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Jane Duncan

Good architecture refers to and influences the local culture for the benefit of society and the environment

That is true culture which helps us to work for the social betterment of all’ – Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), American politician

Our history as a nation is entwined with our architectural past – a past deeply influenced by the cultures of the many parts of the world which have helped to shape us. But is this relationship changing?

A country is identified by its landscape, people and government, and by its architecture, which has an inescapable role in forming a nation’s or a community’s culture. Through studying the history of architecture, we can begin to understand the shared experience of our artistic sensibilities and social structures. Instant access to diverse cultural information and the ability to share knowledge and participate on a global level is recharging the way in which cultural exchange and interchange is developing.

Creativity is occupying a new position in international economies, to the point where urban centres are seeking to support innovation and cities are redefining their power to attract the best talent by showcasing cultural and artistic presence.


At a time of rapid technological advancement, there is equally rapid movement towards the traditional knowledge of vernacular construction

As a counterpoint to this, some young architects have become disillusioned with commercial work and are engaging in humanitarian projects, according to 2014 Pritzker Prize winner Shigeru Ban. Natural disaster responses are ‘really changing’ the way young architects think, he believes, encouraging them to use their skills for humanitarian causes and work in disaster relief.

So at a time of rapid technological advancement, there is equally rapid movement towards the traditional skills of vernacular construction. In response to severe environmental, economic, social, and political challenges, architects are increasingly embracing local building traditions, that are simple, energy efficient and sustainable.

Is this leading to a redefinition of the wider relationship between society, culture, the built environment and architecture? Architecture is a local cultural asset that has tremendous potential to improve communities, be they rural or urban, so its purpose is changing to create places that are user-oriented, and based on local knowledge of how people interact with their spaces.

Architects have a responsibility to advocate a better vision of our planet’s future, using all the tools available. However if we fail to integrate cultural references, beauty and compassion into our designs, the result will be inappropriate and dysfunctional places.

The history of our profession is thus intrinsically tied to the development of architectural culture. In this regard, the RIBA’s collection – a treasure trove of millions of architectural drawings, photographs, artefacts and books – has unique national and international significance.

Our collection must continue to be built on as an inspiring record of our cultural history and of architectural ideas explored across centuries, and be better shared as an invaluable learning resource for the future of the profession. It needs to be easily accessible, both physically in our galleries and reading rooms, and digitally across the globe. Increasingly we must use it to celebrate, innovate, debate and dream.


RIBA Council recently agreed revisions, clarifications and additions to the RIBA Code of Conduct guidance notes. In particular, members are urged to note the clarifications in relation to taking over a project started by someone else, and the new guidance on having effective procedures for dealing with complaints and disputes. The revised guidance can be found on

If you would like advice on setting up a complaints handling procedure, basic templates can be obtained from the Professional Standards team.

Email professionalstandards@riba.