Ben Derbyshire’s RIBA Inauguration

See what Ben Derbyshire said about his FutuRIBA tour at his inauguration ceremony:

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Ben Derbyshire’s RIBA inauguration took place on the 14th September at 66 Portland Place, see what he had to say on the night:

Thank you Jane.

I feel a huge sense of honour and responsibility to find myself representing the profession of Architecture.

I am humbled by the talent, passion, ambition, and success of my fellow architects many of whom have attained achievements to which I could not even aspire – great work of huge cultural, social or economic significance.

My job here is to represent, and help lead an Institute whose purpose is to advance our profession. I am extremely grateful to all those of you who voted for me and have supported me – family, friends and colleagues.

With over 40,000 members, 230 staff and £20m turnover there can surely be no other organisation with a capacity that comes close to promoting and affecting positive change for our great profession.

The RIBA is the keeper of the archive, upholds educational and professional standards, and is the voice of the profession. And our home, this great house, is the envy of all other professions.

Having put in place a succession plan at my practice, HTA Design LLP; I am able to put my shoulder to the wheel. I intend to contribute as best as I am able, to meeting the challenge of what I know many of us believe is the decline in the profession’s influence and fortunes over the past half century.

Jane is an incredibly tough operator and a hard act to follow.  During her term she has laid the foundations and begun the process of change we both believe is essential.  Not just that, she has earned a reputation in Government circles for plain speaking and has effectively communicated our position on Brexit, on planning reform, estate regeneration and design quality. On behalf of us all, thank you for everything you have done Jane. I look forward to continuing to work closely with you.

The central proposition of my election campaign was this:

The best way for the Institute to advance the profession of architecture is by championing and promoting its members in their work, however and wherever they practice.  I believe we can improve the context for our practice by proselytising our great work, not just in creating buildings, but in all the fields where architects are involved – research, teaching, government and commerce. And so I sought a shift in the Institute’s priorities towards our existing and potential membership.

I set out the challenge we face under five main headings:

Firstly, I acknowledged the important contribution of Past president Frank Duffy that we must Build a Body of Knowledge that is accessible to society and to our clients. By increasing the perceived value of our service, advice and design solutions, 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 (what surgeon will not nowadays inform you as a patient of the statistics in relation to clinical procedures).

Secondly, in an era when most service delivery is advertised as being ‘professional’ we must set new standards for the definition of Ethical Professionalism. We must establish clear blue water between what clients and society can expect from us in our delivery of services, and others who lay claim to professionalism.  Amongst other things, we need to ensure clients are aware of our commitment to meeting the wider public interest; inclusivity, human wellbeing, climate change to name just a few.

Third, we must play our part in the huge challenge to diversify and rejuvenate the building industry, improving how we develop and retain talented people, and stamp out discrimination wherever it happens.

Fourth, we need to future-proof the profession’s technology and skills to help ratchet it back up the pecking order of influence and control.

Finally, I argued for a leaner organisation, more reliant on people, on collaboration, and in particular on its membership for the pursuit of its important purpose.

So that was the substance of my campaign and it was sufficient, albeit on an extremely modest turnout, to get me elected.  But I want to ensure I also connect with the 85% of the electorate who did not cast a vote, thinking, perhaps as I once did, that the choice of President would make very little difference to their fortunes in practice.

Since I was elected, I have been on a tour of the country, meeting groups of architects, RIBA members, and seeking out non-members too.  Here is what I heard:

Outside London architects feel that too much of their subscription goes to sustain an expensive metro-centric establishment that either they do not connect with or at least fails to convincingly communicate how it adds value to their existence as practitioners.  However, they value the brand highly and also the work of the RIBA staff who support them.

Here in London, architects pointed to the tremendous range of opportunities they have for satisfying their enthusiasms and needs. These architects, mostly younger members of the profession, point to the need for us to do more to reach out to them.

Both in London, and elsewhere, concerns about the cost of nature of architectural training were significant themes. It’s not hard to see why with typical student debts of £100,000 and average mid-career salaries of £45,000.  I am committed to flying the flag for shorter, more economical training, earlier recognition by the RIBA, and convergence, rather than the opposite, between the worlds of practice and academia.

Responding to what you and many others have told me, I will be focusing my presidential term on three principle themes:




If ever there was a time when change is in the air, following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, this must surely be it.  I believe we have a duty to deliver long lasting change that will improve policies, standards, regulations, procurement, customs and practices. The RIBA’s expert group on fire safety, chaired by Jane, 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, published 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.

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 so long as the composition of our workforce fails so dismally to reflect the composition of society at large. Until such time as our number can represent the cultural influences, perspective and concerns of our diverse population, we will fail to attract the people we need, especially the young people who represent our future.  The median age of RIBA members is 53 – mostly old, white, men – like me!

I want to embed a systemic approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity at the Institute and in the Profession at large.  This requires a huge improvement in our grasp of the data.  You can’t manage improvement, if you can’t measure it.  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.

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’s legacy of championing and developing our global network at the institute, continuing to rejuvenate our relationships with overseas chapters and sister institutes.

There is more I want us to do; on refining our awards scheme, improving the governance and management of the Institute, arguing for better procurement, credit for design, housing quality and so on.

Am I biting off more than I can chew?  I don’t see it like that.  Inspired by my election mandate and supported by Alan and the RIBA team, the institute is on an exciting trajectory for change.

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