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Extending our global reach

Ben Derbyshire

The world’s getting smaller and resources are finite. The RIBA knows what to do

Take a dawn flight up the Gulf to Kuwait and, revealed by the low angle sun across the sand, you will see shadows of the enclosures, homes and pathways that belong to an era before the oil fuelled ‘Golden Era’ that gave us modern day Kuwait City. Now, a new pattern of motorways, oil pipelines and development cuts across the delicate remnants of a once self-sufficient past. Similar explosions of wealth have swept through Singapore and Dubai, earlier stops on my recent tours of ­RIBA’s overseas chapters. Rapid, almost unfettered development that relies on the car has brought unintended consequences.

 Integrated urban transport systems are either in their infancy or, as in Kuwait, completely absent in many rapidly developing cities. At the Cityscape Dubai conference, I was by no means alone in articulating the importance of happiness, wellbeing and placemaking as an approach to resilient, liveable, walkable neighbourhoods. I greatly admired the ambition of members of the local chapters I met in both the Gulf and South East Asia, who are engaging in this narrative, and seeking anew to preserve the planet’s finite resources, creating comfortable, sustainable conditions for citizens in their local markets.

Rapid, almost unfettered development that relies on the car has brought unintended consequences

­This topic is being explored by RIBA International vice president Chris Williamson in Chile, with a design challenge on the reuse of Santiago railway lands. A charrette in March will be livestreamed so members across the globe can engage. 

As we approach Brexit, it is increasingly important that we celebrate the international nature of our profession. The RIBA, which has an unrivalled reputation as a global brand for advancing the profession, is in a unique position to build collaborations of all kinds. At last June’s AIA conference I met counterparts from around the world, eager to share understanding of how best to sustain standards of education in the profession, set up improved programmes of CPD, explore the benefits of BIM and collaborate on research, especially related to urbanism.

I shall be inviting these presidents to join me for a round table to coincide with the Royal Gold Medal ceremony for Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, himself a renowned international practitioner. The winner of the 2018 RIBA International Prize, the Children Village in Brazil by Aleph Zero and Rosenbaum, and the shortlist, showcase superb architecture around the world.

There are great opportunities to share the extraordinary range of RIBA members in planning, stakeholder and community involvement, political positioning, design and management with the wider world. Our international approach seeks to develop a network capable of delivering collaborations, award schemes and charrettes. These highlight the profession’s contribution to the challenges of human wellbeing, sustainability, biodiversity – creating resilient settlements at a time of rapid urbanisation.

In one example, a series of activities with our Hong Kong chapter, throughout 2019, will act as a valuable platform for our members and the architecture community to collaborate and celebrate our profession, including at the annual Hong Kong Business of Design Week. We are greatly encouraged by the support we have received for our international work from the British Council and the Department for International Trade.

I have no doubt that there is much to be gained by investing in the Institute’s international engagement and support, including increasing the global focus of our media output. Indeed, I look forward to more regular features on global issues in this journal. 

The Royal Gold Medal will be awarded to Sir Nicholas Grimshaw in recognition of his significant contribution to architecture on 13 February