Ben Derbyshire's Valedictory Speech
My election campaign slogan when running for this office was #ChangeIsNecessary. I have devoted myself to change, laying the foundations for more, that is yet to come. Much more.
Why? Being witness to and being able to promote the quality of our work as a profession, especially the best that I have been privileged to enjoy in jury visits and award ceremonies for the Stirling Prize, the International Prize, the Jenks Award, The Royal Gold Medal and most recently, the Neave Brown Award, have been highlights of my time in office. I am humbled by the superb work and the beneficial outcomes that architects can create.
But change is nonetheless necessary because, despite this, we are not as valued as a resource for society and our clients as we should be, and once where. This value challenge, as I have come to call it, seems central. Fixing this issue would enable us, so much the better, to meet the other challenges we face, including the need to improve diversity in the profession, to predict and deliver reliable quality, to improve procurement, and to contribute more effectively to the existential Climate Emergency. Increasing perceptions of our value to society and our clients would also fix that other perennial complaint - that architects are not sufficiently well paid!
I have enjoyed a long career as a housing architect in practice, and making way for a younger generation as HTA Design (the practice I first joined in 1973) enters its 50th year, I turned to the RIBA wishing to put my shoulder to the wheel of change.
To quote my inauguration speech, two years ago:
‘With over 40,000 members, 230 staff and £20m turnover there can surely be no other organisation with potential that comes close to effecting change of the kind that would be necessary to improve our fortunes. Our brand, especially globally, is second to none as a collective representation of the profession, and our home, this great house, is the envy of all the others.’
But I was under no illusion that to deliver on this promise, change is necessary to this august body itself. So bear with me while a focus briefly on the foundations we have been laying during my term of office that will enable the RIBA to adapt to the challenges faced by the profession and the society we serve over coming years.
The RIBA’s annual accounts will be published next month and will show a seriously healthy surplus, available to invest in transforming the organisation. This positive financial picture is the result of team effort, involving senior members, officers, legal and financial experts. I worked closely with the executive team and encouraged our trustees to evaluate the range of options open to us, leading to negotiation of a significant investment deal in our commercial operations, which will continue to deliver benefit to members.
At a special general meeting next month, RIBA members will be able to vote on a completely overhauled framework of governance. This will relieve RIBA Council of its burden of minutiae, liberating its four annual meetings to become an opportunity for the membership to communicate its needs and aspirations to the institute and debate matters of relevance and importance to its representatives. Council will remain the superior body and have the power to hire and fire a Board of twelve Trustees selected for their relevant skills. All of that is a long overdue refresh of a constitution that has grown organically since 1834, bringing us up to date with Charity Commission guidance.
That on my watch, the RIBA obtained unprecedented financial health and a new constitution which will make us more effective and on-the-march to deliver so much more to members and society, is a source of huge satisfaction.
Changes to the way the institute is organised, financed and run are for Chief Executive, Alan Vallance and his team to deliver. But the investment and change management programme that the executive are working through, is intended to deliver a new look, leaner, fitter, devolved, and more relevant RIBA over the next four years, working to set of outcomes that we senior members on the RIBA Board developed with Alan and his team and which Council approved last March.
These and other changes are unprecedented in the Institute’s 185 year history. It has been a team effort, instigated by Jane Duncan before, and to be concluded well beyond my term. I’m proud or the work of senior members, John Assael and Kerr Robertson in particular, in partnership with Alan Valance, and the executive, and change is well under way as I hand over to Alan Jones. So, as my Presidency comes to an end, the Institute has the resources and the effective governance necessary to greatly enhance its strategic ambition to become a global organisation for advancing architecture with a stronger organisation, membership and voice.
I make no apology for regaling you with our internal affairs. The intricate and sensitive business of organisational change has occupied much of my time over the last two years. But now I’d like to turn to the externalities of my time in office.
RIBA is such a broad and wide-ranging organisation with responsibilities for membership growth (including internationally) member guidance and benefits, standards of education and practice, ethics, CPD, the collections, awards, cultural programme, publishing, research, policy and lobbying activity. It’s a huge span for the President too! But I will highlight some that have special significance for me.
The RIBA has been out there and forceful in its work on the ‘events, dear boy, events’ that Jane Duncan warned me would be a major pre-occupation in office. She has continued to drive our contribution to policy making in the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster. On Brexit we have been effective in arguing the case for free movement in a global profession and the importance of mutual recognition of qualifications. On the basis of the most thoroughgoing survey of the profession, we have advised Government, and advocated widely on the effects upon the development industry, and the profession, of exiting Europe without a deal and we know that civil servants, anyway, have listened and understood.
The Presidency has brought many opportunities to brief politicians and civil servants, local, national and global. Apart from all the many private meetings at home and abroad, perhaps the standout moment took place at the last Stirling Prize ceremony, on prime-time TV with a reported audience of 10m viewers, to impress upon the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who was seated right in front of me, the industry’s hopes and expectations for a resolution of the Brexit impasse. Little did I think we would be still waiting….
