Join us as we delve into Dr. Valerie's vision, experiences, and the path forward for the realm of architecture.
Q. AS THE CEO OF RIBA, YOU LEAD AN ORGANIZATION THAT STRIVES FOR ARCHITECTURAL EXCELLENCE WORLDWIDE. WHAT ARE YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS SINCE TAKING ON THIS ROLE?
As you might expect, it’s been a whirlwind since joining RIBA earlier this year and there are lots of exciting things to come. But I would have to say my proudest achievement so far has been the role I’ve played in establishing a landmark global agreement to address the challenge of rapid urbanisation and its climate impact. The initiative, led by the Commonwealth Association of Architects, has been signed by RIBA and nine other national architecture professional bodies in Commonwealth countries across five continents. It aims to ensure that all the member countries, particularly those experiencing the most urgent climate-related threats, are equipped with the capacity and skills to create inclusive, safe and sustainable urban areas.
This work is so important to me. RIBA is an institute with global reach, and I believe we have a responsibility to use every tool at our disposal to address big challenges like climate change – both in the UK and beyond. So, this partnership is an excellent example of how we can use the knowledge and expertise we're lucky to have in the UK, to make a significant difference internationally. But the key thing for me is that this isn’t just a one-way street. We also want to listen to and learn from other countries who are already facing the impacts of climate change and may be in the process of developing strategies and solutions. The reality is that we all need to adapt to the challenges of a warmer planet.
And I am excited for the many projects and activities that are to come. One thing I can mention now is that RIBA’s International Awards will be returning this year, opening for entries around Autumn time. Our International Awards are among architecture’s most prestigious and rigorously judged global accolades, celebrating buildings that demonstrate visionary thinking, design excellence and social impact. Last year’s winner was the wonderful Friendship Hospital in Bangladesh, designed by Khashef Chowdury and URBANA, which was selected from a shortlist of three exceptional buildings.
Our International Awards are open to any qualified architect outside of the UK. They provide recognition for architects and practices that are at the top of their profession – that is something I’m personally very passionate about and very much in-line with RIBA’s mission to promote global excellence in architecture.
Q. RIBA UPHOLDS VALUES OF INCLUSIVITY, ETHICS, ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS, AND COLLABORATION. HOW DO THESE PRINCIPLES SHAPE YOUR APPROACH TO DRIVING EXCELLENCE IN ARCHITECTURE AND SUPPORTING YOUR DIVERSE MEMBERSHIP BASE OF OVER 57,000 PROFESSIONALS?
At RIBA, we’re continuing to make great strides in these areas, and this is so crucial as we have a responsibility to model best practice for our members and the wider profession. I think the key thing is that an organisation's values and culture should be more than just an afterthought. It’s one thing to say that you value inclusion and care about the environment – it’s another to ensure that these are reflected in the things you say and do.
No industry or organisation is perfect but the ability and willingness to self-reflect and improve is crucial. RIBA hasn’t always got things right in the past but, when I was considering whether to join the institute, I saw an organisation that had made great strides and was committed to improving further. This kind of improvement needs the involvement of everyone but, as Chief Executive, I have a particular responsibility to ensure that we’re thinking about inclusion and sustainability when looking at new policies or activities – these values run through everything we do at RIBA.
The built environment has such an impact on all our lives, so I believe it’s vitally important that architecture represents everyone it serves. We’re working alongside our partners in the sector to address underrepresentation in the profession, ensuring that there is a culture in which people everywhere can feel they belong. And that we are taking steps to remove barriers to pursuing a career in architecture. For example, we are working closely with the UK Architects Registration Board to reform architectural education, championing shorter routes to registration and more flexible modes of study. Reforms such as these are key to creating a more accessible and inclusive profession.
And RIBA is working to ensure that inclusion and accessibility are at the heart of building design – for example, our recently published Inclusive Design Overlay provides practical guidance for anyone involved in a new building project. And our 2030 Climate Challenge provides targets for practices to adopt to reduce the environmental impact of their work.
Q. YOUR EXPERIENCE SPANS LEADERSHIP ROLES WITH RESPONSIBILITIES FOR LARGE BUDGETS AND INTERNATIONAL STAFF. HOW DO YOU EFFECTIVELY MANAGE SUCH COMPLEX MULTI-DISCIPLINED ORGANIZATIONS WHILE PROMOTING TEAM DEVELOPMENT AND COACHING?
