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Starter for three

Ben Derbyshire

Ben Derbyshire launches his presidency with his sights set on diversity, the urban environment, and the global agenda

It is with a huge sense of honour and responsibility that I write my first RIBA Journal column as your president. I am humbled by the talent, passion, ambition, success of my fellow architects, and look forward to my role in championing and supporting our profession.

In the first few weeks of my term, I have represented the RIBA at the political party conferences and announced Neave Brown as recipient of the Royal Gold Medal; I will shortly be chairing the jury for the Stirling Prize, selecting the best new building in the UK. These are exciting times!

It’s been a privilege to meet some of you as I have toured the country following my election. What you told me has shaped three priority themes for my presidency: driving quality and performance in the built environment; energising, diversifying and growing RIBA membership; and promoting devolution and the global new urban agenda. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these.

If ever there was a time when change is in the air, this, following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, must surely be it.  I believe we have an opportunity to deliver long lasting change that will improve policies, standards, regulations, procurement, customs and practices. The RIBA’s expert group on fire safety is driving the RIBA’s response to Grenfell Tower and I will be doing my part to lead the quality agenda. In February I put it to the London mayoralty that a housing expo would be a good way of demonstrating to the public what is meant by the phrases  ‘good growth’ and ‘green growth’. This idea has already found its way into Sadiq Khan’s draft housing policy, now out for consultation, and I’d like to see it happen in metropolitan mayoralties nationwide. As a first step towards more universal post occupancy evaluation I have asked the RIBA’s Sustainable Futures Group to work on an overlay of the Plan Of Work that would help us engage our clients in the importance of post occupancy data.

Thanks to some great campaigning we have a new, more diverse cohort of members joining RIBA Council

In our practices, in the profession as a whole and in the institute, we cannot purport to deliver to the needs and aspirations of our diverse society while the composition of our workforce fails so dismally to reflect the composition of society at large. The median age of RIBA members is 53 – mostly old, white, men – like me! I want to expand and increase our membership, and I am delighted that thanks to some great campaigning we have a new, more diverse cohort of members joining RIBA Council. The urgency of educational reform in the training of young architects earlier is a big issue for many of the younger members of the profession I have spoken to. I will be working to fly the flag for urgent change to enable earlier, more affordable and more relevant routes to qualification, undeterred by the apparent freeze on progress imposed on us by the Brexit negotiations.

Last year the RIBA commissioned new research on the opportunities and challenges of devolution in England and recommended new devolution deals for housing. I was pleased to see this referred to in the UK government’s housing white paper earlier in the year. I want to build on this work looking at how the RIBA can strengthen its support for members to engage politically locally and regionally. I also want to build on Jane Duncan’s legacy of championing and developing our global network at the institute, continuing to rejuvenate our relationships with overseas chapters and sister institutes.

As a profession we are known for not being shy about our views so please keep telling me how the RIBA can help you. I will continue to visit practices, branches and regional councils, and of course you can email or tweet me any time. 

Stirling winner: hear it first

On 31 October we will announce the winner of the 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize at a special event at the Roundhouse in north London. Be the first to hear who has won by attending the event or keeping an eye on our social channels @RIBA