Alan Jones: We need to talk

Alan Jones_outside_CROP

The profession is facing huge challenges. The new president of the RIBA tells Elizabeth Hopkirk how he plans to tackle them

Alan Jones has had a good week. On the very day he became 78th president of the RIBA his new book hit the shops. Most presidents publish at the end of their term, he points out, but Jones is a man in a hurry. “The idea is to hit the ground running,” he says. On that score Jones, the RIBA’s first Northern Irish president, is doing pretty well.

His 256-page book, Defining Contemporary Professionalism, was co-edited with Rob Hyde and features essays by 63 architects and academics who were instructed by the straight-talking Jones not to hold back in their assessment of the state of architecture. The inclusion of so many contributors reflects another Jones theme: the importance of collaboration. The “wicked problems” facing society and the profession – climate change, the safety of buildings and the housing crisis top his list – cannot be solved in a silo and to that end the door of his office at RIBA HQ will be open to all.

It is the custom for every new president to stamp their personality on this room overlooking Portland Place – with Angela Brady, perhaps most famously, painting it cerise. These days the walls are a good deal more sober, but Jones’ own intervention has been to replace Ben Derbyshire’s clubbable sofas with a 4m-long table and around 20 chairs. Jones works at one corner and is looking forward to inviting as many people as possible to join him round it over the next two years. Each will be asked to sign a long piece of lino under the protective glass top. “It will become a record of everyone I have met,” he says. “We are all in this together and we have to work on the problems together.”

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