Urban taskforce chair tells first RIBA conference in 20 years that profession is 20 years behind other countries.

Lord Rogers called for a rethink of the way British architects are trained at last weekend’s RIBA conference.

Delivering the keynote speech at the conference, which was the institute’s first for nearly two decades, he said Britain was 20 years behind The Netherlands, Spain and Denmark in its approach to urban regeneration and architects needed training to catch up.

The urban taskforce chairman told the 240 delegates at the new Lowry arts centre in Salford that architects were the “natural leaders of the multidisciplinary team” needed for urban regeneration, but said they needed more effective training to help create an urban renaissance.

He said: “The structure of the profession cannot meet the present needs [of urban regeneration] without a big change.”

Lord Rogers repeated his view that architects were the key element in creating attractive high-density urban areas in the UK. He said: “Design is the solution to density, because it demands a 3D approach. Urban regeneration must be design-led.”

Richard Rogers Partnership director and RIBA president Marco Goldschmied picked up on Rogers’ comments during his address.

“Architects are still seen as being insular and narrow. They cannot afford to be hung up on form and style,” he said.

He added that the RIBA was going through a major rebranding exercise to become “an institution for the 21st century”.

The two-day event was actually two conferences rolled into one. Cambridge University, which had been planning an urban regeneration conference before the RIBA picked up the cause, provided heavyweight academic research, while the architect speakers discussed urban renewal.

Michael Breheny, professor of urban planning at Reading University, pinpointed a major omission in the urban taskforce report. “Rogers ignored jobs,” he said, claiming that the decline in conurbations was because jobs were moving out in large numbers to small towns and the country.

Marcial Echenique, professor of land use and transport studies at Cambridge University, poured scorn on high-density urban development.

Showing photographs of Bilbao, he asked why people had moved out of the beautifully compact historic city centre to sprawling suburbs. “People move out voluntarily for two basic reasons – to get better mobility and more space,” he said.

Tony Travers, Greater London group director within the London School of Economics, argued for research into the hidden costs of low-density greenfield development, in terms of infrastructure, traffic pollution and loss of countryside. Harry Richardson of the University of Southern California, claimed that in the USA , hidden subsidies for each new house amounted to $25 000 (£16 500).