Goldschmied sported the sash with the president's medal somewhat jauntily, like those popular prefects at school. "It's OK, I'm still one of the lads," it seemed to say. "It's just that now I'm in charge." This is the first time that the RIBA has had a world-class player as president. It is greatly to the institution's advantage that Goldschmied has taken up the post – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. Although he is a charismatic figure, his presentation was very much that of a player on the Richard Rogers Partnership team, and not the chief striker at that.
Goldschmied is used to practising architecture on a broad canvas. When he says that the Chinese are planning to build 600 new cities, each the size of Bristol, you get the impression that in his practice they know how to design cities that will be sustainable and civilised, and not dystopian nightmares with security gates protecting the privileged few while the dispossessed squat in shanty towns drenched in petrochemical waste.
When Goldschmied tells you that the amount of oxygen consumed by a single launch of Concorde is the same as that breathed by the citizens of Switzerland in a year, you realise that there is more to environmental control than putting thermostats on your radiators.
This sort of holistic millennial approach is all very well coming from the sort of practice that can deliver when Bill Gates rings up to ask for a new headquarters in the Pacific by the end of next week, but how does it help us workers at the coal face? Goldschmied's background at Richard Rogers is important here. Although the firm can probably tackle any scale of project anywhere, Richard Rogers somehow manages to maintain an ethos that small outfits can identify with in a way other megacorp practices do not.
Staff still have birthday parties, anyone can walk into meetings, the salary scale is transparent and nobody is obliged to work overtime. The firm still manages to maintain those attributes that traditionally make architecture more of a creative communal endeavour than running a hierarchical commercial business.
It is the fact that he understands the commercial business of architecture that gives Goldschmied such clout. Not just earning a living at it, but making wonderful things in the process. What lay punters tend to forget is that clients don't go along to Richard Rogers because they want a bright yellow box with glass lifts on the outside and hang the expense. They like the way it performs on shortlists and hire it because they need an architect. Like any other client, they have briefs and budgets and difficult managing directors who need to be persuaded all the way along the line.
If the RIBA is to lose its self-obsessed image, it needs its corporate identity seriously tweaked
What the new president is best placed to do is give the RIBA a higher profile and thus raise the profile of architecture generally, and drag us small fry into the limelight with it. Commissioning good design generates value that is hard to quantify, especially in the short term. This is why so many clients that could commission decent architecture choose not to.
Goldschmied's hope is that clients that might not otherwise see the point of involving architects can be persuaded to do so, and that the best way of doing this is by boosting awareness of the institution's standing as, a long-established professional body that demands rigorous training from its members.
By focusing on the more global responsibilities that affect all construction firms, he hopes to spread the word that, more than ever, architects' training makes them a crucial part of the team.
Like any institution, the RIBA needs a revamp now and again. If it is to lose its image of stuffy, self-obsessed white-tower merchants, it needs its corporate identity seriously tweaked. This involves more than hiring a graphic designer with a new version of Photoshop, and it needs someone with a bit of clout to get the necessary expenditure committed.
The same can be said of the RIBA headquarters. Although it is attractive and sited in a desirable part of town, the main lecture hall would not look out of place in a dilapidated 1960s secondary modern. It is not the sort of venue that would persuade potential clients that architects know any more about 20th-century design than anyone else. Physician heal thyself.