RIBA president Alan Jones temporarily steps down after only seven months

A Most Curious departure

RIBA president Alan Jones temporarily steps down after only seven months

Alan Jones was elected RIBA president in August 2018, and began the role in September 2019. (Courtesy RIBA)

Northern Irish architect Alan Jones has temporarily and rather unexpectedly abandoned his post as the relatively newly instated president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

As reported by The Architects’ Journal, news of this “shock decision” broke on March 31 when Jones emailed members of the RIBA Council, saying that a “matter had arisen” in his personal life that would require him stepping down from his duties.

“I appreciate this comes at a time when there are extraordinary demands on everyone and I can only ask that you reinforce your support to our staff and senior officers during this period,” Jones went on to write in his letter.

Per the Journal, a second email was also dispatched to all RIBA staff clarifying that Jones would be unreachable for “four to six weeks.” It did not, however, offer any further insight into what sort of circumstances had prompted the swift departure. The email also announced that RIBA honorary secretary Kerr Robertson would be “overseeing presidential responsibilities” in Jones’s absence.

Jones, a graduate of and current professor at the School of Architecture at Queen’s University Belfast, assumed his responsibilities as RIBA’s 77th president in September 2019, taking over for Ben Derbyshire of London-headquartered HTA Design. Previously serving as RIBA’s vice president of education, Jones was elected to serve a two-year presidential term in August 2018, beating out fellow top contenders Elsie Owusu and Phil Allsopp in a closely watched race. Projects by Jones’s eponymous, Country Antrim-based firm, Alan Jones Architects, have received numerous awards from RIBA and twice been shortlisted for the coveted Stirling Prize.

Only one day after the news of Jones’s unexplained departure broke, the plot already began to thicken. On April 1, Building Design reported that RIBA had submitted a “serious incident report” involving Jones to the Charity Commission, a non-ministerial government agency that regulates registered charities in England and Wales.

What that “serious incident” might be has not yet been disclosed. A spokesperson for the Charity Commission, however, confirmed receipt of the report: “The RIBA has acted in line with our guidance, by submitting a serious incident report to the commission in connection with the recent stepping down of the charity’s president. We are currently assessing information provided by the charity. We are unable to comment further at this time.”

“I can confirm that we are aware of a personal issue in relation to the president,” Robertson, acting as RIBA’s interim president, added in prepared remarks. “This is a confidential matter and therefore it wouldn’t be appropriate for the RIBA to comment further at this stage.”

AN reached out to RIBA for additional insight into this evolving story, and was provided with a statement from the organization’s chief executive, Alan Vallance:  “We will be working as hard as ever during the President’s time away to ensure minimum disruption to the RIBA business. The RIBA is led by a team of dedicated senior trustees and expert staff, who will continue to support our members and represent their interests at the highest levels.”