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Read the Opening Address by RIAI President Carole Pollard at the RIAI Annual Conference

Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2016

 RIAI ConferenceRIAI President Carole Pollard

Welcome to the RIAI Annual Conference 2016.  This is the single most important event in the RIAI calendar and is a fantastic opportunity for us all to network, share our thoughts and reinvigorate our creativity.  We have put together an exciting programme of speakers who represent and reflect the diversity of architectural practice.  I hope you enjoy them.

Over the next two days, the three theme words for our conference – RESILIENCE, RELEVANCE AND REACH – will tell a story about architects and about architecture.

For the past eleven months I have been encouraging architects to shout louder about who we are and what we do.  We need to proclaim our resilience, our relevance and our reach just as we need to celebrate our survival, our success and our potential.

When I began this role, I took some time to reflect and set out a strategy for how I might use my term.  Resilience is one of the stand-out attributes that I have encountered among architects, an attribute that has been severely tested over the past 8 years:

I have been struck by the resilience of graduate architects who, despite the lack of work, very poor employment conditions, and bleak prospects, demonstrated determination and grit in dealing with their situation.  The RIAI is committed to supporting them.

I have experienced the resilience of colleagues whose practices were decimated by economic crash, whose livelihoods were endangered and who had to make very difficult decisions in order to stay afloat.  The RIAI can and will provide training and support in rebuilding, managing and growing practices.

I have encountered the resilience of colleagues who have weathered three recessions. The RIAI must use its position to influence government policy on future investment in the construction sector to ensure a level of stability when the next economic downturn arrives.

And that is what the RIAI is doing.

We have developed an RIAI Employment Policy which will strengthen both the employer and employee position, and along with that a suite of employment contracts covering permanent, part-time, and fixed-term contract employment and also the employment of graduates embarking on training for their professional practice examination.

Here at the conference, we are launching a new RIAI Student Membership which will strengthen links between architectural students, the schools of architecture and the professional body.  In early 2017 we will be relaunching a new low-cost graduate membership which will provide support to the next generation of architects.

The RIAI is committed to supporting sustainable careers in architecture.  Robust business skills are essential to ensure our practices are efficient, effective and profitable. The RIAI is continuing to roll out business skills seminars to enhance members’ knowledge and skills

And while the RIAI cannot control international economic conditions or stop the next economic downturn, I believe we can work at ensuring that it all does not come crashing down with such devastation the next time. 

The RIAI has been specifically nominated by Minister Coveney to sit on the Advisory Group of the National Planning Framework.  The general purpose of the Advisory Group is to ensure that representation from the business, environmental, social and knowledge based sectors will guide strategic thinking and decision-making in the preparation of the National Planning Framework, which will be the successor to the National Spatial Strategy.

The National Planning Framework provides the opportunity to put in place a National Infrastructure Delivery Agency to oversee long term planning procurement, design and delivery of key infrastructural projects such as transport, educational buildings, healthcare, community centres and housing which will respond to projected demographic demand over the next 30 years. 

It is imperative that we move from the current 5 year plan to a 30 year plan to build the infrastructure and facilities we know will be required in 2046, when our population is predicted to be 5.6 million, and thereby avoid the boom-bust construction cycles that cause financial devastation and the loss of skills.

We must act on the lessons that we have learned, and we, as a profession, must work together to set the standard both as an employer and in the delivery of excellent buildings. The profession that leads the way.

The profession that is relevant.

The relevance of what we, as architects do, cannot be underestimated.  We are the only construction professionals whose training encompasses the full spectrum of designing, detailing, specifying, costing, procuring and delivering buildings.  We have five schools of architecture in Ireland all of which meet and exceed the requirements of Article 46 of EU Directive which sets out the European standards for the education and training of an architect. 

The RIAI has just this published a revised and updated Education Policy.  This thorough and thoughtful document was produced in consultation with all the schools of architecture and the many RIAI members who teach.  The RIAI is committed to strengthening the relationship between education and practice so that the next generation of Irish architects are the most creative, most highly skilled and most employable in the world.   I have heard the call for undergraduates to receive more specialised training in areas like technology and regulation.  My feeling is that the training they currently receive does prepare them for future learning of skills such as those required to interpret and implement regulations and technical advances.  What I don’t believe they are taught sufficiently is leadership.  The schools of architecture need to teach Leadership Skills in a formal way.   I believe that a school of architecture that teaches leadership skills will produce the best graduates and will elevate Irish architectural education to best in the world.

