Sunand Prasad, RIBA President 2007-09

This is a page for your views and your questions. Comments will be moderated before posting. You can also contact me at s.prasad@penoyre-prasad.net.

  1. As a member of the Executive Board of the British Interactive Media Association I appreciate how important it is for architectural environments to be sensitive to and facilitate interactive information sharing in the dawning Information Age, especially in areas such as health care and education. From your manifesto and from what I know about you, I feel confident that as President of RIBA you would help encourage development and design sensitivity in these areas enormously.

    Hal Robinson,
  2. As a UK trained architect, naturalised and practicing in Italy for over 10 yrs, and recently registered as an RIBA Overseas Member, I would like to offer my services as a ‘national rep’ to solicitate my co-Italian members votes on your behalf. Despite Uk members’ complaints of imperfection, the RIBA is undoubtedly a strong force for the drive for higher quality in the built environment, especially when compaired to the Italian equivalent’s almost total irrelevance and ineffectiveness. I would like to see the RIBA become a DYNAMIC & PRACTICAL driving force for a bigger and better role for European architects, and a promotor of more frequent and deeper cross-national-fertilization.

    Nigel Allen,
  3. I am a young female architect working in Cornwall who was fortunate enough to meet Sunand at a recent CABE event in Plymouth. Sunand will be a great representative for our diverse profession and I really hope he gets elected. I admire his accessible but highly articulate approach to the complex issues we all grapple with. I hope he has a significant majority to further prove that his views are shared by many within architecture and beyond.

    Rachael Gaunt,
  4. I support your vision for all international chartered members & hope to see it implemented. Good luck

    wisdom Chishimba,
  5. Following Peter Phillips’ (one of the other candidates) confirmation that he is a member of the extreme right wing British National Party (BNP) I have issued this brief statment:

    I will not call be calling Peter Phillips to stand down, and would not support such a move. As council member and presidential candidate he has not done anything illegal or in contravention of the rules or codes of conduct, as far as I know.

    To propagate its repellent views the BNP leeches on the very real grievances of white communities that our political system neglects. The RIBA has members who feel alienated from ‘the system’ and bullied by bureaucracy. I respect their right to decide for themselves whether Peter Phillips is likely to guide the RIBA to effective answers to their problems, or exactly, and destructively, in the opposite direction, like the BNP.

    sunand,
  6. Dear Mr. Prasad,
    Thanks for your letter and an excellent informative campaign site you have developed. I have been educated in the UK and greatly benefitted from the RIBA. I personally feel that RIBA needs to take international affairs a step forward and specially in the developing world. I appreciate your views on International chapters and I would only be happy to support you in this endeavour.I Wish you all the best.
    Jaffer

    Jaffer AA Khan,
  7. Sunand

    It is refreshing to read a manifesto which makes sound sense.

    As an overseas Architect now residing in Ireland and having studied and worked in the UK for some 12 years I very much appreciate your letter that was posted to my practice address outlining your intentions if voted in as president.

    You have my support and best wishes for presidency, as I am sure you will win!!

    Anthony Murphy,
  8. These are answers to questions from Derek Bradford of RIBA-USA:

    1. How can the RIBA use its new commitment to “go international” in order to inform debate about the nature of architectural practice in the UK?

    At its best internationalism is about expanding horizons and learning from each other, for our problems and possibilities are as compellingly similar as they are fascinatingly different. Architects can be a cultural bridge between nations. Having come to the UK from India because my father was invited to join an international voluntary organisation, I am a dyed in the wool internationalist.

    I consider architectural practice and education to be closely related. In schools of architecture, in addition to building on diversity, internationalism should specifically include appreciating the tremendous value of setting some projects located remotely from the school’s location, and exposure to global architectural history and culture. Much of this value is in exposing and clarifying the relationship between architecture and culture anywhere- a modern version of Bannister Fletcher’s ‘comparative method’. Practice (in the broadest sense) in the UK can learn from international experience: how to deal with Planning and Construction regulations; what is the best way of ensuring standards of service; how to protect consumers. The debate inn the UK is often too parochial in all these respects. This debate can also help us all to deal with one of the biggest issues today: globalisation with its confounding mixture of negative, exploitative capacity and positive ‘one world’ promise.

    2. What are your priorities for keeping UK architects competitive with overseas architects, such as those who practice in the US, and what experience do you bring to address this issue?

