RIBA President Elect, Muyiwa Oki

In Conversation with RIBA president elect, Muyiwa Oki.

Congratulations Muyiwa! We are living in exciting times! Tell me where you were when the news broke out and how you felt.

The outcome remains simple, challenge unfairness and change it

I was at my office desk, eating a breakfast burrito. I logged into the scheduled 20 minute Teams call to get a briefing ahead of the public announcement. A few minutes in, a simple spreadsheet was shared, with my name highlighted in yellow! I was speechless.

My attitude had always been to be sanguine about the result. The outcome remains simple, challenge unfairness and change it, by addressing the health and wellbeing of our profession in relation to overtime.

You’ve spoken recently about your hopes for a devolved and decentralised model of the RIBA. What will that entail?

This is how I think the institute can be innovative, flexible, and agile to meet the needs of its members wherever they are. We are an international body, and that should be reflected in the way we respond to cultural and ‘site-specific’ issues. My conversations with leaders of organisations like ACAN!, OpenCity, and the American Institute of Architects opened my eyes to a variety of operational models. A key message has been to improve the ability to partner effectively with subject matter experts. You cannot do it alone.

At the RIBA, I believe that further work can be done in partnering with industry-leading experts in areas where we want to see growth, mental health, diversity, and innovation to reduce the logistical stress on students and professionals to search and locate and access quality services. This is so our members can clear up valuable head space for a more enjoyable work/life balance. These partnerships will give members access to things they would otherwise go without.

Many have spoken about an architectural education reform on the horizon, what are your thoughts on this?

It is crucial to maintain a talent pipeline and the key to this is nurturing a thriving forward-thinking architectural community. As RIBA president, I will focus on alternative routes to entering the profession such as conversion courses. I am eagerly anticipating sitting at the table with the ARB to re-imagine and future-proof the profession. To define the outcomes in their ‘flexible and innovative’ approach to learning and training that will add value to our lives. I will start by asking them about flexibility in routes into and across the profession. 

Currently, the route to entry for architecture starts at 18 years old. If you miss this boat, it is highly unlikely that you can rejoin further down the line. I am lucky enough to have known about architecture as a kid, and although I was swayed by a few other degrees, I decided on Architecture. My mind was captured at 18 years old and now, 10+ years later, I am now a fully qualified architect! I am keen to encourage diversity of talent in the profession and talent across the spectrum of the creative and non-creative industries.

In my experience, I think we tend to link inclusion or ‘diversifying’ to race or gender. But how can practices and schools cater to employees and students with physical disabilities or who are neurodivergent?

RIBA currently does not collect data or statistics on its disabled or neurodivergent members and that must be annoying for those communities. This means we will not get far in EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) benchmarking. I am eager to learn more about what these groups need so that we, at the RIBA can support them better. This is where the town hall idea comes from, to move closer to a devolved, and accessible type of leadership. 

Worker’s rights are also disability rights and it’s about time the RIBA took responsibility for holding universities and employers accountable.

I do believe the ‘Architectural Assistant’ title seems detached from the current realities of working in practice and exploitive culture is on the rise. How do we create genuine transparency between junior staff, the RIBA, and practices?

The idea that you are just a Part 1 or Part 2 is an ideology that should be discouraged and eliminated from the psyche. The RIBA has some good programmes like the RIBA Presidents medal and rising star awards but I would say more can be done to celebrate junior staff awards to raise the profile of the role. 

Furthermore, I want to make the RIBA more equitable and introduce overtime pay requirements for RIBA chartered practices. So that the idea of excessive overwork is challenged financially and Part 1s and 2s are compensated for the efforts when they do go above and beyond. Overtime should not be expected or required without adequate compensation. I will create a toolkit to facilitate practices to transition into employee ownership and create an integrated career development coaching service, building on existing programs like the future Architects, guerrilla tactics, and RIBA Academy. 

As well as social justice, climate breakdown is a key driver for the next generation of spatial practitioners. How can the RIBA better equip us on climate change? 

The IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reminds us that in less than a decade, we need a massive 50% reduction in carbon emissions to avoid a climate disaster. A McKinsey research estimates $9.2 trillion in annual investment will be required globally to support the net-zero transition. It begs the question how much capital has the RIBA and its members allocated to invest in net-zero? 

The UK government set the target to achieve NetZero by 2050. Suppliers like us, architects, need to provide practical solutions to make this a reality. I am hoping to introduce a cradle-to-cradle accreditation and introduce a Director of Climate at the RIBA. So that organisations and members strive for excellence in this area. 

My hope is to get more than 50% of chartered practices to sign-up for the Climate challenge and set up a Climate Challenge 2030 Design Data Exchange Platform—like the AIAs. To make it easier and faster to record and share project data, get actionable information, and advance the energy and carbon performance of projects.

Your RIBA President Elect’s term has begun, with a two-year term as RIBA President commencing on 1 September 2023. By 2025, what do you think the structure of the RIBA will start to look like?

The RIBA needs a leader who is accessible, energetic, and with a vision for the future

The RIBA needs a leader who is accessible, energetic, and with a vision for the future. This means that it is important for the president to be an ambassador, a champion, the maverick, and to deliver on issues that have an impact. You can get it done in collaboration with the council, board, and executive arm of the RIBA. The causes I will be championing are the plight of the future architect, and how to have better transparency and inclusion.

I will seek to create an environment for business innovation and a wider embracing of skills for a digital future. The RIBA can begin this journey by engaging architectural professionals across wider technology and innovation organisations. So that they can share their ideas on how they generate new revenue streams. This will ensure that architectural skills and traditional design practices change with the times to be relevant and valuable. To stimulate innovation, I am hoping to develop a work-from-anywhere strategy and use the RIBA building assets as incubators for start-up businesses and practices.

The RIBA has recently gone through a governance restructuring that aligns with the charity commission. This will not change, but the way we interact with our members and the public will improve to support the creation of an aspirational profession, where those who choose to belong can do so successfully. This will ensure that we are constantly reimagining what it means to be an Architect and what we want from Architecture.