Trust and honesty and are always of the utmost importance. If you trust people and they trust you, that makes delegating easier and more effective – people are more willing to run with things, take ownership, and take necessary risks. And positivity and kindness too. If you’re in a leadership position and lead with positivity, it's contagious – it inspires others to think positively and creatively about business challenges.
Coaching for me is not about dictating. It’s not that I always know the right answer – it's more about listening to people and encouraging them to trust their instincts, and to work collaboratively and with integrity to find solutions. At RIBA, we have done great work reviewing our values, updating these to ensure that they’re driving us to deliver excellent work for our members. It’s so important that people take pride in the work they’re doing, support each other and respect views and perspectives that differ from their own.
Q. YOUR BACKGROUND INCLUDES SUCCESSFULLY CREATING AND TURNING AROUND FAILING ORGANIZATIONS. HOW DO YOU APPROACH TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE, AND WHAT STRATEGIES DO YOU EMPLOY TO OVERCOME CHALLENGES DURING THESE CRITICAL PERIODS?
Having worked across the private and public sector, I’ve had varied experience in organisations undergoing significant transformation and challenge. Change is understandably a source of stress and anxiety but, as a leader, it's important to remove the emotion in order to diagnose issues and identify the right interventions. If you're aware of the potential risks and pitfalls, you can anticipate and mitigate them.
Where organisations are struggling, this is often due to breakdowns in communication or a lack of clear strategic direction. The starting point is often re-establishing trust and breaking down silos to ensure that teams are working with, rather than against each other. It is important to check in with colleagues around key achievements on the path to recovery, ensuring that successes are being recognised and celebrated.
Q. RIBA PLAYS A CRUCIAL ROLE IN SHAPING THE FUTURE OF ARCHITECTURE AND BUILDING SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENTS. HOW DOES THE INSTITUTE ACTIVELY SUPPORT AND PROMOTE ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS PRACTICES WITHIN THE ARCHITECTURAL COMMUNITY?
Working with industry experts, we developed the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge to provide evidence-based targets that will enable our members and chartered practices to play their part in achieving a net zero built environment. And we are conscious that this will require across the built environment sector. RIBA has joined a consortium of industry bodies that are collaboratively developing a UK Net Zero Carbon Building Standard. At the same time, RIBA continues to campaign for stronger building regulations that take full account of both the operational energy efficiency of new buildings and the embodied carbon associated with their development.
Q. ARCHITECTURE, LIKE MANY PROFESSIONS, IS WITNESSING ADVANCEMENTS IN TECHNOLOGY. HOW DOES RIBA EMBRACE THESE CHANGES TO FOSTER INNOVATION WHILE PRESERVING THE ESSENCE OF HUMAN-CENTRIC DESIGN?
Yes – it is a matter of keeping up or being left behind. It is inevitable that technology will continue to transform the ways in which architects work. It is important that we at RIBA are supporting the profession, ensuring that architects receive the training they need to harness the power of new technologies and that we are attracting the diverse skills and talent needed.
Artificial Intelligence, in particular, presents exciting opportunities to solve big challenges. But there are clearly also potential risks that we must consider. In a creative industry, one area of concern in relation to AI is the issue of copyright and intellectual property rights. Bearing in mind the pace at which the technology is evolving, we are working with our expert members to formulate guidance, and so that we can advocate in the profession’s best interests.
And we have an ambitious strategy to ensure that RIBA itself is fit for the future. Our House of Architecture programme includes plans for a comprehensive upgrade of our digital technology to create a personalised, connected and consistent digital experience for our members and the public. Among other things, this will support the planned digitisation of our world class collections which will be made available via a new virtual platform, expanding our digital reach and accessibility, on a global scale.
Q. ASPIRING ARCHITECTS OFTEN FACE CHALLENGES IN THEIR CAREERS. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG PROFESSIONALS SEEKING TO MAKE THEIR MARK IN THE INDUSTRY AND OVERCOME OBSTACLES THEY MAY ENCOUNTER ALONG THE WAY?
The evidence shows there are three particularly challenging points along the journey to a successful career in architecture. Pass rates at Part 1 are generally good but getting that first professional experience year between Parts 1 and 2 can be a real challenge – the employment market for architectural assistants is cyclical and opportunities can be limited. A second challenge is getting the right balance of professional experience at Part 3 to achieve registration and chartered status. And architecture’s long training period is a final hurdle to over - it means that architects are often just getting established in their careers at the point in their lives when they are starting families and having children.
