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Research and develop

Ben Derbyshire

Extending our knowledge through research will benefit the profession and society

In my campaign for election as president of RIBA I acknowledged the important contribution of past president Frank Duffy: that we must build a body of knowledge of more value and that is more accessible to society and our clients. By increasing the perceived value of our service, the advice we give and the design solutions we create, we can expect in due course to receive a more valuable return for that contribution.  We must be able to predict relevant outcomes from our work – for what surgeon will not, nowadays, inform their patient of the statistics in relation to clinical procedures with reliability and confidence?  

As concern for design quality grows among politicians at national and regional levels, the profession must start building on our shared knowledge to win the arguments about investment for lasting value that many of us hold dear.

The RIBA is centrally placed to broker, stimulate, aggregate, communicate and in due course fund research. Our strategy, Advancing Architecture, emphasises the importance of knowledge, innovation and research. We must build bridges between clients, academia, constructors, the supply chain, other professionals and practising architects to ensure that research and development addresses the pressing issues of our time.  To this end, I have created a post of vice president for research, which, following a planning phase, will be supported with an appropriate budget and a well-connected and appropriately skilled steering committee.

I am committed to overlaying POE processes on our standard Plan of Work to enable all architects and their clients to agree measurable outcomes

The rise of robots and automated systems is a challenge to the architectural profession. To demonstrate our cultural, social and intellectual value we must work together and strive to create feedback loops where our shared body of knowledge is continually accessed and updated. Post occupancy evaluation (POE) is a generative feedback loop that guarantees collaboration in the process of producing knowledge. I commend the RIBA’s recent paper on POE, but am concerned that only a small proportion of RIBA chartered practices offer it.  I am committed to overlaying POE processes on our standard Plan of Work to enable all architects and their clients to agree the measurable outcomes they seek in their development projects, and test for success and feedback on completion. 

UN Sustainable Development Goal #11 – the making of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities – is one of the most pressing issues of our time and we must make the case for the deployment of our skills and knowledge to address it. Innovation through research in the housing sector is essential to address questions of suitability, affordability, durability, flexibility, quality and access. The components that make up homes, neighbourhoods, towns and cities can easily be classified, a data source that has powerful potential. The problem is that we have yet to create the feedback loops, platforms of equivalent, comparable data and benchmarks that will enable an effective body of knowledge.  So now that we have appointed Flora Samuel as vice president for research I look forward to beginning the task.  

RIBA research commissioned by past president Stephen Hodder concludes that clients want the architect to take a leadership role. We must grasp that opportunity as only then will we lead a paradigm shift in the perceived value of the architect and our role within society. Please do contact me or Flora with any ideas for how best to proceed. 


No deal is a bad deal

RIBA’s research into the impact of Brexit on architecture, Global Talent, Global Reach, shows how the UK’s position as an international architectural exporter and architecture’s £4.8 billion contribution to the economy are at risk from a no-deal Brexit. Read the report at