Harry Rich was unable to drive the necessary reform at RIBA, his departure is an opportunity

Ben Derbyshire

Harry’s tenure as chief executive coincided with a period of discontinuity in the programmes and priorities of successive Presidents at the RIBA and that created problems for the leadership at the Institute. He concentrated therefore on what he knew best and did well; an outreach programme that raised the profile of Architecture, promoting the brand of the profession.

But it was time for a change. I wrote to my fellow Council members last year under the heading ‘Architects Leading’ to suggest that it was time for members to re-take the Institute, drive policy through a more effective Council and become the voice of the profession which had become increasingly articulated by the executive. I don’t think Harry was particularly comfortable with this message.

These are challenging times for Architecture, and indeed all of the professions. Jane Duncan has already done a lot to chart a new course ahead, in particular with the drafting of a soon to be published five year strategy which stresses the importance of ethical practice, collaboration, research and building a body of knowledge that over time will enable the public and our clients to better appreciate the value of Architecture. Now is the time to turn these words to effective action.

And in the short term, there is an urgent task to restore the health of the business. The RIBA is losing market share to ARB and membership, which should have been building steadily since the economy returned to growth, has been flat-lining. I fear the Institute has taken on grandiose and expensive projects which will further distract from the essential task of rebuilding the profession’s fortunes. Finances must be restored and difficult choices made. It would have been difficult for Harry Rich to oversee such choices, for obvious reasons.

So we thank him for his contribution and wish him well for the future but now we must turn to the task ahead. I have already written to Jane Duncan to offer my support in any way I can.

Ben Derbyshire is managing partner of HTA Design