I have been concerned to champion diversity in the profession and momentum is picking up with Femi Oresanya in a leadership role for the RIBA’s Architects for Change group. Femi is guiding a comprehensive package of investment and cross cutting changes now approved by Council to improve minority representation and social mobility in the profession – one of the key elements of our multi-million investment package. We published guidance on closing the gender pay gap in the spring, and last year’s launch of the level 6 and 7 apprenticeships in architectural education are sure to assist diversity. Adding lustre to this effort was the amazing ‘Afro-Futurism’ fundraiser for Stephen Lawrence Trust last November when we raised £115,000 for the charity in the 25th year since Stephen’s brutal murder.
My own specialism is housing and urbanism, and I set out to support improvements to quality and performance in the built environment. To achieve significant outcomes in this field, collaboration across the industry is absolutely essential.
So I am happy to have instigated a number of projects jointly with sister organisations. We are working with the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Chartered Institute of Housing and Local Government Association to support five towns and cities with placemaking – ‘Future Place’ will report in December.
We set out our ‘Ten Characteristics of Places Where People Want to Live’ in a report with that title, published alongside Oliver Letwin’s study of homebuilding last November – and our report provides Roger Scruton’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission with everything they need to know!
I signed an MoU with the Chartered Institute of Building and Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, responding to Steven Hodder’s Client Survey. The Quality Tracker is the result; designed to overcome the worst of procurement ills (Design and Build especially) by sustaining the ‘golden thread’ of accountability for performance.
Meeting my opposite numbers in Institutes representing architects across the globe has lead me to understand that the challenges we face in Britain are shared by the profession around the world. So, with Chris Williamson, our International Vice President, we worked on a programme of international engagement.
I instigated five principles designed to reinforce the profession’s compact with society and was delighted to discover the alacrity with which our four sister Institutes in the British isles, including Eire, signed up. These principles cover the imperative to increase diversity, research to equip us with better access to knowledge, the need to put the public interest first, educating the profession the better to manage risk, and the primacy of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We have extended this mutual commitment around the world and will be comparing notes annually amongst more than 20 global institutes on our respective efforts, as things progress.
In the spring of 2017 during my year as president elect, a group of us proposed an RIBA Commission on Ethics and Sustainable Development. This reported in December 2018 with recommendations on how the built environment can best reflect and engage with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the UN’s plan of action for people, prosperity and the planet.
In response, RIBA Council formally reasserted the Institute's unequivocal commitment to placing public interest, social purpose, ethical behaviour and sustainable development at the heart of the Institute's activities and to develop a plan of action based on the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
This year we revised Codes of Conduct and Practice for members and practices, the first update in 15 years, which ratchet up expectations of probity and public good in documents which are much more a manual for best practice, rather than a last resort when something may have gone wrong.
With that plan underway, collaborating with industry and sister professions, we declared Climate Emergency and embarked on our 2030 Climate Challenge, a framework committing to defining metrics and stretching targets for our members, shared with industry and clients, and lobbying for matching regulatory change particularly through Building Regulations.
Come October, I will leave behind a full suite of templates, in the form of revised Plan of Work, Architects Job Book and Terms of Appointment by means of which any architect can agree the basis for Post Occupancy Evaluation of their projects. Meanwhile we lobby for Government to make this a requirement for all Government funded projects.
This is an extraordinary time for the Institute and its members; a once-in-generation opportunity for transformative change because renewed resources and governance changes coincide with the widely acknowledged climate emergency. If ever there was a moment in history when the profession can re-assert its relevance, equip itself with the necessary knowledge and skill, get out there and be seen to contribute in a big way to staving off the existential threat, this is it.
Some changes must wait till after I have handed over to Alan Jones to really gain traction. But I have every confidence that programmes to accelerate education reform, blocked in the MHCLG’s legislative moratorium during the Brexit negotiations, will flourish under the next Presidency. Equally, I fully expect to see broad and entertaining additions to our cultural programme under the aegis of Rob Dickins, our new chair of the British Architectural Trust Board. One of my campaign themes was for ‘Architects to retake their Institute’ which I fully expect will come to life shortly after I have left – with the regular Wednesday night ‘Architects Underground’. It opens on September 11th and will turn 66 Portland Place into a weekly destination of inspiration, with music, talks and film. I can’t wait!
Before I have over to Alan Jones, I must acknowledge where thanks are due:
To Jane Duncan for preparing the ground.
To Alan Vallance, the executive team and staff of the RIBA who are working through a programme of change.
To the senior members, especially Hon Secretary Kerr Robertson and Treasurer John Assael, fellow Board members, and Council Trustees, that I have been privileged to work with.
To Sally Welbourne, the Board and Council secretary who has worked closely with me on our huge agenda for change with skilful diplomacy.
To Bobbie Williams, my Executive Assistant, capable of reaching the parts that no President can reach alone.
To my partners at HTA Design for giving me the time over three years to commit to the Institute.
To my family, and especially my wife, Jane, for supporting me. Jane was my campaign manager during the election and has acted as special adviser, my own personal SPAD, throughout.
And, in his absence, thanks to my late father, Andrew – often referred to as the best President the RIBA never had - to whom I owe so much
Thank you very much!