    I have no experience of working in the USA (As a student I tried and failed in 1973 when there was a very little work around, so I built stage sets for a puppet theatre company in NY!). I believe that the RIBA can help competitiveness through:

    • providing advice and guidance to help architects be rewarded properly for the value they add, and
    • working to influence government policies that determine the environment in which architects work.

    Additionally, the RIBA could facilitate international networking between, say UK and US architects, so bringing efficiencies and sharing smart practice.

    In much of my practice’s work in the UK, which increasingly involves public private partnerships (PPPs) and the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), fees are under constant attack. At the same time increasing complexity of building construction and an ever greater bureaucratic burden mean that we produce much more on a project than a few years ago. We have had to learn to be more efficient in our production, with the great help, of course of IT.

    I support, and if elected will promote, greater business training for architects, and to include it as part of architectural training. A key outcome of architectural education is learning to be a problem-solver. So it is anomalous that constraints like gravity, human dimensions and the weather are included in student projects but never costs and resources which so condition practice. I would welcome suggestions from RIBA-USA members as to what the RIBA can do to keep UK architects competitive with overseas architects.

    3. As President of the RIBA what steps would you take to advance the process of reciprocal licensing of architects between the UK and the US?

    It is a matter of huge concern that so many architects are not able to practice freely as a result of the lack of reciprocal licensing. I would put energy and commitment into making sure the ongoing ACE/NCARB negotiations to reach Mutual Recognition Agreements are well managed well supported and that RIBA –USA members are properly involved. I would be open to suggestion from you in regards of any additional help with your efforts. Unlike the UK Regions the USA Chapters have no administrative support, and I back David Falla’s proposals to extend admin support to International Chapters. I would hope that this will generally enable you to do more of what you want, including inputting to work required to reach MRAs.

    Although aware of it, I have only recently briefed myself on this issue. As I understand it, the attempted rebuilding of mutual recognition that was suspended in 1990 has a chequered history. Much of the current impasse appears to be culturally based – in the US the self-governing rights of the States trump federal imperatives, whereas the drive in the EU is for harmonisation across member nations. Some RIBA –USA members may not know that a bizarre anomaly exists in the UK, whereby the Architects Registration Board has to recognise a person with EU member state qualification achieved after just 5 years of training whereas the UK system requires a minimum of 7 years. I believe that the degree of difference between the ACE and NCARB positions are surely less than this, and must be resolved hopefully sooner rather than later.

    sunand,
  9. These are 9 questions from Norman Blogster at http://partiv.blogspot.com together with my answers.

    1. Considering the more liberal European countries such as Holland and Scandinavia - where anyone can call themselves an architect - and where architecture is generally esteemed not only amongst other architects internationally, but also by the general public, is it really necessary and important to protect the title “architect”? If so, why not protect the PRACTICE of architecture too?

    From polls conducted by the RIBA we know that 80% of architects wish to retain protection of title. Undoubtedly many would also wish for protect of the Practice of architecture. Both of these are centralist techniques of regulation. The key question is how to protect the consumer‚ (which in the case of architecture is a very wide constituency) and the long term interests of society. I believe that the general trend in a liberal democracy must be towards less centralised regulation, more self regulation of professions and trades, and the strengthening of information available to consumers. Therefore I would not support protection of function and look forward to the time when the architectural profession feels confident enough to say “we do not need protection of title”. In any case no government today would move to protection of practice.

    2. There are those that say that the profession is becoming split into two - “high architecture” or “starchitecture” and then everyday architecture. The schools of architecture teach and promote the former (as does the RIBA) and then when graduates enter the profession of the latter they are ill-prepared for the realities of what it entails, leading to great disillusionment for the student and frustrated employers. In fact, the recent AJ survey (available at http://www.ajplus.co.uk/aj100_06/education_06/) showed that only 15% of the top 100 employers considered “architects” straight out of part 2 courses either “good” or “very good”, leaving a massive 85% at best only “indifferent”. How, therefore, do you propose to address this imbalance between practice and an education that essentially misrepresents what architecture really is and misleads the students in order to be more cool and cutting edge than rival schools in a competition to fill their courses?

