Why are you running for president?
Simon Allford Contrary to what some believe, this has never been a lifetime ambition of mine: a few months ago, despairing at the absence of architecture and the apparent inertia of the institute, I fired off a broadside. It was not intended as a call to arms, but became one when many respected friends and colleagues agreed and encouraged me to stand.
Jude Barber What we do is so important and affects everyone. I want the RIBA to be a federation of architects that speaks with a clear, strong and authentic voice. RIBA must speak in a way that best represents and includes the views of all our members, students, non-members and architects from every corner of the globe. My motivation to stand is driven by the ever-increasing climate emergency and the associated impact the public health crisis is having across society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a big, bright light on all that is (and was) either good or bad in the process of making of architecture and our need to better address these proactively with our clients and collaborators across practice, delivery and education. To face many of the challenges and opportunities going ahead we must harness our collective skills, abilities and ‘voice’ as a matter of urgency, so we can positively support and influence each other in doing so.
Nick Moss I used to think that trying to change modern procurement was futile. Then, we had the Scottish schools PFI failure, the unviability of modern contracting and the reduction of quality in the most expensive place to build in Europe. Then Grenfell happened. That was it for me. I knew if I wanted to change it, I’d have to do it myself. That’s why I’m standing. Procurement underpins everything and it’s choking our industry. Architects are in the untenable position of having responsibility without control. We’re marginalised to the point where the Housing Quality Board and the Grenfell Inquiry panel has not included a single architect.
Procurement underpins everything and it’s choking our industry
This marginalisation means we are struggling to address all the issues that matter, like the quality of our built environment, climate change, equality and diversity, mental health and improving fees and salaries.
We need to treat the cause, not the effect. The cause is procurement. The effect is marginalisation and all the ills that go with it. Reforming procurement is the most positive, uplifting and inspiring thing I can do for architects everywhere.
Valeria Passetti Our society and profession are facing multiple challenges. We need the RIBA to be the strong leading voice of architects, responsive and bold in pursuing the positive changes we want to see in our profession and in society.
My focus will be putting members at the heart of the institute and restoring the influence, respect and reputation of architects.
I’ve worked with and listened to students, associates and members at regional, national and international level for many years, first as a local, then regional representative and now as VP Membership. The strength of the RIBA is in its members, their collective knowledge, the connections they forge, the passion and generosity with which they give their time for the benefit of others. I have felt their disconnection and frustration in the way they see the RIBA failing to accurately represent and support them.
I want to work with and support all members and together transform the RIBA into the agile, diverse and influential institute it needs to be.
I’ve the experience and knowledge to make things happen and I know how to work effectively with the RIBA Council, Board and the Executive Team. I can start working effectively even as president elect to set up my presidency of a truly members focused institute.
Sumita Singha Although it may not be the best time to stand for President, I feel I can make a difference because I have the right skills and experience to achieve this. People all over the world have suffered from the Covid19 pandemic.
Now following the global economic shutdown, we expect to have the worst recession in 300 years while still trying to work out what Brexit will be like. The climate crisis is also expected to worsen. I’ve had 30 years of experience in working on sustainable design and campaigning for equality. I have also written and taught these subjects. I have experience of crisis management from my work in the NHS. This two year presidency will be about hitting the ground running and possibly will be a full time job.
Do you think the RIBA is broken?
Simon Allford I have always valued the RIBA’s work in education. The awards programme culminating in the Stirling Prize and other key prizes gets vital coverage. The world-class drawing collection, archive and library are a huge public as well as educational asset (sadly underused). And focused activity such as the new Plan of Work and the 2030 Climate Challenge are important. These do not however justify the scale of the operation and architecture falls away as petty politics prevail.
Architecture falls away as petty politics prevail
That’s why I want an open RIBA that focuses on the key issues of climate change, plus the impacts of the post-Covid downturn and Grenfell on fees, liability, contract and procurement. A fit-for-purpose RIBA will support members in their quest to better serve society.
Jude Barber Not broken. Just not fully functioning or firing on all cylinders. Many people across the regions and internationally who do a power of work around education, housing, EDI, policy, contracts, awards, validations etc. We’d all notice it if they didn’t work so hard and with such determination. However, much of what goes on gets lost in the public hubris around the institution itself, how it behaves or communicates (or not) around some of the important issues of our time. For example, there has been some excellent work around ethics and sustainability, the Social Value Toolkit, Future Architects and role models. It just feels this doesn’t get fully embedded somehow.
To address this, we must be honest about current structural failings. We must listen, support agitators, celebrate achievements, and focus attention towards those key issues our profession needs to address.
