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State your positions

Ben Derbyshire

Architects need to work together to show what the profession really stands for

As governments struggle to meet environmental aspirations, you’d think that architects would be in greater demand as part of the solution. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Less than one per cent of the built environment globally is overseen by architects. In the UK, less than 10 per cent of new housing stock is architect designed. Has the covenant between architects and society broken down?

Society desires a high-quality, attractive, sustainable and efficient built environment and trains us to deliver on this expectation. Yet much that is delivered without our leadership is of undeniably poor quality.

I have previously drawn attention to the potential role for the institute in brokering research to build problem-solving skills and subject-specific knowledge. But equally we must work on a redefinition of ethical professionalism if we are to create clear blue water between architects and those who provide services on a purely commercial basis.

The traditional status of the professions was based on class – that  anachronistic basis for values of trust and respect has rightly broken down. Our challenge is that we must move faster to replace it with anything of adequate value in a time when reputations are made, destroyed and remade in seconds. As architects, we must offer more than simply professional propriety masquerading as an ethical position, which anyone could meet. 

Instead, we must respond to the searing questions of our time: whether we should weigh the public interest as an equal or a higher priority to that of our clients –and how we define the public interest; what to do when ethical principles point one way and a client’s needs or wants point in another; and how to define ethics in countries where corruption in construction is rife. Can we share a position on these issues with our fellow professionals?

Architects need to stand apart from the hurly-burly of pure commerce and act with strength and leadership

I am encouraged that we at the RIBA have now established an Ethics and Sustainable Development Commission which will collaborate across the built environment to share knowledge and promote best practice. The institute is also launching a conduct review with a view to overhauling the Code of Professional Conduct and the Code of Practice, which set mandatory standards for members and chartered practices – and which should be ratcheted up continuously to increase standards, in my view. This will run through 2018, consulting members, the industry and the public.

As the only independently regulated professionals operating in the built environment, architects need to stand apart from the hurly-burly of pure commerce and act with the strength and leadership that status demands. Do let me have your views on any of these demanding issues., @ben_derbyshire

Come and see

The RIBA is hosting two great new exhibitions which open in March. RIBA North in Liverpool will be showing ‘It Will Never Work’ – 25 years of Urban Splash.  Meanwhile at 66 Portland Place, from 1-25 March, the Practice Space will host the ‘Baltic Material Assemblies’ an exhibition on the crossover of geology, infrastructure and architecture through time in Latvia, Estonia and Lithiuania. See more at