Ben Derbyshire, Former President, RIBA

What exactly does RIBA (The Royal Institute of British Architects) do?

The Royal Institute of British Architects is a global professional membership body driving excellence in architecture. We serve our members and society to deliver better buildings and places, stronger communities and a sustainable environment. Being inclusive, ethical, environmentally aware and collaborative underpins all that we do.

Tell us about your journey to becoming President of RIBA, starting at university, what did you study and where have you worked prior?

I attended Birmingham School of Architecture for my part 1 – a transformative educational experience after a rather chequered school career, and then Cambridge School of Architecture for my part 2 and 3.  I worked at Hunt Thompson Associates in my year out when there were five of us in the practice and have spent all my working life there since. Now I am chair of HTA Design LLP – an interdisciplinary practice of more than 200. In college and subsequently I have striven to find ways to serve society better as a community architect and latterly as leader of a major housing practice.

What are the ambitions of the institute?

We are striving for a strong profession by helping our members engage with the challenges and opportunities of a changing world, leading and supporting the highest professional and ethical standards and facilitating collaboration, research and innovation. The Institute helps the profession to thrive, by attracting the best and most diverse talent with access to the education, knowledge and skills to succeed.

We want to retain our strong voice by ensuring that architecture and architects are better understood and valued by clients, policy-makers, the media, the public and a growing network of supporters. We do this through advocacy and engagement based on our collections, cultural programmes, evidence base and the expertise of architects.

Architecture is very important to me, I love Georgian, Victorian and especially Regency architecture as I think they have a timeless and classical beauty, what is your favourite style of architecture and why?

Happily I have catholic tastes in all forms of art.  As President, I celebrate the broad church of our profession and I believe we should appreciate quality no matter what the aesthetic tradition.

What do you think of ‘’Brutalism architecture’’, and is it something you or RIBA encourage in this day and age.

‘Brutalism’ is a widely misapplied misnomer.  It derives from the French ‘La beton brut’ referring to concrete poured into moulds made of rough-hewn boards – known as ‘board marked concrete’ in English. This can be very beautiful.

The RIBA, and myself, do not subscribe to any strict type of architecture – the importance lies in ensuring that whatever is built in this country makes a positive impact to its locality and community. We simply encourage great design in achieving this.

At the Architects Council of Europe General Assembly 2018, a question was raised about ‘’the existential challenge to architecture based on the decline of societal respect for the value of the profession’’. How do you plan on raising the profile of architecture among young people looking ahead?

In June last year we lead the five institutes of the British Isles (including Eire) in committing to five principles for the future of the profession; i) developing a gold standard, ii) researching to build a body of knowledge, iii) diversifying the workforce, iv) placing the public interest first, v) adopting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  When we meet next in Dublin we will be comparing notes on our respective achievements, hopefully supporting one another to go farther, faster.  Meanwhile, travelling in North America, the Gulf and Far East we note that the same existential challenges are felt by the profession the world over. This February, so far 12 Presidents have accepted our invitation to extend this conversation onto a global footing.  We shall host a session designed to create a truly international dialogue to enable the profession to meet the shared challenge.

What have you achieved in the role that you can be most fulfilled by?

I ran for the role of president because I believe that change is necessary in the profession and that the place from which to drive change is the Institute.  By the time I have handed over to Alan, I will be proud on my watch to have helped to make sure our constitution and processes are fit for purpose and the Institute is capable of punching above its weight for many years to come.  I will have helped steer a number of crucial projects towards fruition. This includes a review and reform of our architecture education; a quality tracker tool with built environment institutes (to improve the quality of outcomes in the construction industry); various research initiatives; an apprenticeship programme and education outreach programme to diversify the workforce; a suite of documents to mainstream evaluations that help clients and occupants identify desired project outcomes; and Future Place – an initiative to recognise, reward and encourage high quality placemaking in England.

The rest of this interview will be published at a later date.