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President's column: We can’t all be artists

Muyiwa Oki

Architecture is filled with many different opportunities. Why limit ourselves to just one aspect, asks Muyiwa Oki?

The Learning Tree Nursery, designed by Delve, which won a 2024 RIBA London award.
The Learning Tree Nursery, designed by Delve, which won a 2024 RIBA London award. Credit: © Fred Howarth

The prevailing view of architecture glorifies a singular role of the architect/artist as an almost heroic figure sketching the future. The reality of the profession is far broader and more diverse. The World Economic Forum estimates that roughly a quarter of all jobs may be ‘disrupted’ over the next decade. This level of change requires us, at whatever stage we are in our careers, to be more open to new options, not less. Even the so-called safe routes may not be so safe after all.

Here’s another thought: rather than follow your dreams, follow opportunities. Opportunities transform – even if they don’t always pan out as expected. Following opportunities is more likely to lead us to new skills, connections and people. In architecture school, we often talk romantically about the creative part of being an architect but we can take so many different positions. Ask any lawyer logging billable hours on a time sheet how much their work life resembles the legal drama Suits. My guess – not many. It is the same with architects; it’s time we broadened our narrative.

We have now had the announcement of all the RIBA Regional Award winners – a period for both celebration and reflection. Judged and presented locally, the RIBA Regional Awards celebrate excellence in architecture across the UK. They do more than acknowledge aesthetic excellence; they highlight the collaborative efforts of entire teams. From the diligent Part 1 architectural assistant to the adept principal designer and client liaisons, everyone contributes uniquely. Interestingly, a principal designer might not sketch a single line but is pivotal in steering projects to fruition. So you don’t need to be a brilliant artist to make a significant impact in architecture. The ecosystem is vast; finding a niche is crucial.

A team of locally selected award judges travels extensively to ensure each shortlisted project is visited and evaluated. Once again, there is a truly collaborative process of debate and sharing of expertise. A regional award is highly regarded, as are the special awards including Client and Project Architect of the Year awards. Each region hosts a celebratory event that announces the winners on the night and provides an evening of opportunity to network and celebrate.

This year we’ve made more than 120 awards in various categories in England, together with The Royal Society of Architects Wales, Royal Institute of Architects Scotland and Royal Society of Ulster Architects, covering an impressive spectrum from grand masterplans to quaint nurseries. Each project, no matter its scale, is a testament to the collaborative effort required in our field. All built spaces are shaped by countless oft-unseen hands.

It shows that in an architectural office, not everyone can be the artist. Nor should they be. Many skills are needed and it’s incumbent on us to find our own place, where we can use our skills to make a project work. How can you make your role feel rewarding? What can you do to make it enjoyable and energising? Architecture isn’t just about building structures; it’s about building experiences and emotions, too. Playing to your strengths and finding joy in your contributions is key. Embrace the opportunities that come your way and let them guide you to where you need to be, not necessarily where you thought you’d go.

As I continue to advocate for an architecture profession that is expansive and inclusive, let’s continue to celebrate every role and acknowledge every contribution. Let us find the fun in all of it and transform dreams into opportunities. And on, into achievements that not only build buildings, but also frame the backdrop to our daily lives.

Principal designer for domestic projects

Did you know that we’ve introduced a new level of the RIBA Principal Designer Register for architects working on domestic projects? Choose from our three competence levels – the new, lower cost ‘domestic’ level, ‘general’ level or the ‘higher-risk buildings’ (high-rise residential) level. Find out how to join the register at