Saturday 24 March 2018

The right moves: Architects managing changes

Carole Pollard
Carole Pollard

Paul McNeive

A phenomenal turnaround in the recruitment of architects is at the heart of "a new era for architecture" as described by Carole Pollard, the newly elected President of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI). She takes the helm from Robin Mandal, who steered the Institute through some choppy waters during his two year term. I met Ms Pollard at RIAI headquarters to chat about her vision for the profession.

Carole Pollard tells me that "The profession was in the doldrums in recent years and morale was low." Architecture suffered the "perfect storm" of the economic collapse, controversy over the use of the title "architect", and a divisive dispute over the Institute's qualified support for the new Building Regulations regime. Now, however, the economic turnaround has brought a huge surge in demand for architects and some firms are reporting that they cannot get staff.

"We are particularly trying to attract back to Ireland a cohort of architects who were forced to emigrate in their mid-20s. Many of those are in their mid-30s now and are badly needed here" she told me.

Ms Pollard is passionate about the quality of jobs in the profession and part of her vision is to make architecture "a more sustainable career." She has been involved in the education of architects over the years and has seen poor working conditions such as internships or graduate positions with overlong hours. At the other end of the scale, her time as secretary of the architects Benevolent Society exposed her to colleagues who were being forced to retire young, without a proper pension or safety net.

Stepping down: Robin Mandal
Stepping down: Robin Mandal

"There's a culture of not paying your people properly throughout the property business." she said. We need to get the fees increased in architectural practices in order to pay a living wage to everyone working in that practice. Unless you're from Dublin, or your parents are living there, you can't afford to be a young architect, so the profession risks becoming the preserve of the city's middle-classes."

The issue over the use of the title "architect" has settled down and the RIAI is the official body for the registration of architects in Ireland. Also "settling down" is the controversy over the Building Regulations. "The system isn't perfect" she added. "It's only now that the system is in operation that we begin to see the practical problems and our members are working positively with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government".

"There still needs to be oversight from the local authorities from a consumer protection point of view, and we are working with the department on that area."

When I raised the problem of "homelessness" Ms. Pollard said that "the State has been relying on the private sector for its social housing programme and that has failed. The government has all the information on demographics and each local authority should be required to deliver social housing appropriate to the demand in its own area". She also points to the amount of empty properties in Georgian Dublin and says that the tax incentives under the "Living City Initiative" should be extended to include developers as well as owner occupiers.

Carole Pollard
Carole Pollard

Similarly she supports tax incentives for the conversion of empty buildings in rural towns and The RIAI is calling for the creation of a Minister and Department of the Built Environment, to co-ordinate long term planning.

On the subject of planning, Ms Pollard stresses the benefits which good planning can bring to communities. She gives the examples of Clonakilty and Westport, once voted the best place to live in Ireland. "That's not by chance" she tells me "the reason is that both towns have a town architect. There's joined up thinking in the planning and development of the towns and people are happy to live there."

On the proposal to reduce the minimum size of apartments in Dublin city, she says that "It can be a good idea for single people in the rental market, but must be close to transport and other facilities. There must be a supply of all housing types- it's not a housing solution for families."

On leaving office in two years, Carole Pollard would like to see better employment conditions for architects and a further strengthening in education. "Architects are trained to be thinkers and problem solvers and we don't exploit those skills enough, whether on clients projects or in running our own businesses."

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