Nick Moss Not so much broken, as entangled. The RIBA often does what it thinks the membership wants, rather than what the membership actually wants. It can be a problem when many of the people who are lobbying and advising come from a certain echelon of society. Quite often, these are people who find themselves in very comfortable and secure life circumstances and a specific social milieu.
I’m not knocking that, I’m happy for them. But they don’t necessarily reflect the range of opinion that exists in a wider society. Priorities can be different when people don’t have to fight for the life of their practice or are working long hours for abysmal salaries. Gathering viewpoints from people in different personal circumstances makes for healthy debate to develop a clear focus on what’s important.
People are tired of presidents with woolly platforms that, in trying to solve everything, solve nothing. I will start with one, clear issue from which everything else can flow in the right order and at the right time. An issue that affects pretty much everyone. I will call for a new code of procurement. We must challenge the structural issues that make it impossible for us to do our jobs effectively.
Valeria Passetti I wouldn’t say it is broken but it needs to get better at listening to members and representing our profession. RIBA needs to switch from a top-down flow of information to a modern interactive institute that constantly listens to its members, empowers them, responds to their needs and successfully furthers the importance of good architecture to the wider public.
Sumita Singha Various things have changed since I was last in the council. I won’t know if the RIBA is broken until I get in the seat! However, from what I have seen from the outside, where the RIBA lacks is a combined strategic direction towards its charity object. Each of the directorates and main committees need to be connected to each other to support the object. Education is not connected with the profession, practice or the codes of practice. Revenue generation is not connected with promoting architecture.
There is a lack of governance training which impacts on accountability and transparency. What I have learnt strongly from my work as a non-exec in the NHS is if every committee and action is aligned towards that an organisational purpose, challenges can be overcome.
Riba voting ballot council election
What would you hope to achieve during your presidency?
Simon Allford I’d develop a five-year plan to put architecture front and centre. A functioning board engaged with council will instruct the executive to execute the plan and lead a smaller, well-supported RIBA staff team.
The House of Architecture@RIBA is key to my vision as an accessible online and physical entity. In education it will help drive global capacity to design for climate change. In practice it will expand our base, embracing those who studied or engage with architecture, but work in other fields. It will connect our talented membership via physical and online hubs.
Architecture.com must become the free global portal to the House of Architecture@RIBA where ideas become knowledge: captured, stored and shared with members, public and government.
Jude Barber To create an open culture of collaboration, support, resilience and action.
RIBA. 66 Portland Place, London
We must communicate the critical importance of what we do within the construction industry and wider society by listening and learning. We should unite and actively advocate for one another so we can centrally position ourselves within a construction industry and society that needs our skills more than ever. Through collective empowerment, we can push for the things that are critical such as climate action, public health, better housing and greater diversity in our profession.
RIBA should be an agile and inclusive platform where we openly listen, talk and engage with issues of the day. I’ll do this by promoting robust relationships between practice and education. By providing practical, affordable, open source tools for practice via RIBA Academy, we can all upskill and address the issues of our time in a way that makes the task seem less immense, while fighting the day-to-day tasks of keeping our businesses afloat.
Nick Moss Create a new Code of Procurement, adopted by government and public bodies. Where they lead, others will follow.
Valeria Passetti There are many things on my manifesto which would be achievable: the decentralisation of resources, delivering support where students, associates and members need it most; improving the membership’s offer and make all online content free for members; encouraging the connection with and between members and improving the two-way communication with members and take action on what we hear.
Sumita Singha To see the RIBA develop stronger links regionally and internationally. To solve the wicked problems left behind by Brexit, the pandemic and further on, the climate crisis, we need to work collaboratively with other built environment bodies and public sector organisations and the government.
I want to be an empathetic leader, modelling inclusive behaviours
This multifaceted approach will be key to tackling local and global issues. For practices, relevant, clear and timely communication from RIBA as well as recovery and risk management strategies tailored for different sizes and types of practices will be urgent tasks. A digital strategy to boost participation and inclusion will be helpful. I want to be an empathetic leader, modelling inclusive behaviours. As someone who studied architecture abroad, I also hope to bring an international perspective to education and practice.
What would you do to tackle the increasing marginalisation of the profession?
Simon Allford For architects and architecture to flourish we need a relevant RIBA that unites us as ‘a learned society’ testing and publishing ideas. RIBA must celebrate what we do well, and push us to engage better with clients, consultants and contractors. Then we must get stronger messages to government. We need to push hard on climate, on the post-Covid and Grenfell worlds of design and procurement and for a post-OJEU national competitions policy.
Jude Barber We need to better communicate our skills, purpose and relevance – both within and outwith the profession – so we can best listen, engage and act.
