Major client hands out ‘tough love’ to ‘broken’ architecture profession

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Peter George, who is Ealing Borough Council director of economy and sustainability, told delegates at the RIBA London awards that he had recently been unable to recommend architecture as a good career for a black girl.

The respected development boss moved to his current job earlier this year following nine years in charge of Enfield’s £6 billion Meridian Water scheme. He said he had been approached for advice by the girl’s parents.

‘What could I say?’, George told the RIBA awards audience at Portland Place last Friday.

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‘I hated the fact that I could not recommend this once-great profession as a good career option for their daughter’

‘I couldn’t not mention the fact that the gender pay gap in the architectural industry is actually getting worse. I had to say that pay relative to years of study was poor. And how could I not mention that the number of black architects [is] only 1 per cent?

‘I hated the fact that I could not in good faith recommend this once-great profession of yours as a good career option for their daughter.’

On a night when 52 projects in the capital picked up regional gongs, George continued to pile on the criticism.

‘A profession that has an Architects Benevolent Society and a podcast called The Broke Architect is a broken profession,’ he declared.

‘Until the question of architectural salaries and therefore fees is addressed and, architectural practices, you stop this race to the bottom, you will continue to have a diversity problem.’

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‘We must rip up the old architectural adage that form follows function’

The built environment sector also had ‘nothing to be smug about’ when it came to sustainability, he added.

‘Project viability cannot be allowed to continue to triumph over the planet’s viability,’ said George. ‘We must rip up the old architectural adage that form follows function; the key problem being that function is singular.’

He said that Ealing Council was now challenging architects to demonstrate how proposed buildings could be adapted for alternative use in the future, and would soon require all applications for demolition to justify why retention wasn’t possible.

Turning to the issue of housing affordability in central London, George demanded more purpose-built rental stock for residents, asking: ‘Can any of the architects in the room remember the point when you stopped designing homes in these areas and switched to designing assets?’

Despite his forthright opinions, the Ealing chief did call for expressions of interest in a job to rework the council’s existing headquarters. ‘If there are any architects in the room who want to design the refurbishment of our offices, please come and speak to me after,’ he said.

Previous proposals by Patel Taylor and Trehearne Architects for a replacement 26-storey mixed-use scheme were recently axed.

Judging by social media comments, the hard-hitting speech was well received by the profession.

RCKa director Russell Curtis described it as ‘fierce and passionate’ but said architects ‘desperately need some tough love’.

Ackroyd Lowrie director Oliver Lowrie applauded some ‘really great points’ while Tate+Co Architects director Jerry Tate hailed a ‘great speech’ that was ‘totally spot on’.

Even RIBA regional director Dian Small backed the tirade, saying: ‘Great message, great delivery, huge impact’.

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