ArchDaily recently got the chance to speak to Stephen Hodder, current President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) at his practice in Manchester. Best known as the recipient of the inaugural RIBA Stirling Prize in 1996 (for the Centenary Building), Hodder was educated at the University of Manchester's School of Architecture, he's perhaps best known as the recipient of the inaugural RIBA Stirling Prize in 1996 for the Centenary Building and was awarded an MBE for services to architecture in 1998.
Having been officially in the role for only two months, Hodder spent some time with us discussing his hopes for the next two years. Find out why he described himself as a fan of Scandinavians and prog-rock after the break...
Who's your favourite artist? Richard Serra.
Favourite musician? I love Bach and Mozart’s operas but I'm also a big prog-rock fan: I love Yes and guitarist Steve Howe.
Favourite architect/practice? I’m fond of the Scandinavians, particular Alvar Aalto. I also have a huge respect for Arne Jacobsen and, in terms of current practice, Foster+Partners and David Chipperfield.
Favourite building? It would have to be Ronchamp. It’s unique response to its hilltop setting, the interior spaces, the light, the sense of gravity towards the altar are all exceptional.
Ideal client? I would love to engage with a culturally based client in the city of Manchester - it’s something I’ve always wanted to contribute to the city.
Most interesting part of being RIBA President? It’s been such a short period of time but I would say that working with the team at Portland Place in how we’re going to deliver my Presidential agenda, as well as improving the environment in which architects work, is the best part.
Most draining part of being RIBA President? Balancing the above with the other responsibilities, such as being Chair of the Trustees. Balancing my aspirations with the necessary delivery of the business plan, and marrying to the two together is draining.
Favourite city? Manchester, of course!
AD: Is architecture a profession or a discipline, or can it be both?
SH: Both. It's a profession as well as a discipline and for me, it's a way of life. This was a notion instilled in me at school of architecture, but we must always remember that it's still very much a profession which is part of the wider construction industry.
AD: Notably the Stirling Prize, which your practice won in 1996, didn’t come with the usual £20,000 ($32,000) prize money this year. Is this because sponsors are wary to invest in the institute?
SH: There was no prize money this year (2013) simply because we're ambitious to secure a much more long-term and sustainable form of sponsorship for the prize. For this year it wasn’t possible to realise that and so, in many ways, the lack of prize money was a one off. Clearly it’s very much going to be dependent on us securing sponsorship for the future.
That said, there’s been a great debate about the importance of the prize money. Obviously it was important to me in those early days starting in practice, but there’s an opposing argument which says that the prize and recognition is actually more important. I personally lean towards the former.
AD: Is there any kind of polarisation between London and the regions?
SH: The RIBA has eleven regions and the North West is one of them. The North West regional office is relocating so we’re taking an opportunity to occupy Mann Island (in Liverpool) and with that a gallery so that we can show our drawings collection. We're currently looking to acquire a building in the North East, where RIBA Enterprises is located, so who knows? In future a gallery might be located there. Where a gallery is, though, is not actually important - what's important is that we have regional offices, and that we have a network accessible to all our members.
I do think that there’s currently a polarisation in construction activity, and there's certainly polarisation in workload at the moment. I don't think that there’s a polarisation in terms of support for our members. I’d argue, and certainly as part of my role as President, that the support for members outside of London is actually more significant than it is in London.
AD: Some of the RIBA’s most important members are students. How do you intend to bolster their position as we come out of this recession?
SH: We have 12,000 student members and, with the Membership Review, we’re currently looking at how we can support them and, in particular, how we might support post Part I students. That’s why we’re looking at a Graduate category and, going beyond that, looking at Part II students - that’s why we’re reinvigorating the Associate category.
AD: Do you think the UK can continue to lead in architectural education on a world stage?
SH: Since 1958’s Oxford Conference there’s been a great deal of thought applied to architectural education in the UK. The same model that was rigorously discussed and implemented exists today and that's why architectural education in the UK is so highly respected. What we have to recognise is that that was sixty years ago, and we have to think about how architectural education needs to move on, how it engages more with practice, and the problems that students currently face with debt. The RIBA, together with the Education Reform Group and SCHOSA are doing just that and I would like to think that, following the EU directive, we'll see a review of architectural education in this country which will keep it very much at the forefront of standards within the world.
AD: The President's Awards for Research are awarded annually, but could the institute recognise and promote academic research more effectively?
SH: Research is very important to the institute - it’s very much about both the future of education and the future of practice, and I think there’s an opportunity for the RIBA to act as a hub. There’s a lot of research that goes on in practice, a lot of research going on in schools of architecture, and what’s missing is the connectivity between the two. I think the RIBA is uniquely placed to act as that pivot in understanding what research is going on out there, what research is necessary, and somehow linking research in academia with research in practice.
AD: Collaboration was a strong theme in your manifesto. How will it inform your Presidency?
SH: When we (at Hodder + Partners) deliver a significant building there's an input of so many people - not just with building environment consultants but also the delivery team. The need to collaborate is really quite important to us, and also very important to the government. They recognise that if we’re actually going to drive construction costs down, or if we’re going to improve construction periods on site, effective collaboration (through BIM, for example) is essential.
We've seen various institutes preparing their own approach to collaboration but, ironically, the institutes are not necessarily collaborating in talking about collaboration. One idea that I’ve been looking at, and something that we’re going to be developing in the New Year, is (whether it’s a conference or not, I’m quite flexible) to get together all the building environment institutes in a debate about what we mean by ‘collaboration’ and whether or not we can actually distill a single model which we can, in a very concentrated pan-professional way, present to the UK government.
AD: How important is the RIBA in preparing and promoting competitions?
SH: The RIBA could do a lot more in promoting international competitions. We have a very active RIBA Competitions office and, at the moment, I’ve commissioned a review into the best process for structuring a competition. What we sometimes forget is that competitions are not simply another form of procurement - they’re for clients. I recognise that there are many other countries - particularly European - who have a much more structured approach to competitions, and we need to think about how we might emulate that.
AD: You’ve been President for two months now. Has your agenda expanded or refocused in any way?
SH: My agenda has inevitably become more focused as I've moved into office and started to develop the ideas and engage with the teams, and even more so as we've started to think about how we're going to deliver them.
I had an idea at the beginning as to what was going to be deliverable within the next two years for RIBA for Clients. As I got into the subject and started to discuss it, it’s become a little more focused. For example, I started to think about revisiting Design Quality Forums, where architects and clients engage with one another and architects listen to what a client expects from our profession. It’s a big project and we’ve had to think about how we might distill it so that I can demonstrate delivery in two years time. As a result, it's going to be focused on the retrofit sector, contractor led procurement, as well as in housing - the obvious areas in which we’re going to see growth over the next few years.
As far as the Find an Architect component of RIBA for Clients is concerned, again, as the new website has started to develop (which will be launched in April 2014) I’ve had to start to think about how it might be reconciled within the broader website.
It's the same case with the Membership Review, which I started when I was Vice-President. In terms of implimentation, the scale of that undertaking is really quite significant and so, to focus on delivery within the next two years, we've focused on the Fellowship category as well as the Chartered practice category.
As far as Education Reform is concerned, we’ve been waiting for the EU directive. There's been a great deal of discussion with the Standing Committee of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA) and the Education Reform Group, along with the Architects’ Registration Board (ARB). Whilst I had an idea about how we were going to make more positive links between academia and practice, those have now become a little more considered as I’ve come into the post.
You can find out more about the RIBA's Five Year strategy here (PDF).