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RIBA reveals Practice Role Models

Nominated practices share what being a role model means to them.

28 September 2017

Three years ago the RIBA set up its Role Model Project, telling the stories of 12 individual architects from widely different backgrounds and their personal journeys within the profession. Their stories illustrated the value of a multi-faceted profession and aimed to provide encouragement to others, regardless of background, gender, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation.

Building on the success of that original project, RIBA Immediate Past President (President at the time) Jane Duncan proposed extending the idea to present the stories of role model practices – progressive practices that have beaten their own path to become exemplar organisations, delivering excellent work and best practice while encouraging their people to flourish.

‘Practices are where architecture happens. They determine how the sector is perceived, create culture, define desirable behaviours, shape talent, engage with clients and produce the work. It is where the profession comes to life,’ says Jo Bostock (Pause Consultancy) who is working with Anne Cosentino of the RIBA to head up the project.

Nine practices have been identified, each illustrating characteristics of what a role model practice might be and hopefully provoking a debate about what it means to be a successful RIBA Chartered Practice. Some are well known, others less so.

They are: Harrison Stringfellow, Haworth Tompkins, MawsonKerr, MMAS, Pollard Thomas Edwards, Scott Brownrigg, Snug, Tonkin Liu and xsite.

Practices had to put themselves forward as RIBA practice role models.

The RIBA will be following the progress of role model practices over the coming months. Photo by Pari Naderi © RIBA.

Within a loose definition that role models should be organisations that exercise a positive impact – on their people, their clients, the profession, the environment and wider society – the RIBA set out nine criteria/characteristics that practices could be judged against, such as having a pioneering attitude and clear social purpose to prioritising staff wellbeing and development.

The nine practices met at the Practice Role Model launch event this week and there was much talk of networking and potential collaborations.

Each practice identified three actions they will now undertake as role models.

Several identified mentoring, with some practices keen to explore practice-to-practice mentoring as well as mentoring of individuals. Others will be raising the profile of architecture in schools, or working to educate clients on the role and value of the architect.

Over the coming months the RIBA will report on individual role model practices and the progress they have made with their chosen initiatives.

The Practice Role Model project will seek to highlight ways of working that are delivering excellent work and best practice and allowing staff members to flourish across a range of practice types.

Its ultimate ambition is to to influence and encourage the profession, to educate future professionals and to inform current and future clients through raising awareness, sharing information and setting high standards of practice.

We asked our selected practices what being a role model means to them:

'Being a Practice Role Model means taking risks and stimulating creative debate.'

‘Being a Practice Role Model means taking responsibility for influencing the profession. We think that practices have a responsibility to architecture as a profession. We need to step up and lead rather than being led by developers all the time. We should be using our influence to tackle live issues like fee restrictions and to challenge one another to provide better working environments.’
Harrison Stringfellow

‘Being a Practice Role Model means learning collaboratively and always evolving. We don’t see ourselves as an established practice, more an emergent one. We need to keep evolving and know that we’re not the finished article; we never will be. We have a desire to keep learning and would welcome the profession becoming more open, collaborative and willing to share insights.’

‘Being a Practice Role Model means challenging preconceptions about ways of working. The profession can be pretty tough and you hear about some pretty uncompromising working practices. To get things done you don’t have to have a stressful environment where people are shouted at, or work ridiculous hours. It’s just not necessary and hopefully we can challenge some of those preconceptions.’
Pollard Thomas Edwards

‘Being a Practice Role Model means stimulating professional debate. Architecture has the potential to be truly transformational but we need to start talking about how to secure the status, investment and the resources necessary to realise that potential. We want to play an active part in stimulating that debate.’
Scott Brownrigg

‘Being a Practice Role Model means exploring new frontiers. Architecture is the most public form of artwork: everybody experiences it on a daily basis, so it should be for everyone. The driving force for us is social inclusion, not designing for other architects or to get recognition from the profession. We want to design conceptually simple - but technically sophisticated - projects that bring the greatest amount of joy to a space and the people in it.’
Tonkin Liu

'Being a Practice Role Model means bringing an innovative approach to problem-solving. There is real scope to make it easier for young practices to thrive. We need to challenge ourselves to come up with creative ways of making the market more accessible to a range of practices.'

'Being a practice role model means naming your fallibilities and asking tough questions. The legacy of a practice has to be bigger than a monograph of its work. We accept that we have a certain profile as a mature studio and need to do something with that. We are by no means perfect and we often get things wrong but perhaps a role-model practice is one that’s sufficiently self-aware to name its fallibilities.

'There are so many live issues that face us all, from how we mitigate climate change, or provide decent housing for all, through to questions about how we maintain fee levels and support younger practices. Within the practice we rigorously question ourselves about what we should be doing and where the right path lies in an increasingly complex and pressurised society. It’s a debate we would like to extend into the wider profession.'
Haworth Tompkins

'Being a Practice Role Model means… sharing knowledge. We instinctively shy away from sticking our heads above the parapet with a great big arrow saying ‘Genius’. Everything is a team effort and for us being a role model is about openly sharing how we do things. Anyone can ring and ask us questions about our approach; we are not a cagey bunch. We don’t expect something in return but we know we will gain value just by being part of the exchange.'

Thanks to Anne Cosentino, Professional Standards Officer, RIBA; Carys Rowlands, Head of Professional Standards, RIBA.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a ‘Practice News’ post edited by the RIBA Practice team. The team would like to hear your feedback and ideas for Practice News:

Posted on 28 September 2017.

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