Internationalising the Professional Standards of the Chartered British Architect for Socially Responsible Global Development
The Evolving Role of the Architect
‘By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanisation one of the twenty-first century’s most transformative trends.’
The impact of urbanisation has intensified the responsibilities of the architect and urbanist to unprecedented levels. In response, institutions have conflated corporate governance strategies with an abundance of regulatory code for social responsibility and sustainable development. I ask whether this approach is fit for purpose and how we might imagine an alternative future.
The UK has a world-renowned architectural pedigree and is the leading exporter of architecture in Europe. However, recent changes in global trade dynamics may lead to not only a reappraisal of service compatibility within Europe, but professional mobility in markets beyond, for more than 42,000 worldwide Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) members. The great recession of 2008 clearly exposed the vulnerability and volatility of global markets. The effects of protectionist policies such as trade restrictions and tariffs, as well as continued uncertainty of Brexit, have further reinforced the importance of maintaining stability through consistency and collaboration.
The value of UK architecture exports reached £500 million in 2016, with 38% of chartered practice international revenue from projects in the Middle East. Management strategies for the certification of goods and processes using globally recognized quality infrastructures are therefore increasingly valuable in protecting free trade. At present, and in contrast to material and environmental quality standards, tools to manage social obligations are not prevalent in architectural practice. The business case for such reform is clear: ‘demands for cost-effectiveness will exist in parallel with demand for environmentally and socially responsible actions, leading to new partnership and operating models.’ Perhaps these models might suggest a humanist alternative to traditional architectural frameworks.
An Ethical Challenge
The RIBA is a global professional membership body driving excellence in architecture, which holds its members to its Code of Professional Conduct, described as ‘the gold standard of the architectural profession’. It claims to ‘do more to protect the reputation of its members, to enable them to differentiate themselves to clients and to show their commitment to improving wider issues in the built environment.’
The recently revised Code now specifically mentions human rights and notes the importance of ensuring clean supply chains and is a welcome move in the RIBA’s leadership role to tackle these issues. But the question remains: how will this be implemented in practice? Despite the complexities, it is vital to develop research to bridge the gap between the financial models of policy, public perception and the practices of architects. However, without the tools necessary to demonstrate legal and regulatory compliance, British architecture might find itself in a predicament of assumed or active support of incompatible or contentious practices, or compromise access to those international markets that have been central to its commercial success.
The creation of architecture contains long-established processes of conceptual and material production as well as professional codes of conduct. Institutions control these through promotion and regulation. These systemic architectural design processes typically result in the generation of digital drawings and specifications describing conceptual vision. The responsibility for their translation into built form is then conceded to independently appointed contractors for procurement of labour and material. With increasingly limited agency in the construction process and with no industry recognised mechanisms for auditing compliance of social obligations in the supply chain, the architect’s intent is subject to some of the most controversial practices of global capitalism.
Recent critics of the burgeoning construction industry in the Middle East have claimed human rights infringements as a fundamental concern. The opening of the RIBA’s first overseas office in Dubai as ‘part of an expansion to increase its influence and standard-setting worldwide’ to coincide with the launch of the revised Code of Professional Conduct, must, therefore, warrant an open discussion on this topic.
The United Arab Emirates is elected to the UN Council and reports of compliance with the general guiding principles authorised by the Human Rights Council, however, it is not a signatory to a number of international human-rights and labour-rights treaties and consequently may not afford the practitioner with the usual reassurance of consistent labour practices. How then, might British architects uphold their institutional standards in diverse jurisdictions? How might they exercise reasonable skill and care to use supply chains which can be accredited as clean and socially responsible?
A Unique Opportunity
To certify socially responsible practice to internationally recognized management standards in diverse local environments is indeed a challenge. However, these circumstances undoubtedly provide a unique opportunity to frame and focus a forensic investigation of legal and regulatory governance in international construction practices, and to foreground Dubai as a real-world site to engage directly with important global issues. Through structured investigation and grounded remedial speculation to instigate cognitive behavioural change, this research hopes to enable British architecture to demonstrate exemplary ethical practice by foregrounding social responsibility in building procurement. It also hopes to act as a real-world stimulus for industrial change.
 United Nations, ‘The New Urban Agenda’, Habitat III, accessed 24 July 2018, http://habitat3.org/the-new-urban-agenda/.
 European Comission, ‘Recognition of Professional Qualifications in Practice’, Text, Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs - European Commission, 5 July 2016, https://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/services/free-movement-professionals/qualifications-recognition_en.(European Comission, 2016)
 RIBA, ‘RIBA International’, accessed 10 January 2019, https://www.architecture.com/my-local-riba/riba-international.(RIBA, n.d.)
