Industry is at a turning point and architects need to agree on direction, says Jane Duncan

The architecture profession is at a critical juncture and architects must be bolder in navigating the seismic changes ahead, said the new president of the RIBA.

They must resist the temptation to hunker down and instead agree on how to manage the challenges, Jane Duncan warned in her inauguration speech this week.

She vowed to promote a more diverse profession, arguing this would give it the strength to fight for “smarter” procurement processes.

Faced with today’s risk-averse procurement, craft-led visionaries like last year’s Royal Gold Medal winners O’Donnell & Tuomey might never have got their first break, she said.

“We need to inspire our clients to have the confidence to commission innovative, resourceful and profitable architecture,” she said.

“The resultant commissions will benefit the end users, and be the catalyst to inspire and develop every size of practice, from the sole operator to a global enterprise.”

The RIBA’s Client and Architect report – commissioned by her predecessor Stephen Hodder and published this week – showed that clients, developers and contractors want architects to step up and lead the multi-disciplinary teams needed to build in the 21st century.

“I don’t think there’s resistance to this notion from anybody, except perhaps ourselves,” she said.

She urged architects to actively shape a “fully creative, actively cooperative and exciting profession”.

“I want us to be proud of what we do and confident about the contribution our skills can make to our clients and wider society,” she said.

“Great architecture demands more than just great buildings; it requires us to produce thoughtful, ethical and resourceful responses to the context in which we work, wherever that may be.”

She added: “If we are to develop the necessary resilience to thrive in these circumstances, we must have the discipline to focus on those issues that are most vital to our future.”

She hoped communication would be a defining feature of her two-year presidency and announced she would hold regular open “surgeries” at Portland Place.

Her other priorities will be young people and a more inclusive profession – and she demanded an end to unpaid internships.

“Similarly we must stop offering our intellectual property free of charge, and kick the habit of undervaluing our expertise and contribution to our clients,” she said. “We need to value and pay ourselves, our staff and the students who are the future of the profession, better.”