Row builds over RIBA name

February 13, 1998

The architecture community is split over proposals by the Royal Institute of British Architects to change its name. The move could open the institution to influence and members from other closely allied professions.

Under the proposal, the institute would be known as the Royal Institute of British Architecture or the Royal Institute of Architecture. David Rock, president of RIBA, says the current title "suggests all we are interested in is ourselves."

He added: "Within our membership there is an attitude of 'let's keep it as it is'. The worst that could happen to the proposal is that it fails. But it might make members think about it, and perhaps we could come back to it later."

The name change could allow those professionals who are not trained architects but who work closely with and often contribute to the work of architects to become full members of the institute. Such professionals include structural engineers, urban planners and interior designers.

A name change is not unprecedented. Other institutes have taken a similar course: the Institute of Landscape Architects recently renamed itself the Landscape Institute. "It is about changing from the notion of the person to an idea," Dr Rock said.

But there is stiff opposition to RIBA's name being changed. Newcastle University's George Oldham, former vice-president of RIBA, said: "You can have buildings without architecture, but you cannot have architecture without architects. The whole meaning of architecture is preserved by architects. All sorts of people can pretend to like architecture and know a lot about it when they do not."

Professor Oldham said the "vibrancy" of architectural practice can rest only with architects, and they need an institute that represents their interests.

"We are the keepers of the keys not charitable do-gooders. Abroad, people regard RIBA as one the world's great institutions," he said.

One supporter of the proposal is architect Lord Rogers, a RIBA presidential adviser. He said: "When architects are under attack for having more interest in their well-being than the environment, changing the name from architects to architecture is a brilliant idea." He pointed out that doctors are represented by the British Medical Association, not "the British Doctors Association".

Another supporter of change is Sir Colin Stansfield Smith, professor at the school of architecture at Portsmouth University and head of a big RIBA review of architecture education. "As architects, we need to think much more holistically. We as an industry simply cannot meet the challenges of, for instance, the urban environment if the profession is so fragmented. To bring it all together at the end of the 20th century through such a move is crucial. I do not like the idea of RIBA being thought of as just some sort of trade union."

Practising architects against the move include Robin Hill of Robin Hill Chartered Architects, who said: "The profession does not have a trade union and members look to RIBA to support their interests." In a letter to Dr Rock, Roy Stone of Roy Stone Design Practice, said: "I am not sure what you are aiming to achieveI except change for change's sake." He added that the proposal was offensive given that 77.5 per cent of architects had recently voted against a name change.

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