07 - 09 March 2023 | ExCeL, London

07 - 09 March 2023
ExCeL, London

Opinion piece

When uncertainty becomes the main certainty 

Getting back to how things are designed and made. Redscape model by McCloy+ Muchemwa. Credit: Photograph by Sophie Percival.

An opinion piece by Helen Castle, Publishing Director, RIBA

Embracing uncertainty has become the new order. Over the last two years, a state of flux has been met with the constant need to pivot. First in March 2020 there was the lockdown with a shift to remote working and the temporary closure of construction sites with many projects being put on hold. Whereas information needs for architects were around survival in the first spring of the pandemic – how to keep the lights on – by the summer they had shifted to how to rethink design for a post-pandemic world. With the launch of the stamp duty holiday by the government in July 2020, there was an immediate U-turn in practices’ prospects. Whereas the RIBA Future Trends workload index , which provides a barometer of architects’ pipeline expectations for the next 3 months, plunged to -47 in April, it shot back up into positive figures by the summer driven by the demand of stay-at-home clients in the residential sector.

In 2021, the uptick in workload held, driven by the housing sector. In just 18 months, the situation shifted from one in which offices saw no choice but to furlough staff to one in which almost a fifth of practices struggled to recruit , reporting a skills shortage. With COP26 in November, sustainability and ameliorating Climate Change became an ever more pressing theme.

The invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has once again thrown everything in the air, shifting parameters. With price hikes in oil and fuel, could the cost of products and shortages of materials impact the viability of projects and the recovery in the coming months? At the same time, do architects and contractors have the capacity and expertise to meet the upsurge in clients’ demands for low or no energy buildings triggered by the fuel crisis? With ‘heat pump’ having fast entered the vocabulary of every householder.

In a profession that is as much about social purpose as business, RIBA Chartered Practices are demonstrating that they practise what they preach by proffering both accommodation and jobs to displaced Ukrainian architects and students through the RIBA Refugee Job Support scheme.

Taking architecture back to its core: RIBAJ Design in the making
Amid the vicissitudes of the current climate, The RIBA Journal has renewed its focus on practical knowledge sharing on design under the new tagline ‘Design in the making’ , informed by feedback from the annual reader survey. Defined here in the words of Eleanor Young, editor of the journal: ‘When we asked you last year what you most valued from the RIBA Journal – both here on ribaj.com and in the print magazine – we saw the profession’s growth mindset writ large. Architects want to learn, you want to know more. As well as seeing more great buildings and reading about people and practices, the survey showed you want to know how those people draw, how they put things together, how they design and specify. And you wanted to better understand sustainability, the big picture and how to make sustainable buildings … It’s about “unveiling things you can learn from people you look up to and from talents you have not yet discovered … We want to entertain you. It is about making better design. It is Design in the making.’

Designing for Diversity: RIBA Publishing
Since the pandemic, the need for diverse thinking and diverse problem-solving, meeting the requirements of diverse users, has become ever more pressing. In 2022, the book list is embracing these themes with the publication of several significant titles. These include Working at the Intersection: Architecture After the Anthropocene , a new volume in the Design Studio series, edited by Harriet Harriss and Naomi House. A progressive collection of articles and case studies, it explores the intersectionality of environmental justice and social justice, setting the table for inclusive architectural engagement. The eagerly awaited Queer Spaces edited by Adam Nathaniel Furman and Joshua Mardell, is publishing in May: an ‘atlas’ of over 90 spaces from around the world, it takes in an ice cream parlour in Cuba, the ruins of a cathedral in Nicaragua (occupied by the LGBTQ+ community) and an independent bookshop in Glasgow.

Ultimately design requires the acknowledgement that everyone is different, while there are some universal drivers to human happiness and wellbeing. In the follow up to his bestselling Happy by Design, Happy Design Toolkit , Ben Channon generously opens up his toolbox and shares his evidenced-based research on architecture and mental wellbeing. With over 100 beautifully hand-drawn illustrations, the book explores how factors, such as lighting, comfort, control over our environments and access to nature, exercise and social interaction, impact how we feel.

The last two years may have been some of the most challenging for architects, but they have also been exciting and meaningful as the demand for their expertise, building more sustainable and healthier buildings, has never been more relevant. This has made it equally stimulating and stretching for editors and content producers as we’ve sought to anticipate and respond to their fast-growing information needs.

To claim a 20% discount on Ben Channon’s Happy Design Toolkit before the end of April use the link: https://ribabooks.com?discountcoupon=FBAPRIL22

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