RIBA will sell off buildings and slash staff amid an ongoing deficit

Belt Tightening

RIBA will sell off buildings and slash staff amid an ongoing deficit

RIBA headquarters at 66 Portland Place. While the corner office block is safe, 76 Portland Place down the street is now up for sale as the organization tries to close its budget deficit. (Philafrenzy/Wikimedia Commons/Accessed under the CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is reportedly downsizing after running a deficit in 2020, according to a new report from the Architects’ Journal.

The RIBA council addressed the issue in a meeting on September 30 that was open to members of the press. Chief executive Alan Vallance laid the professional organization’s struggles bare; in 2020, RIBA spent $38.39 million (28.2 million pounds) while only bringing in $27.22 million (20 million pounds) as the pandemic slammed the global economy. Faced with the reality of running $11 million in debt, Vallance laid out that the path forward would involve reducing both staff and properties in RIBA’s portfolio.

Though no concrete staffing changes were proposed at the meeting, Vallance did say that a restructuring was in the cards and that the institute was currently undergoing a “staff consultation” to determine who to cut.

As for property, he floated the idea of selling off 76 Portland Place, a London office building just a few doors down from the RIBA headquarters at 66 Portland Place. The seven-story, 1950s-era office was extensively renovated by Theis + Khan in 2015 after RIBA selected the Kent-based firm after a tight competition in 2013. Designed as a younger, more open counterpart to the art deco central headquarters next door, 76 Portland features a ground-floor “forum” and cafe for RIBA members to work and relax in.

Vallance noted that in a survey of its staff, 89 percent of RIBA employees mentioned that they were only comfortable working two or three days per week in the office in person. That said, maintaining an office at 76 Portland was seen as redundant and the property will likely go to the auction block.

However, even with the deficit hanging over its head, RIBA isn’t necessarily in a terrible position. The AJ pointed out that RIBA received $153 million (113 million pounds) earlier this spring after selling its majority stake in NBS (National Building Specification). Formerly called RIBA Enterprise, NBS provides a suite of technological solutions to architecture and construction firms and was sold to Swedish construction software and data company Byggfakta Group. Much of the profit has reportedly been reinvested in longer-term financial projects to help ensure the institute’s stability down the road.

Although RIBA is currently sitting on a real estate and collection portfolio valued at $360 million, its cash on hand is, according to AJ, relatively low: over the course of 2020, the reserve shrank from $17.42 million (12.8 million pounds) to $4.63 million (3.4 million pounds).

Will trimming the budget help RIBA get back on the path toward profitability? Only time will tell.