    A plague on both your houses, I say to the fundamentalists in education and practice. The increasing separateness of the world views of practice and education do not serve architecture or society well. But architectural education must not just be a preparation for practice. The gift of education is to enable each person to think for themselves in their own circumstances and to equip her or him with the basic tools for understanding, creating and communicating. At the same time if education presents too lopsided a picture of the world then it falls short - and part of that picture must be the real conditions in which the built environment is made. That does not mean reducing ambitions. It means facing cost, bureaucracy, the natural environment and social circumstances as factors to be tackled with as much invention and rigour as cool and cutting edge form and image. I will press for an education system in which practices see it as an obligation to contribute intellectually to education. The batchelor’s degree should be a general degree with no presumption about an architectural career. Those who then want to go on to practice should have available a combination of school based and practice based education as briefly described in the RIBA Vice President’s Initiative. At the same time architecture schools could be leading the way in exploring how the built environment might be shaped for the future.

    3. The RIBA’s mission statement is: “To advance architecture by demonstrating benefit to society and promoting excellence in the profession.” Some would say that this means that the RIBA focuses too much on a) London and b) the “starchitects” to the detriment of the a) majority of the profession that don’t work in London and b) vast majority of the profession that don’t work for starchitects. What would you say to these people? Should the RIBA be more interested in promoting the everyday practitioner?

    There is confusion here about the word “promote” - promote excellence in the profession is meant as “help spread high levels of ability and knowledge and quality of design etc amongst architects” . It is not meant mean “market only the best”. As someone who was involved in the adoption of the mission statement, I did not see the double meaning until now. I think “everyday practitioner” is a somewhat patronising phrase. In the sense of ‘promote’ as in ‘market’ the RIBA works on many fronts: from high profile celebration of excellence through awards to making the public aware of what architects and good design can do. One example is the Client Design Advisor service which has been taken up by the Building Schools for the Future programme to ensure that the 3,500 schools that will be built or refurbished over the nest 13 years have decent quality deign not necessarily starchitecture. There have always been “starchitects”, though media pressure makes the distinction now much sharper. One question raised by this issue therefore is: to what extent should a professional institute, which is a learned society, resist media pressure and to what extent does it have to surf the media. The former risks failure to communicate with the public the latter risks dumbing down of the art and the alienation of those who feel that circumstances exclude them from the limelight. There is no substitute here for wise judgement. The RIBA has a pretty good record if you look at the awards and exhibitions for example, not just at Portland Place but in architecture centres round the country.

    The problem of London centrism needs constant effort to overcome and I am committed to the cause. Happily, there are strong RIBA regions and I believe they show the way . The UK is more polycentric than it was 10 years ago – just look at the re-emergnce of Manchester and other cities. The Stirling Prize ceremony has been round the country – Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow. The next big RIBA Exhibition will open in Liverpool in 2008.

    4. Students leaving part 2 often work for less than minimum wage - particularly for “starchitects” working on competitions (the minimum wage act states that ALL hours worked have to be taken into account when calculating an hourly rate). This practice is clearly unfair not only on the graduates, but also on the average, less glamorous practices trying to win competitions while fully compensating all their employees. The RIBA currently condones this practice by being fully aware of the problem and not doing anything about it. Would you be willing to withold chartership from any practice found to be practising this? Would you be willing to proactively monitor practices in order to stamp it out? Would you be willing to not publish or give awards to any such practice?

    Through Council, the RIBA has consistently supported and aided the Archaos campaign for decent terms of employment for students. I don’t believe that a practice can become a Chartered Practice without accepting these terms. True monitoring, as opposed to self declaration, is too expensive. Awards and deservedness for publication has to be based on the merits of the work alone. Publicity for bad employment practice is probably the most effective way of tackling the problem.

    5. The average architect’s pay is disproportionately low compared with the esteem and image they seem to hold in society. For example, a recent Hays survey shows that a newly qualified architect in my region can expect to earn typically £24kpa, rising to £32kpa with 6 years experience. Given that I could probably earn more money working in Tescos, what do you believe are the root causes for poor pay in the profession?

    Architect’s pay is lower than that of most other construction professionals’, and much lower than doctors and lawyers. You would have to be pretty high up in a supermarket to match it though, so let us keep perspective. There is more than one cause for architects’ low earnings. The most significant one is probably the fragmenting of the architectural service, with a narrow concentration on design and removal of management and cost function that clients badly need and others charge handsomely for. At the same time architects regularly undersell themselves. Please look at issues/architects-earnings on this website where there is a 6-point action plan to tackle this problem. Comments welcome.