I think it’s vital that those entering the profession feel that they will be valued and rewarded for their talent and hard work. Pursuing a career in architecture inevitably requires persistence and dedication, but there is much that could be done to reform educational structures and ensure that students get the high-quality experience they need for professional practice. We are developing the RIBA Compact, an agreement which can be jointly held by a student, their school of architecture and employer to help embed this commitment. And there is lots of guidance and support available to students through their school of architecture, via local and regional RIBA mentoring networks and by engaging with RIBA Future Architects.
Q. RIBA'S INFLUENCE EXTENDS BEYOND THE UK, SUPPORTING OVER 54,000 MEMBERS WORLDWIDE. HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT THE ORGANIZATION EFFECTIVELY SERVES THE DIVERSE NEEDS OF ARCHITECTS IN DIFFERENT REGIONS?
RIBA is lucky to have over 8,000 international members to whom we provide training, support and recognition to put them at the top of their profession. We collaborate with government departments and other agencies, international institutes and architectural organisations to promote the value of architecture internationally; we provide guidance on working overseas; and we work to promote the value of architectural education, supporting our student members in over 52 validated courses across the world.
Our goal is to promote excellence in architecture and grow the global RIBA architecture community. However, it is incredibly important that we understand the differing needs and circumstances for architects and practices across the world and tailor what we do with cultural sensitivity. We don’t just assume that because something works in the UK it will be the same somewhere else. We take great care to ensure that we are listening to our international members to understand the challenges and opportunities they have, and how we can best support them to grow and thrive.
Q. THE ARCHITECTURAL LANDSCAPE IS EVER-EVOLVING. WHAT IS YOUR LONG-TERM VISION FOR RIBA, AND WHAT LEGACY DO YOU HOPE TO LEAVE AS ITS CEO?
I’m very optimistic about the RIBA’s future, and the future of the architecture profession. There are clearly big challenges but what makes me confident is that architects are by their very nature problem solvers. I think that if architects continue to work together, to collaborate across countries, and share knowledge and best practice, they can create a better future for those they serve.
At RIBA, the House of Architecture is our ambitious programme for transformation of the institute – a project that I am very involved in and excited about. It includes plans to transform our London headquarters at 66 Portland Place, bring together our world-class collections, and develop a virtual programme that will expand our digital reach and accessibility, on a global scale.
We care for the most significant architecture collection in the world. With over four million objects and counting, our collections represent a unique body of architectural knowledge, which is of huge practical value to people all over the world - everyone from architects and students, to researchers, businesses, and policymakers. But currently, much of the material is inaccessible and underused. So, the programme includes plans to unify and digitise our collections, allowing them to be accessed and appreciated as widely and easily as possible, both physically and online. By making this unique body of architectural knowledge available people, wherever they are in the world, we hope to establish RIBA as a respected international research centre.
So, this is a really important work. It will be central to reinforcing RIBA’s identity as a cultural institution where important ideas – such as how we minimise the climate impact of the built environment - are developed and shared. As we develop and implement our plans, forming long-term collaborations and partnerships with those who share our aspirations for a sustainable, equitable, and information rich future will be absolutely vital. We will be seeking to work with other like-minded organisations, individuals, companies, and government agencies to deliver on our aims for the mutual benefit of us all.
So, my vision for RIBA is that we continue to develop as an outward looking and forward-thinking institute. There has already been amazing work towards securing the institute’s legacy but there is still much more to be done. RIBA has global reach which means we have so much potential to help people and make a difference. I want to ensure that we fully embrace the potential of technology to expand our reach and accessibility, and that we continue to grow and improve our efforts to champion better buildings and places, stronger communities and a sustainable environment. I would be hugely proud to know that I had played a role in ensuring that RIBA can continue to guide and support its members for many more years to come.
As our conversation with Dr. Valerie Vaughan-Dick draws to a close, it's abundantly clear that her passion and commitment to the architectural realm isn't just about buildings, but about constructing a legacy that encompasses innovation, responsibility, and vision. Her insights serve as a guiding light for the present and future generations of architects, reminding them of the immense potential and responsibility they carry.