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Spreading the word

Ben Derbyshire

Our mission is to promote culture, and there are plenty of ways to do it

Before we recruit a new chair of the British Architectural Trust Board – the rather grand title for our sub-committee at RIBA responsible for cultural activities – I want to share my thinking on our cultural mission. This reflects contributions from those who took part in my ‘FutuRIBA’ tour as well as correspondence and conversations with members, potential members and cultural experts.

The RIBA’s Royal Charter calls on us for ‘the general advancement of Civil Architecture, … promoting and facilitating the acquirement of the knowledge of the various arts and sciences connected therewith.’ 

For our cultural work, then, our message is that we can help society at large explore and understand how architecture can create great places. Our exhibitions, talks, debates and events must be relevant and engaging to our public audiences, not introverted or self-seeking. The public and our clients too often see us as precious, too concerned with peer approval and not delivering value as they see it and on their terms. In everything we do we must dispel this perception. 

I believe that engaging with you, RIBA members, to help shape and deliver our cultural mission will demonstrate that we are a knowledgeable and skilful profession and will help encourage our peers to become proud members of the RIBA. I want to be able to channel your passionate enthusiasm for our mission in more member generated activity that conveys our value to society.

Our social life as architects is an important part of our cultural life. I’d love to open a members’ bar!

Please share your ideas with me.

Our remarkable architectural collections span drawings from the 15th-century to the cutting-edge research published in contemporary books and journals from around the globe. I have created a new post of vice president for research to strengthen collaborative research activity, bridging practice, academia and industry – and ensuring that our collections are the foundation for scholarly activity. One day we hope to become a recognised independent research organisation (IRO), and to open our outstanding library and collections seven days a week.

The clamour grows louder for Portland Place to become much more of a home for architecture, a place that exudes creativity and exemplifies our cultural and public purpose. It should be the capital’s centre for passionate and far-reaching debate and discourse about architecture and how it shapes all our lives.  It should also become our home in London, welcoming, sociable, convivial. Our social life as architects is an important part of our cultural life.  I’d love to open a members’ bar!

Over the past four years we have made remarkable strides in our cultural activity, opening architecture galleries in both London and Liverpool, engaging new audiences, partners and charitable funders. We have hosted talks and debates that continue to attract ever younger, more diverse, audiences of both architects and the public. With a generous grant from the Clore Duffield Foundation we are creating a Clore Learning Centre at 66 Portland Place, to engage with learners of all ages. Our National Schools Programme trains and supports members as Architecture Ambassadors, to work in creative partnership with teachers and pupils, a combination that is proving inspirational for all involved.

We know that we can only ever attract a small proportion our potential public audiences to our physical spaces in London and Liverpool. More and more we must reach out beyond them, to make the most of our regional, national and international membership structure; building up existing and new partnerships with other cultural and architectural organisations; and maximising our reach and inventive digital and media content.

 In London, Liverpool, around the UK or globally, we need to engage in issues that capture the imagination of the public and are relevant to their lives. Let us focus on that.