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RIBA rolls up its sleeves

Simon Allford

Covid, climate change, Grenfell... a revitalised RIBA will be well placed to tackle today’s issues, says new president Simon Allford

After a very strange year for all, I took up office as president last week. Aside from continuing at AHMM (for me an essential foil to being president), I have spent the last year touring the regions, national and global; meeting individual members; and engaging in discussions with Council, Board and RIBA staff. The upside of Covid is that I’ve not clocked up any carbon miles. The downside is that, although double-vaxed, I caught it; fingers crossed that’s it for my two-year term!

Thankfully the world is creeping back to the ‘new normal’. I have been able to attend in person (or should I say analogue?) meetings and there have been vital chance encounters. The future of work is no doubt hybrid, but I believe we can survive, but not thrive, in the virtual world of Teams and Zoom.

So what does all this mean for RIBA?

We can now build on the opportunities created by our  new  model constitution and governance. Collectively we have developed a biennial plan signed off by Council (strategic direction) and then Board (which will help the executive team make it happen). The RIBA is evolving, with the centre learning much from the nations and regions. What might our institute look like in two years and beyond?

The House of Architecture @RIBA will exist as an online facility, with lectures and the many other events that happen around the globe shared on a virtual platform. In the parallel real world, we will start the project to transform the magnificent but challenging 66 Portland Place into an accessible 21st century home, an exemplar of re-use. The virtual and physical worlds will have become one connected world. We will have become generous global hosts to exhibitions, debates, talks and architectural events, visited by members, collaborating professionals, clients, contractors, the public and government alike.

All of us will better understand the two key roles of the RIBA. One, focusing ‘internally’ on different models of practice, will  help students and architects to develop the competence and confidence they need to excel. The other will focus ‘externally’, looking at and engaging with the bigger global context of the world in which we all work and learn.

The external focus will be about engaging with the present, to help us creatively and collaboratively assist in redefining a better future

The ‘internal’ focus will harness members’ intelligence and share best practice. This is the world of toolkits in employment, mentoring, career development, administration, PII, contracts and finance, with the institute helping architects build the confidence, competence and cashflow that will enable them to successfully take on the big challenges.

The external focus will be about engaging with the present, to help us creatively and collaboratively assist in redefining a better future. The RIBA will be a hub where members engage not just with each other but with the wider world. This will help to create a  more accessible and collaborative profession – one which is able to thrive in a post- Grenfell, post-Covid, low-carbon future.

Then the RIBA will have become an ‘Institute of Ideas’, the home of the profession’s creative thinkers, educators and doers (working at all scales). It will be an institute dedicated to furthering architecture’s role in intelligently reinventing a better built environment. A generous and confident host that welcomes all; a place to learn and even have some fun!

Achieving all this will not be easy.

Covid has knocked the world sideways. Grenfell and the associated statutory changes will clarify our serious responsibilities. The carbon challenge is immediate and immense. By capturing and sharing best thinking, the RIBA can help us all to address these three challenges. And while doing this, we need to remove barriers and create more accessible pathways into what must rapidly become a much more representative, and therefore useful, profession.

Change generally happens when there is a disruptor – and there is more than one just now – and a financial context in which that change can take place. The sale of NBS is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, enabling the RIBA not just to re-think how it operates, but to put that re-think into effect. This should result in greater constructive engagement with our membership, potential members, those who care about architecture, the public and government.

We face great challenges. As your president, I will do all I can to assist our institute and its members face those challenges, overcoming them by dint of the knowledge and skills at our disposal, and by the collective commitment which is the hallmark of a vibrant profession.