Leadership is the key skill that will ensure that architects remain at the helm of the construction industry.  We are all conscious of the erosion of this role, and have seen our colleagues in the UK relegated within design team structures.  Strong leadership is the key element to retain our position as the Design Team Leader and the most relevant profession in the construction sector.

In our role as an Advisory body to the National Planning Framework, the RIAI will be demanding that quality of design is one of the key components.  An architecture policy should sit alongside the public capital programme and infrastructure delivery programme to ensure that public buildings are well designed and that infrastructure and the public realm are aligned.  A robust policy on architecture will place the architect at the centre of the delivery of a quality built environment.

A properly devised and financed National Planning Framework which includes a National Infrastructure Delivery Agency will bring significant stability and transparency to infrastructure investment projects over the long-term. It will allow construction professionals, including architects, to predict their likely work programme, and invest in people and technology accordingly.

It is vital that the life cycle of new and existing buildings is extended as far as possible. Therefore, funding should be put in place to secure the improvement of existing building stock and bring derelict or under-used buildings into full occupation. A failure to undertake a national retrofitting programme will ultimately mean Ireland paying fines and charges for a failure to meet its international climate change treaty obligations.

Current procurement processes are presenting innumerable problems for both architects and procurement bodies.  The RIAI Procurement Group has been working with Government agencies to improve efficiencies while at the same time striving to achieve the best outcomes in terms of cost and quality.  Design teams need adequate resources to properly research the brief and identify and adopt international best practice to guarantee the longevity of publicly funded projects.

The RIAI Procurement Policy document is in the final stages and we will be running workshops on procurement in the coming months. 

We know that Irish architects are among the best in the world.  This has been proven once again with the announcement that Grafton Architects have won the RIBA 2016 International Prize for their UTEC project in Lima Peru.   What is particularly notable about this amazing achievement is that it is not a first international win for Grafton, nor is it a first for Ireland.  Irish architects are serious players on the world stage, winning international design competitions and receiving top architectural awards.  Outstanding work by Irish architects can be found all over the world. 

The RIAI is committed to working harder at promoting Irish architects and Irish architecture.  Good architecture is a vital element of a strong economy.  Good architecture improves opportunity for FDI.  Good architecture increases local investment in communities.  Good architecture brings tourism.  Good architecture makes money.  Good architecture improves lives.

That is our reach. 

Architects are the profession that can deliver on a Community’s Right to Beauty.  We are the profession that can design and deliver housing typologies that actually meet the needs of our society.  Our changing demographics, the decreasing size of households and projected increase in the numbers of over-65s are just two of the challenges that need to be met head on.  Architects design the best housing; architects can produce the solutions for appropriate high density communities that sustain transport, and the myriad of amenities that citizens are entitled to enjoy. 

Architects reach out and learn.  We travel and work abroad and bring the lessons we learn back home.  We observe our counterparts in other parts of the world and listen to their ideas.  They listen to ours.  Ireland is a dynamic and modern country.  Our architecture reflects our culture, our dynamism and our modern outlook.  Our architecture is a symbol of who we are.

What distinguishes the architect from other construction professionals? 

It is the scope of our thought processes, the breadth of our understanding and our ability to resolve complex problems. 

We provide solutions. 

We design better buildings. 

We help create better communities.

We must ensure that this message is carried to Government agencies and to public and private bodies. 

I am committed to delivering this message, and I know that my colleagues on RIAI Council and the RIAI executive team are also committed. We all have a stake in this, and we all have a part to play. 

Architects have proven their resilience. The scope of our reach is without question. But the most important message that we need to broadcast is that we are the MOST RELEVANT CONSTRUCTION PROFESSIONAL.

RIAI President Carole Pollard spoke at the RIAI Annual Conference on Friday 25 November. 

Categories: Architecture | RIAI Annual Conference

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