It is remiss of me not to have reported on a rather uplifting and refreshingly honest event I attended, just a few days after the EU referendum, which was a dinner to celebrate the candidature of Ben Derbyshire for the presidency of the RIBA.
It was quite the most extraordinary event, and I was most privileged to have been included. All the great and the good of the British architecture community were there; all the big names. And I got quite star-struck and tongue-tied among all these genii of design (you will have to forgive me, I was brought up by Stuart Lipton, as some of you may know, and I still get very dewy eyed over architects). The meal and the company were superb. But more importantly, during our time together we had a pretty gloves-off debate about the future of British architecture, and why the RIBA so desperately needs a candidate for change, especially now.
I guess, given the political tumult of the past few weeks, even those of us in our sector could have been forgiven for overlooking this election – for the presidency of the Royal Institute of British Architects – but its outcome is likely to be highly material to the future of the property industry. Ben Derbyshire is promising to reform the RIBA, building on the work of Jane Duncan, the current president. And, bless him, he is running a most energetic campaign: the #VoteForBen team has been working its socks off, having been at hustings all over the UK trying to reach out to the membership; there has been extensive trade press coverage, the campaign website has received several thousand hits and, for those who follow social media, there has a been a veritable storm on Twitter and LinkedIn.
The core message of the campaign has been well received: namely that, especially following Brexit, significant change at the RIBA is now inevitable, and that this should be harnessed as an opportunity to create an organisation that is lighter on its feet, much more collaborative and less isolationist in its approach to promoting the benefits of architecture for the built environment.
I have known Ben Derbyshire for nearly two decades, since he came to help me at Paddington; he is a life-affirming person, who will always help if he can. And given recent events, Ben’s experience at the helm of a commercial practice for more than 30 years, negotiating three recessions and the inevitable changes in the role of the architect, mark him as a most reliable and competent future president.
If we are looking for someone with the savvy to do the job, enough grit to make (the inevitable) unpleasant decisions, while being wholly on the side of jobbing architects, I believe Ben is the best and only real choice (these are my personal views I hasten to add, not the policy of EG, nor anything to do with my erstwhile employers at Her Majesty’s Government).
Above all, he will run a commercial operation, and that has to be music to the ears of those of us committed to being relentlessly robust and market-facing. I have to say, a bit huffily, that it is a bit of a shame that all three candidates are white, middle-aged men (especially as the current president is a woman) but that is hardly their fault. And I can certainly testify that Ben Derbyshire is totally sincere about his wish to diversify the profession: he champions women architects, and he genuinely practices what he preaches in terms of equal opportunity employment in HTA, his own practice. You cannot ask for more.
Apparently only a tiny fraction of the chartered members of the Royal Institute for British Architects ever vote (and it is only they who can vote) which seems like a shame. So if you are eligible, can I urge you to exercise your franchise (no matter who you are voting for). And for the rest of you, and this is a particular call to the Urbanistas, can I ask you please to tap up any architects you are working with, or are friendly with, to vote in this election. The ballot closes on 8 August, so you have a few days.
I hope that Ben wins. And not just so I can boast that I know the President of the RIBA. He is energetic and positive, he is an agent for democratic change, and he is a very nice man. The central message of the #VoteForBen campaign is one of a much more collaborative, lighter touch, leaner, and more responsive, future for the RIBA. What’s not to like? And Ben is the only candidate who espouses this approach.
Frankly this reform is long overdue in the architectural profession; a profession whose future resilience and flexibility is essential to the long-term success of the property industry. Vote today, if you can. Or nudge someone you know.