    6. Given the above, and the fact that the RIBA has recently published a figure of £57,000 debt for future graduates of architecture now that they have to pay their own fees, do you think that this will mean that only the rich will be able to enter the profession? In reality, would Stephen Lawrence ever have really been able to fulfil his well publicised dream of becoming an architect?

    Student debt is likely to reduce diversity in the profession. This is closely tied to the question 5. In research into the experience of black and minority ethnic students that I was involved in with CABE we found that low wages in architecture were seen as a particular negative factor. Higher financial barriers to entry could further damage the attraction of the profession. The analysis is not hard but finding solutions to the higher education funding crisis without additional taxation is. Perhaps there will be more part time courses running in parallel with full time ones, and I believe there should be other routes into the profession open to those who have experience in other fields, both trade and professional.

    7. At my part 3 course, I had it confirmed from a RIBA representative that if somebody joins the RIBA, then leaves for a few years (say to have a baby, follow other interests, or work abroad), and then wants to rejoin, they have to pay a percentage of the intervening years’ subscription. Do you think this is right? If not what can you do about it?

    If you choose to leave the RIBA for any reason you are free to resign and then re-join at a later date without any penalty. If you leave but fail to inform the RIBA, i.e.just stop paying subscriptions, you are deemed to never have left and therefore have to pay unpaid subscriptions for your time off in order to “catch up”. As a result of a recent Council resolution the RIBA now offers very reduced rates for anyone on parental leave, as well as those on a low income.

    8. Given all my concerns about the profession of architecture outlined above, can you give me three reasons why someone like me, who is just embarking on a career in architecture in a small practice in the north of England, should join the RIBA? Why would the RIBA be any more beneficial for me than, say, the Architecture Foundation for exploring and sharing my passion for architecture?

    The RIBA is like a wide eaved house that protects its occupants from attack by the weather and other forces, creates conditions for them to go about their business, to accumulate and share their knowledge over generations and act as a focus for sustaining their ethics and values. It can only do this because such a a large percentage of architects belong to it; and as a result many all around who do not join also benefit. A brief look at the RIBA’s activities of the recent past show that it fulfils its charter obligations: ‘the advancement of architecture and the promotion and acquirement of the knowledge of the arts and sciences connected therewith’. Whether you join or not you will be benefiting from the RIBA. But the house is leaky, the systems can be erratic and there is plenty of argument . If you join, apart from tangible benefits like the Journal, the Library, the discussion forums, you will have a chance to understand and influence the forces that shape the context in which architects work. Through the RIBA architects can be at all the tables making the crucial decisions about how and what is built throughout the UK. You can make it more likely that we leave a legacy of beautiful, sustainable villages, towns and cities.

    9. I‚ve heard it suggested that the RIBA should stand for “the Royal Society of British ARCHITECTURE” rather than “…of British ARCHITECTS”. This way, non-architects would be able to join and have an input into the celebration of architecture. Seeing as the remit of the RIBA is to promote “architecture” and not “architects” per se, what objections would you have to this name change?

    Non-architects can already join the RIBA. They do so in a different class of membership and at rates far below what members pay. A name change may be attractive in theory but A: it is in practice likely to be cosmetic, B: there is little support amongst members who are today if anything more concerned with loss of control over their own working lives, C: ‘architects’ is more clearly defined and effective community of interest than ‘those who believe in good architecture’, D: there are far greater priorities right now.

    sunand,
  10. RIBA member working overseas in my own small, and fledgling practice:
    I have visited you web site, and that ,along with the views you set out briefly in your letter, particularly concerning overseas practitioners, like me, have impressed me greatly,(along with your fine reputation as an architect!) I intend to vote for you in the forthcoming election for the RIBA Presidency.
    I look forward to contributing my views to any forum available to me as an overseas member,particularly in the matter of professional and business ethics,climate change,reciprocal recognition of qualification, and levels of design quality and environmental awareness, here in Cyprus. Admin. support iniative would be a great help,
    John Cottam

    John Cottam,
  11. I am very supportive of the overall fresh message of this statement.
    I also think RIBA should broker sharper rapport between the schools and specialist fields of design, such as health and education.
    With the biggest building boom in these areas in a hundred years there is precious little meaningful undergraduate or research activity opening the minds of student architects to these exciting fields.

    Mike Nightingale

    Mike Nightingale,
  12. Sunand

    If you win I may consider joining the RIBA again. I left 6 years ago as I felt that the Institute offered nothing to change/enhance my practice.

    Good luck with your campaign!

    Simon

    Simon Hembury,