Jamie Mitchell went to the RIBA to meet its president elect, and discovered that Angela Brady is eager to take up the reins – and is positive about much else too
In these days of financial gloom Angela Brady – architect, author, TV personality and president elect of the RIBA – is a ray of sunshine. ‘I’m all about positivity,’ says Brady when I join her in the sun-filled cafe at the RIBA building in London. ‘We can all moan about things, but what good is that?’
Brady’s presidency doesn’t begin until next September when she’ll take over from Ruth Reed, but she’s already immersed in the business of becoming president, holding back-to- back meetings at the RIBA and brimming with enthusiasm for the challenge ahead of her.
Take one look at Brady’s CV and you’ll see a paragon of the responsible, socially conscientious architect. She has been on some 20 highly influential architecture committees in the past decade, including the RIBA’s Architects for Change forum and Women in Architecture, which she chaired between 2000 and 2005.
‘Getting people on to architecture committees is key,’ she says. ‘When I was on the London Development Agency board [as design champion] I was the only architect. For a development agency! How outrageous is that on a board of 20 people?’
Brady has always been one for getting involved. Born in Dublin, she lived in Denmark and Canada before settling in London, founding her practice Brady & Mallalieu in 1987 with husband Robin Mallalieu. In 1997 Brady and Mallalieu published a book, Dublin: a Guide to Contemporary Architecture, which led to Brady filming a tour of Dublin’s new buildings for Irish broadcaster RTE. Since then she has co-presented The Home Show on Channel 4 and taken part in ITV’s Building the Dream.
‘Working on those programmes gave me the opportunity to express my personal opinions as well as those of a lot of my contemporaries – and not just architects,’ she says. ‘Showing the public what architects do is a great opportunity, and TV is the best medium for doing that.’
Making architecture accessible to the public will be one of Brady’s priorities as RIBA president. ‘The RIBA is a big ship,’ she says. ‘I can only steer it two degrees to the right or left – I’m not trying to do a 180 – but I would like to have a big influence on the public, to help it appreciate good architecture. I think architects can be too inward looking. We have to face out – that’s the way I see my job at the RIBA.’
As upbeat and proactive as Brady is she also acknowledges that this is a tough time to be taking the reins at the RIBA, and she’s deeply concerned about what effects the Government’s latest cuts will have on architecture. ‘The Government’s cuts are so severe, because it’s trying to pay back the deficit in four years – I think that’s unrealistic,’ she says.
So how will Brady’s approach as the RIBA president differ from that of Ruth Reed?
‘Ruth’s an academic, while I’m a private practitioner. We complement each other quite well in that way, and education is important to both of us. We need to make sure our students are graduating after five years with the tools of their trade: for example, do they know about integrated sustainability? Students need to learn about retrofitting, so that they will have valuable skills to offer in practice. Our current housing stock will be with us for a long time, and it isn’t up to current standards – that’s a big area of work in a recession.’
Brady is also committed to improving the lot of architecture practices with 10 architects or fewer and to encouraging them to get involved in the decision-making that affects them. ‘We need bigger networks and we need to help each other out when we can,’ she says. ‘I think we need to redefine the small practice so that we are sharing resources and core staff. This would help solve the problem of being forced to make redundancies when work is scarce and then having to quickly take on other staff when things improve.’
Another of Brady’s priorities is sustainability, which she says we should view as nothing less than a survival instinct. ‘What if oil was 10 times the price it is today? Then we’d be forced to find an alternative. We need a mindset change in the way we do buildings,’ she says.
Brady will be only the second woman to be RIBA president, and she has strong feelings about equality in architecture. As part of her work for Architects for Change and Women in Architecture she has been instrumental in setting up DiverseCity, a touring exhibition to encourage gender and ethnic diversity in architecture. ‘Women and men working together make the best architecture – no question,’ she says. ‘In times of recession more women get let go than men. That’s a fact and very bad.’
So what needs to change? ‘It would benefit men and women to have a better, more flexible working-hours culture... encouraging women to get into architecture and stay in architecture, even after they have kids.’
Even for someone as capable as Brady, splitting her time between her award-winning architecture practice and the presidency will be a balancing act and it means giving up some of her other commitments for now. Is she worried?
‘I’m well up for it,’ she says. ‘If I can bring more kudos to the organisation on the issues that I think are important then we’ll get a far greater appreciation of what architects can do for society. They won’t have seen anything like me before, that’s all I can say.’
This article was first published in FX Magazine.