I’d embed the guidance from the Sustainability and Ethics commission into everything we do and aim to encourage a set strong principles/values on which to ground ourselves.
Then, I’d promote our holistic approach and, through up-skilling promote our ability to address the climate emergency. Support and embedding engagement, re-use, biodiversity, and post occupancy evaluation so we can design healthier, more environmentally and humane buildings for the future.
Through collaboration and problem solving we can quickly re-establish ourselves not only at the core of a cross-disciplinary profession, but within society.
Nick Moss Introduce a New Code of Procurement. Trying to solve marginalisation without reforming procurement is like trying to steer a boat without a rudder.
Valeria Passetti The RIBA should be the home of architecture – the centre of the architectural debate. We must show we have the courage to stand up for what is right. The RIBA is our voice: as president I would be bold and I would expect to engage in the social and architectural debate […] I would earn our seat at the top table.
I would lobby for a fairer procurement system by engaging with local authorities and central government and team up with our colleagues in the built environment to lobby for a reform of the planning system.
I’d earn our seat at the top table
I want to raise the profile of architects and architecture with the public and the media. I’d build on the proposed campaign on the value architects can bring to residential projects and extend it to all type of development.
Sumita Singha Collaboration is the key to tackling the marginalisation of architects. I’d like the RIBA to work with cognate professions such as RICS, ICE and IStructE – we are stronger together. Then there are other organisations such as the Design Council who are good at getting others around the table to promote good design. Planning reform and procurement issues should also be done collaboratively. Otherwise, there will always be someone willing to do the work for cheaper, resulting in poor design quality. We have to celebrate the value of good design.
Ukgbc climate 007
Given the RIBA declared a Climate Emergency a year ago, what steps should the institute be taking to ensure all practices tackle the issues as a matter of urgency?
Simon Allford The RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge rightly sets tough standards, but we cannot succeed alone. Society needs to tackle the climate emergency, with architects playing a key role working with clients to design, build and evaluate exemplary low-carbon buildings, proving that these are an achievable essential.
The RIBA can help by capturing and promoting that knowledge, giving clients the confidence to commit to low-carbon architecture. I know this can be done, in practice we have pursued low operational carbon through a series of BREEAM Outstanding projects – and with the evidence base are pushing ourselves and our clients ever harder on embodied carbon.
Jude Barber I’d ensure we have the agility, support and resilience to collectively address the climate emergency together. In a way that embraces the intersections between place, health, biodiversity, economy and behaviour. I’d actively enable groups such as LETI, ACAN, Architects Declare, SEDA and seek to embed their key aims into practice, education, procurement, policy and COP 26.
Nick Moss Tackling climate emergency is a huge task requiring strenuous action from a range of organisations and individuals. I will consider it a sacred duty to support these efforts. However, my platform is procurement reform, which feeds into the issue in a less obvious manner. If I concentrated purely on climate change, we would still be in a position where architects have little influence and therefore a weaker voice. Resolving procurement will have real impact on this issue.
I’d like to sign up to Architects’ Declare but it’d be hypocritical to agree to declarations most architects cannot fulfil
Though I’d like to sign up to Architects Declare, it would be hypocritical to agree to declarations most architects cannot fulfil, owing to our marginalisation and reduced influence.
I will help give us the tools to empower the changes that our profession and organisations such as Architects Declare seek.
Valeria Passetti There are two sides to this: We need to communicate the need for urgency in tackling the climate emergency. Our membership is varied and the RIBA needs to make sure that no-one is left behind. We need to inform, educate and support all our members to understand what is asked of them. Provide them with tools and resources so that no building big or small is built outside those targets; we also need to lobby government to ensure changes to planning and buildings regulations so that the 2030 climate challenge targets are met or exceeded ASAP.
Sumita Singha The Climate Emergency is each architect’s problem, whether they are in a large, medium or small practice. It will also affect everyone, whether they are architects or not. It is an existential crisis as I said in the hustings. So again, collaboration is the key. I would like the institute to take bold steps and collaborate with like minded organisations, whether they are grass roots or more formal such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etc.
Net zero carbon design principles should be made compulsory for CPD and education
I’ve also suggested that chartered members and practices demonstrate ethical considerations in design, choice of materials, and in design competition entries. After all the Climate Emergency has arisen from not making ethical choices. Net zero carbon design principles should be made compulsory for CPD and education. Also, support and guidance for net zero carbon projects and innovation in building technology, should be tailored for small practices.
Unleashingbritain spotential boris johnson
How can the RIBA’s voice be made louder – especially within government?
Simon Allford The RIBA needs to work with clients, consultants and contractors, pulling together and taking that wider view and stronger voice to government. When government say ‘Build, build, build,’ we should respond with ‘Design, design, design’.
