Simon Allford, founding director of the Stirling Prize-winning London firm Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) has won his bid to become the next President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). He will officially step into the role in September 2021 when the two-terms of sitting RIBA president Alan Jones—the architect from Northern Ireland who has had quite the year—expires. Starting next month Allford will be bestowed with the title of president-elect.
Allford was the first presidential contender to throw his hat into the ring for this year’s RIBA election cycle, which Building Design called the mostly “hotly contested election” in years. Sumita Singha then announced her candidacy, followed by Jude Barber, Nick Moss, and Valeria Passetti.
A total of five accomplished architects from across the United Kingdom vied for the top spot, making for an unusually large group of challengers in this election. And, as Building Design noted, turnout was also markedly low at just 13.2 percent, with just over 17 percent of chartered RIBA members voting and shy of seven percent of student members (a first this year), associate, and affiliate members voting. In total, Allford garnered 58.9 percent of the votes cast.
Allford, who is also a writer, critic, visiting professor at the Harvard GSD, previous chairman of the Architecture Foundation, and a former RIBA vice-president of education, hasn’t held back on lobbing criticism at the “irrelevant” 186-year-old organization that he will soon head. As reported by the Architects’ Journal, he let it all out following an April 2020 governance reshuffling involving the RIBA board of trustees:
“The president is [missing], though it matters not, as she, or in this case he, makes no difference. The building is now completely empty, which also matters little as, sadly, it is rarely full of anyone related to architecture—though it is big on corporate events. Even the staff have gone.”
“First we storm the building, taking it back for architects and architecture. Then we get rid of the ringmaster and his new crew, while simultaneously shrinking the payroll back to what is needed to run bars, restaurants, debates, lectures, exhibitions of the best drawing collection in the world and the celebration of excellence in education and awards.”
Now that he’ll be stepping into the president-elect shoes in less than a month, Allford has taken a decidedly less pugnacious tone—he’s a noted boxing enthusiast, after all—while still promising to institute the bold changes that he campaigned on. He said in an official victory statement shared by RIBA:
“It is a privilege to have been elected and I look forward to working with members, Council, Board and staff to create a leaner, more open, productive, engaged and reinvigorated RIBA.
We need an institute of ideas with architecture front and centre, hosting debates, lectures and exhibitions reflecting changing cultural and practice contexts. We need an institute that celebrates and promotes members’ work at home and worldwide. We need an institute that is a practice friend, enabling members to share ideas about best ways of working, using today’s technology to help advance architecture for the benefit of society—our Charter obligation.
Jones congratulated Allford, noting: “The next few years will be crucial for our planet and profession as we navigate through health, environmental and economic crises—so Simon has a significant role to play in ensuring all architects receive the strong support and inspiring leadership they need to survive and thrive.”
In addition to electing a new president, RIBA members also voted to fill numerous council seats.