Following allegations of institutional racism, we ask architects whether the Royal Institute of British Architects really is an outmoded organisation with values from a bygone age
The Royal Institute of British Architects. The name alone conjures bespectacled bow-tie wearing old men sitting around in their palatial Portland Place club, congratulating each other on their latest concrete carbuncles. Allegations that it is a racist, sexist old boys’ club – as a thwarted candidate for a council position, Elsie Owusu, claimed last week – came as little surprise. Of course it is. It’s the RIBA. Its headquarters couldn’t look more like a Masonic temple if they tried.
Except that the cliche doesn’t quite match the reality of what lies behind those big bronze doors. The Institute has a woman president, and has had three women in the role almost consecutively – one of whom painted the president’s office in eye-searing cerise. It has an openly gay chief executive. It runs diversity mentoring schemes, equality and inclusion programmes and a Role Models project which, says its initiator Jo Bostock, “intends to challenge stereotypes about who architects are, the background they come from and the work they do.” If you went through the RIBA’s equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives, you would see that, on paper at least, it’s trying hard.
“I think the RIBA is exemplary in a context where 88% of the construction industry is male,” says architect Holly Porter, who founded Chicks with Bricks in 2005, a network for connecting young women in the industry to their female peers and role models. “I wouldn’t say it was sexist at all, or an old boys’ club. Its track record speaks for itself.” […]