A position statement from the new RSUA President

26 July 2012

I begin my two years as President of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects with support from different quarters.  In front of me is a personal letter from Sir Peter Gregson, the Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University, in which he notes the significance of a member of his academic staff, taking on this prestigious role, and how it will enhance the links between the worlds of architectural education and research with that of the profession.  It is in that triangle of professional practice, research and education that I suggest each of us has to understand our individual position - as it is my experience that architectural existences that combine two or more of these activities and influences stimulate the present and enrich the potential for the future.

  • High quality education is achieved when it is informed by practice and research
  • Research and new knowledge becomes meaningful when it has a positive impact upon teaching and practice
  • Practice benefits from the latest knowledge and innovation from research and practice has the potential to nurture and learn from younger talent

Each of us should determine where we currently locate ourselves in this triangle - as individual RSUA members, or as a collective position of a practice, or a school within an academic institution.  In doing so, such evaluation mechanisms help define what makes each of us, as individuals and as groups, particular and special, forming a unique position from which to press forward.

I am heartened by the generosity of those that accepted my invitation to present their perspective of the future in the "Architecture - But not as we know it" event and more recently on the values of architecture and architects in the RSUA Annual General Meeting.  We are in changing and challenging times and these two events have helped to articulate and explore the core values of the profession and our roles in the future of society.  By giving their time and expertise, the speakers ensured the success of these events, enhancing the lives of those listening and engaging with the topic, the presentations and the final discussion sessions.  I am regularly impressed by the time given by members and friends to the RSUA and we need to harness that generosity to be as effective and consequential as it can be.  In particular our more senior and retired members hold a wealth of experience and knowledge and retain an enthusiasm that we must find ways of nurturing and steering into support and service of the society and profession.

Besides being technical and aesthetic, the art of being an architect and creating architecture requires an ethical position to be taken.  I wonder how many have considered the contents of “How to be a happy architect” by Bauman Lyons, (Black Dog Publishing, 2008), if only to disagree with their stance on how the attitudes of practice can change to meet economic situations, client desires and societal expectations.

Each of us has a responsibility, even those who keep a focused, compressed view of what they do, to improve the situation for those who come after us.  Each of us is operating in the present and forming the future for those who come after us.  And together, as members, as practices and as a professional organisation, we shape the future – which is a responsibility that we cannot shirk and one with which we must engage.  There will be an aspect of the present that riles our sensibilities but we need to maintain a positive attitude about our plans and influence over our futures.

It is important for us to regularly question the relevance and value of what we do as architects and as members and contributors to our professional organisation.  Why is what we do relevant and to whom?

There are many challenges and issues that need to be progressed by this incoming council and I have received many expressions of hope and promise that we can build on the good work undertaken by the previous council under the leadership of Norman Hutchinson.  It seems that government is beginning to listen to our message that procurement strategies need to be proportionate and retain as much of the region’s funding within local businesses and industry.  The recent advertising campaign in many of our local papers has received praise from our members.  We can continue this momentum on a number of fronts – and together the membership can make our future a better prospect for all.  A corporate evolution of the RSUA is necessary to reflect the needs and potential futures of our members.

I believe that over the next five-year period the RSUA, the two universities, the Ministerial Advisory Group and PLACE can work together to establish a more substantial architectural culture in Northern Ireland.  As a student at Queen’s University I believed then, as I do now, that the spirit and legacy of this particular edge of Europe can have an architectural expression.  What was considered fanciful and merely an aspiration by some is becoming a reality with architects and clients now expressing a desire to create buildings of here, rather than there, and those ideas are becoming physical through an increasing number of built projects.

Students of architecture are increasingly confident and critical in their thinking, acutely aware of their skills, abilities and interests – and often those interests include a desire to carefully examine and articulate a response through theory, design and construction.  Our cities, towns and villages, our physical history, the geology and topography of our landscape, our coastline, the specific quality of light and skies, the expertise and variety of our collaborators and clients, our tendency toward both pragmatic and romantic thought, schematic and diagram, picturesque and sketch, makes the creation of architecture here a potentially enriching proposition.

This is not to suggest we turn inward as a country and as a profession, but to become more confident and sure of ourselves, here is the foundation of a confident and forward looking profession and society.

 

Alan Jones BSc. (Hons), DAAS (Dist), FHEA, FRSA, RIBA

RSUA President