 RIBA, ‘Global Talent, Global Reach’, 2017, 16, https://www.architecture.com/-/media/gathercontent/core-cpd/additional-documents/ribaglobaltalentglobalreachreportpdf.pdf.(RIBA, 2017c, p. 16)
 World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group, ‘Mining & Metals in a Sustainable World 2050’, 2015, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_MM_Sustainable_World_2050_report_2015.pdf.(World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group, 2015)
 RIBA, ‘RIBA Code of Professional Conduct - May 2019’, 2019.
 Flora Samuel, Why Architects Matter: Evidencing and Communicating the Value of Architects, 1 edition (New York: Routledge, 2018), 97.(Samuel, 2018, p. 97)
 Sevil Sönmez, ‘Human Rights and Health Disparities for Migrant Workers in the UAE’, Health and Human Rights Journal (blog), 20 August 2013, https://www.hhrjournal.org/2013/08/human-rights-and-health-disparities-for-migrant-workers-in-the-uae/.(Sevil Sönmez, 2013)
 RIBA, ‘Exclusive: Royal Institute of British Architects Scouts UAE Office in Global Expansion’, The National, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/business/property/exclusive-royal-institute-of-british-architects-scouts-uae-office-in-global-expansion-1.789351.(RIBA, 2018a)
 UAE Ministry of Labour, ‘National Report to UN’, accessed 2 March 2019, https://www.uae-embassy.org/sites/default/files/pdf/UAE_MinistryofLabour_National_Report_to_UN.pdf.
School of Architecture
One decade of architectural practice in the UK followed by another as regional director of the Middle East and North Africa has provided the author of this research a comprehensive understanding of British and international working methods and professional standards, and agency in the field. Responsibility for establishing and directing several architectural design studios, developing business and delivering projects in all GCC member states and North Africa has provided a solid commercial understanding of the site of enquiry and access to industry agents of change. Personal experience of the adaptation of British professional service frameworks and standards to diverse local contexts, as well as participation in the RIBAs international chartered practice pilot scheme has offered a unique perspective of the subject. Proficiency in establishing an early presence in emerging and frontier markets and involvement in trade delegations with the British Government has imparted the importance of policy, relations, mobility and cultural relativism. Author of more than 60 thought leadership articles and interviews on architecture and its values across the GCC, ranked in the top five architects in the Middle East, described as a leading voice and winner of awards such as Middle East Principal of the Year verifies a platform for opinion. It is hoped that the combination of the above presents a solid basis for a substantiated autoethnographic and inductive grounded theory approach to this research. More importantly, this experience has bestowed a sincere respect for both diverse alternative practices and a profound desire to make a change from the inside.
 ‘INTERVIEW - Benoy Sees Growing Design Portfolio in MENA’.
 Construction Week Online, ‘Dubai Is Laboratory for New Global Architecture’.
 ‘40.Powerful.Architects.2016-5.Paul Priest’.
 ‘Paul Priest Takes Home Award for Principal of the Year at Middle East Architect Awards’.
- Master of Research (MRes) in Architecture, Royal College of Art (RCA); Diploma in Architectural Professional Practice (ARB) RIBA Part III, University of Westminster, 2005 – 2006; Diploma in Architecture (Dip. Arch) RIBA Part II, Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, 2000 – 2002; Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BSc. Hons) RIBA Part I, University of Bedfordshire, 1996 – 1999
- Director and Head of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Studios at Benoy, Abu Dhabi / Dubai / Bahrain, March 2014 - September 2017; Senior Associate Director at Benoy, Abu Dhabi, December 2013 - March 2014; Associate Director at Benoy, Abu Dhabi, March 2012 - December 2013; Senior Architect at SPARK, Abu Dhabi / Singapore, December 2009 - March 2012; Senior Architect at Benoy, London, June 2007 - October 2009; Architect at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, London, June 2002 - June 2007; Architectural Assistant, Ahrends, Burton and Koralek (ABK), London, July 1999 - October 2000
- No.8: Middle East Power List 2016, Middle East Architect; No.5: Middle East Power List 2015, Middle East Architect; No.5: Middle East Power List 2014, Middle East Architect; Principal of the Year 2014, Middle East Architect Awards
- RIBA Research Matters Conference, University of Sheffield, 18th October 2018; Critical Intentions, Royal College of Art, 16th January 2019
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