Leading architect calls for sweeping RIAS reforms

Professor Alan Dunlop

Fraser Rummens speaks to professor Alan Dunlop in the wake of recent calls for more transparency from the architectural body

A leading architect has urged the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) to appoint a chief executive in order to facilitate sweeping changes to the way the organisation is governed.

Alan Dunlop, professor at the University of Liverpool and Scott Sutherland School of Architecture & Built Environment at Robert Gordon University, and fellow of the RIAS, said the professional body is “still firmly rooted in the past”.

Professor Dunlop was speaking to Project Scotland in the wake of an open letter sent to RIAS president Stewart Henderson by an organisation comprising Scottish architects called A New Chapter, which called for an independent, third party review into “historical issues of concerns over governance, accountability and transparency in order to recommend actions for future operations, conduct and governance of the Incorporation”.

The RIAS announced recently that it had agreed to the request from secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter to leave the organisation after ten years’ service. The news came just days after the publication of this open letter.

Professor Dunlop told Project Scotland that instead of a secretary, treasurer and president, he would like to see RIAS appoint a chief executive responsible to the board.

“It is supposedly democratic, but nobody really knows, for instance, how the president gets elected or how the council is actually chosen – it has to be completely open,” he said.

“Information has to be available to all the members who are involved in the RIAS and who pay substantial subscription fees. The body should be run like other similar organisations such as the BMA (British Medical Association), the ICAS (Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland) or the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) in that it should have a chief executive and a properly functioning board drawn from qualified trustees, which is elected by the various local chapters. The president would act as a chair of the new board and that’s the way it should move forward.”

Alan has been a member of the RIAS since 1985, when he joined as a student. He has been a fellow of the Incorporation since 1998. Alan said there has long been a concern as to why the RIAS does not attract more young architects, which he attributes to the perception of stuffiness and an inappropriate “level of secrecy” around the way it operates.

“That’s the reason why young people are not attracted to the organisation – because they don’t think it represents them. It seems to be anchored firmly in the past and needs substantial change.”

Alan added, “Now is an opportunity to refresh the organisation, to come clean about what has gone wrong and refocus on the current and future needs of the profession.The days of the gentleman’s club are over.”

Stewart Henderson, president of the RIAS, issued a response to A New Chapter’s open letter, in which he said, “As a member-led organisation, member interest and involvement in the issues facing the profession can only strengthen the Incorporation.

“We are already progressing a full review of both the governance and the future direction of the Incorporation. “The Incorporation appreciates that the trustees, who make up council, must look forward to embrace a governance and operating system that brings the openness that is right for a member-led organisation.”

The Herald newspaper has reported that the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has launched an investigation into the finances of the RIAS.