Harness energy of millennials or risk irrelevance, says former president

The RIBA must act to harness the energy of young people or risk irrelevance after youngsters were credited with Labour’s election surge, a former president has warned.

Sunand Prasad said: “A younger electorate, fed up with having things done to them has begun to mobilise, inspired by the belief that change is possible. RIBA and other institutes must at last recruit this amazing energy, or risk become increasingly irrelevant.”

An unexpectedly high turnout of young people was credited with propelling Labour to the brink of victory.

Millennials are typically less likely to vote. Their political apathy was blamed for the Brexit result in the referendum. Their resulting resentment towards their elders is said to have pushed them to the polling stations in large numbers on Thursday and caused the shock result.

Prasad said it was critical that the RIBA now focuses its attention on them.

He also urged all architects to wise up to finance and economics as the country heads into the uncharted waters of Brexit negotiations, which May insisted would go ahead on schedule.

Prasad said: “The vote shows that there is a real desire in the country for a government that actively pursues equality and the public good, which are two sides of the same coin. That is encouraging for anyone who believe that government has a key role in ensuring decent housing for all, and should invest in good architecture and great public space.

“The short-term outlook, with a minority Conservative government supported by a DUP deal, and mired in Brexit negotiations, is not promising. However the significant house building promised in the Conservative manifesto, and its commitment to the Climate Change Act gives some lobbying leverage. In the meantime we can concentrate on building a smarter and stronger case for the value of design and campaigning around it.

“Uncertainty will be the new normal for some time yet, at least until we are out of the other side of a Brexit – now possibly a softer, perhaps chewy Brexit?

“To navigate these shifting sands it is more important than ever for architects to get much more knowledgeable about cost, finance and economics.”

Prasad’s views were echoed by many others in the profession.

Meanwhile, the current RIBA president Jane Duncan reiterated her demand that British architecture practices must have access to the “best talent” and mutual recognition of qualifications.

“The forthcoming Brexit negotiations make this a particularly critical time for our sector, presenting challenges as well as opportunities for architects,” she said. “The RIBA has been consistent and clear about our priorities: we must have access to the best talent from around the world, and mutual recognition of our members’ qualifications across the EU in order that the sector can continue to thrive.”

She added: “The Conservative manifesto made the link between housing, infrastructure and good design in creating better communities and, quite rightly, recognised the absolutely vital role that architects play in improving lives. We will continue to reinforce this message with the new Conservative-led government.

“The RIBA will continue to serve as a strong voice for architects and calls on the UK government to provide confidence and stability to our sector as the country adapts over the forthcoming weeks, months and years.”