Stephen Hodder, the current President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), has spoken out about a "U-turn" following the proposal of March 19th (passed under past President Angela Brady) condemning the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) for its failure to "resist projects on illegally-occupied land" in the West Bank and Gaza. According to BDOnline, the RIBA has "been forced to abandon its policy [...] after an internal report said it should never have been put to a vote in the first place."
This highly controversial episode, which has overshadowed Hodder's presidency, has also garnered criticism both in the UK and as far afield as the USA. Architects such as Richard Meier and Daniel Libeskind have stated that the RIBA’s actions have been "short-sighted and appear to be an attempt to simplify a very complex issue." In the UK, Paul Finch writing in the AJ asked whether there would "be a rush to suspend the Russians because of what is happening in Ukraine? Were the Chinese suspended when they were destroying much of their magnificent built heritage, or invading Tibet?" "Certainly not", he concluded.
In June 2014 the RIBA dropped the controversial proposal to ban the IAUA from joining the International Union of Architects (UIA). It had been met by protest from many, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter. A letter drafted by its President Lance Jay Brown and Chief Executive Rick Bell, which was unanimously approved by the AIANY’s board of directors, stated that "the UIA’s stated goal is to unite the architects of the world without any form of discrimination", and referred to the proposal to suspend the IAUA as "directly antithetical to the purpose of the much appreciated umbrella organization."
Supporters of the proposal had hoped it would be discussed at the UIA World Congress in Durban which was held in August. In spite of this, the UIA did not include the motion as part of the conference, describing it as beyond their 'political scope'. The furore ultimately caused the RIBA to set up a new working group in order to "consider the institute’s role in engaging with communities facing civil conflict and natural disaster."
Although Hodder has this week admitted that any "consideration of the charter and the Charity Commission rules" was "missing", it is expected that he will spend the final stretch of his presidency patching up the fractions. He has stated that he is aware that "there has been reputational damage." The question of whether or not professional bodies should involve themselves in controversial international affairs may not have concluded, but the response to the RIBA's recent efforts says something quite profound.
The RIBA's mandate (as of December 2014) is to:
[...] champion better buildings, communities and the environment through architecture and our members. We provide the standards, training, support and recognition that put our members – in the UK and overseas – at the peak of their profession. With government, we work to improve the design quality of public buildings, new homes and new communities.