I am very honoured to be installed today as President of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects.
I want to thank members, and the council, for giving me the opportunity to represent you.
I would also like to thank Brendan Smyth, my Director in CPD, as without his support I would not have been in a position to take on the role.
The quality of your predecessor can be important. Whoever replaces Donald Trump will likely have the advantage of looking well by comparison. I will have the opposite problem.
I am only too aware of the knowledge, skill and dedication that Joan McCoy brought to her role as President. As Vice President I attended some events on behalf of Joan and was told by figures across the wider construction industry that Joan will be a difficult act to follow. I fully agree with them.
I would like to pay tribute to Joan’s achievements and with the support of the council, committee members and staff I will try and build on her legacy.
Challenges and Opportunities
It is natural to consider the challenges and opportunities that RSUA members and the organisation face at the start of a new term.
I am very conscious that many members currently face very difficult personal and financial situations. None of us can be sure what the end of lockdown and the current support mechanisms will bring. The Covid-19 recovery phase plans are still not clear.
We are living through a once in a generation crisis. In uncertain times we turn to our families, friends and communities for support. The RSUA is a community of members that can support and help each other.
We will all remember as students we learnt more from each other than from the lecturers. We saw other students’ successes and failures so on each scheme we benefited from experiencing dozens of designs. The mutual encouragement and support helped us all through our moments of disillusionment and despair. The camaraderie amongst architecture students was the only reason other students could explain why we persisted with a course that seemed to require twice as much work as most others.
In most things the more you put in the more you get out. I urge all members to get involved in the RSUA. Join relevant local groups, task groups or committees that interest you, attend social and CPD events, express your views at general meetings. No matter what situation you are in there are others who are in the same situation and we can learn from each other.
At a time that we are at our most isolated it is essential we give each other mutual support.
My first objective as President is to ensure that the RSUA as an organisation provides as much information and help to members as possible. Engagement by members is essential to enable us to identify what information is needed and to lobby effectively on your behalf when required. Everyone listening has a role in inviting colleagues to get involved.
We all know that Covid-19, despite its dreadful current impact, will pass. I recall my Father describing his generation who qualified as Architects in the middle of the Second World War at a time of no building and a very uncertain future. That war passed into history just as Covid-19 will pass into history. The aftermath of the Second World War saw the creation of the National Health Service, free education and a larger construction industry to build a better, more prosperous, society.
When Covid-19 passes there will be other challenges. But we have learned when acting together communities can do the most extraordinary things. We have also learned that a crisis can help us to examine how we live and respond to our built environment. We have seen the return of clean air and birdsong to our town centres, rough sleeping virtually eradicated and miles of additional cycle lanes created swiftly in traffic free capital cities. We have been given a glimpse of a possible future way of living and an incentive for change.
Climate change is a crisis that will, like Covid-19, impact upon us all and it requires resolute action. A low carbon economy will require Architects to upgrade our existing building stock and change the built environment. There will be much to be done and Architects will need to be prepared.
One immediate pressing issue will be the review of the construction industry structure in light of the Grenfell fire. There is considerable discussion around competency and responsibility. The role of the Architect will be affected by the outcome of these discussions. It is important that Architects are well represented in this debate to ensure that we are not marginalised in the control of future projects.
My personal belief is that great design requires an intimate knowledge of the construction process. Architects cannot create great architecture if they are not involved in the construction process and do not understand its technical, and practical, requirements. I feel that there are opportunities for Architects to significantly improve the resource efficiency of modern buildings. I am aware that a 2020 car uses half the materials of a similar car from the 1950’s while providing better performance in all aspects. Most buildings constructed in 2020 do not use half the materials of similar buildings from the 1950’s.
The use of full 3D modelling and BIM could permit massive resource efficiency gains in construction. Architects are the only construction profession with the breadth of knowledge and the design skills to meet this challenge.
There is the opportunity for Architects to lead the construction industry – towards more efficient buildings – through design processes that fully integrate all elements of construction to maximise efficiency in use of resources. My objective is to ensure the leadership that Architects can provide for the construction industry, in improving efficiency, is understood across the industry and within Government.
The RSUA as a registered charity has to have a charitable objective. This is summed up in the statement “Promoting architecture that enhances life in Northern Ireland”. Architects understand that good architecture does enhance life which is why we are so enthralled by it. It can however be difficult to communicate this to others.
I remember looking at an exhibition of architectural competition entries. I was not aware I was starting with the winning entry. Looking at that scheme I thought it was good but it was not until I had looked at several other entries and began to see the difficulties they had and the complexity of the brief did I realise just how great the winning entry was.
Great design often looks elegant, natural and obvious. It can be difficult for non-architects to grasp the skill and effort required to make things look simple. This is why I am keen that the RSUA continues to highlight design quality and demonstrate its impact and benefits. The practical benefits of good design to our client’s homes, workplaces and civic spaces is our most vital message and it is my objective to ensure its delivery to as wide an audience as possible.
I want to welcome the new members of council this year and thank you and the members continuing on council. I also want to thank the previous council members who are stepping down this year Paul Crowe, Alistair Beckett, Michael Doherty and Fergal Rainey.
Many of you have given long service, particularly Paul who has been an Honorary Officer for the last 6 years. It is thanks to past councils and presidents that the RSUA is already being heard at the highest levels in policy debates and influencing the wider construction industry.
I had no idea when I put my name forward for Vice President that we would all be in the situation we are in today. I do know, however, that as the voice of the Architecture profession in Northern Ireland the RSUA will play a leading role in meeting the challenges facing our profession.
I will try hard to make sure our voice continues to be heard.