’s most important challenges, and being relegated instead to little more than a discussion of aesthetics, hemmed in by commercial priorities’.  

This extract is from one almost 50 contributions gratefully received by the President’s Fact-Finding Mission. Led by eight champions seeking a helicopter view of the trajectory of architects and architecture towards our 200th anniversary in 2034, it has been described by one member of RIBA Council as ‘a massive piece of work’. Its eight themes focussed on value, education, diversity, research, climate emergency, delivery, strategy and practice, and as the work developed it became increasingly clear that, like proverbial plate of spaghetti, there was interrelated connectedness of issues across themes too.

It is not, and cannot be, business as usual. The essential (re)orientation of the profession towards society and the outcomes and benefits from a well-considered and delivered built environment is a message that comes across many themes. We need a better balance of what architecture does with what architecture is. Listening to educators and future architects articulate that same position at a recent Scottish Archifringe event was further endorsement of this approach. The Cabinet Office green paper on procurement also connects projects with policy; technical innovation; performance and outcomes; economic, social and environmental benefits and whole-life value. For architects and future architects, this new connected ethical-technical ground will also mean a need to acquire and demonstrate higher knowledge, understanding and collaboration skills to ‘walk the walk’ in practice, business and the industry. 

In response, the Fact-Finding Mission report highlights how our activity on public interest, advocacy and value relies on gathering evidence to explain relevance – and how architecture and what architects do connects, supports and delivers on this. Our advocacy to government departments will emphasise the evidence supporting the promise and possibilities, and through education, practice and delivery architects can unlock realisation. The report highlights how the RIBA’s research will be essential to form the necessary evidence, echoing contributors’ advice that the RIBA must become a go-to institute and knowledge hub. A close partnership with research-active universities and other bodies will be key to ensuring that the RIBA does not do all the research itself. Pushing RIBA Award submissions one year after a project’s completion shows the world we are sincere in changing and leading on the performance of the built environment, as well as its beauty. Continuity and rolling reviews are essential to gaining momentum on the report during the handover between changing members of Council, Board and Executive. A sincere thanks to all involved and to our president elect Simon Allford, who has said: ‘I fully support the themes and ideas identified in Alan Jones’s Fact-Finding Mission, The High Road to 2034. It is an important document that identifies the long-term strategic issues that we must address to ensure the RIBA supports future architects and the architecture of the future.’ @AlanJonesPRIBA