Jude Barber There’s never been a more critical time for us to act and be heard. Over the past few months, everyone in society is now acutely aware of the quality of their home, neighbourhood and immediate environment and how these either enhance or diminish their lives. The increasing social and spatial inequalities in our society go way beyond party politics and into morality and ethics.
There’s never been a more critical time for us to act and be heard
We need to harness our collective skills, ask the right questions at the right time and be unapologetic in our aims. And to do so, we need to be around decision-making table with fellow construction professionals, have the strength to call out – and call on – government where need be and make our voice hear in a way that is united, enabling and empowering.
Nick Moss By being louder. By being tenacious, persistent and determined, with crystal-clear objectives.
Valeria Passetti We need to re-engage with the public and regain our position of authority in the architectural debate. We need to connect with the media and be assertive about what we stand for. I’ll make sure we’re invited to join every working group dealing with the issues of the built environment. I’ll also facilitate the connection between our local members and their MPs on matters that are relevant to architects and their communities. With the backing of MPs in parliament the impact of our government lobbying will be magnified.
Sumita Singha During my time in the public sector, I’ve worked with government bodies, and the movers and shakers who influence our built environment. They are looking for guidance on the built environment and possibly need our help too but we don’t recognise them as such.
We have to find individuals willing to listen to us and work with them. There are many MPs, for example, who are interested in the built environment. I’ve been endorsed by people from housing associations, the NHS and the police. It’s important we remain relevant by collaborating with them and making sure our voices are heard by the government and policy makers. For example, I have been urging various healthcare organisations to collaborate with architects in creating healthy cities.
How will you tackle the perception that the RIBA remains London-centric? And how can it re-engage with its members?
Simon Allford In the post-Covid world perceptions of time, distance and communication have changed. Architecture.com will become our meeting ground for ideas – hosting debates, lectures, exhibitions reflecting cultural and practice contexts, and celebrating members’ work worldwide. It will be a practice friend enabling members to share ideas about professional practice and technical and regulatory change, regardless of size, scale and location. A 21st-century professional institute will use today’s technology to help meet our charter obligations to advance architecture and to improve our towns and cities
Jude Barber I’ll celebrate and foster the RIBA’s federal model and act on behalf of architects from all 12 regions and internationally. Portland Place is a wonderful building, but many of us haven’t been there or accessed it – even Londoners. So, we need to embolden our regions and celebrate what we have in common and enjoy what might be different. I’d build on each other speaking directly to one another – and not necessarily always through London. Almost half of our membership are sole practitioners and many work from home.
While it’s critical to meet and gather in person, our new-found adventure into digital communication does offer the opportunity for us to connect our skills. businesses, schools, regions and the world more than ever before, It allows us the opportunity to share resources and collaborate in a ways we have yet to fully explore. That poses a real opportunity to harness over the next few years.
Nick Moss By being a president that isn’t from London. Regarding re-engagement, I say ‘If you build it, they will come.’ I understand how to make the RIBA relevant. The opposite of love, isn’t hate. It’s indifference. Apathy, in other words. Most members are disengaged. 80 per cent don’t even vote. We need to start at member level, regionally. The research is clear – you can’t change apathy without giving people the opportunity for an emotional response. Something that creates interest, curiosity, inspiration and drive.
At the Manchester Society of Architects, we completely changed our approach and focused on rebuilding at a grass roots level. Consequently, over the past four years, our engagement has increased by 800 per cent. Our last awards had an audience of over 1,000 people, which is unprecedented. It was also heartening to see that they were from an incredibly diverse group of people.
Valeria Passetti Decentralising resources and increasing the support at local, regional and international level would go a long way to dispel this perception. In this way we can re-engage with regional and international members by truly listening and providing the support they need.
Decentralising resources and increasing local support at local would go a long way to dispel this perception
It would allow regional staff to connect with students, associates and members to organise regional events/support members’ initiatives.
We should start recording events around the world and make them accessible online to all members and provide more free online content and CPDs.
Sumita Singha I’ve been writing to the RIBA since 1996 about engaging more with the regions. Besides the regions, RIBA needs to connect better with its international members. I’ve mentioned an online digital strategy inspired by the pandemic that could connect members all around the world.
It would also become a platform for job and project sharing where jobs and projects are advertised, enabling practices to collaborate. The RIBA should also travel out with big meetings organised in different parts of the UK so that we can also hear regional voices. That is also part of being a diverse organisation.
The candidates’ responses to the issues of architectural education and increasing diversity will be published in a later article.
Voting begins today and closes atl 5pm on 4 August. The results will be published on 11 August.
RIBA North, Liverpool