On September 1, Muyiwa Oki began his two-year term as president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). At 32, Oki is the youngest RIBA president in the organization’s 189-year history and the first Black president. He replaces Simon Allford who assumed the RIBA presidency in 2021. Allford will remain on RIBA’s board after stepping down to help with the transition, a first in the organization’s history.
Oki’s campaign victory came after a substantial grassroots effort waged by students, young practitioners, and groups such as Future Architects Front (FAF), Section of Architectural Workers (SAW), Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN), Architecture Lobby London, and others. Oki ran under the banner of “architectural worker” in solidarity with the labor groups who each fought against alleged voter suppression by RIBA to help Oki across the finish line.
“I stood for election to represent the voices of all, including those who feel disenfranchised and underrepresented. But also, because I believe in architecture – that it is a force for good,” Oki said in a statement. “I also believe that a fundamental shift is needed for architecture to demonstrate its relevance and importance in today’s world and inspire the next generation of architects. I am conscious that this is a critical time to take on the role of RIBA President, as we grapple with huge, global challenges: the rising cost of living, widening social inequality and, of course, the climate emergency.”
Before beginning his term, Oki outlined a bold program that attracted a wide coalition. “All architects need to be agents of change,” Oki said. In a RIBA blog post, Oki stated that his priorities will include decarbonizing the built environment, assisting policymakers to lower the cost of living, as well as building a more diverse and inclusive industry that’s “responsive to the needs of everyone in society.” Oki points to substantial pay gaps that exist between white and Black architects. “We must tear down the barriers wherever they exist,” he said.
Make sure you vote if you’re a RIBA member or architecture student!
— Section of Architectural Workers (@UVW_SAW) July 25, 2022
Aside from closing the racial pay gap, Oki also calls for other changes in the workplace. As more and more young people entering the industry are becoming disillusioned by it, Oki says that offices must give closer consideration to issues such as paid overtime, mental health, and employee empowerment. “We must promote flexible working arrangements and support mental health and well-being. We must ensure architecture practices provide fair and equal opportunities for professional development and career advancement, to chart a positively aspirational path in the industry,” Oki said.
To help enact these reforms, Oki will lead RIBA’s Biennial plan: a 10-point program started by Allford meant to create a new “House of Architecture” that better represents architects in the U.K. The Biennial plan also includes provisions that would sort out financial issues within RIBA and create new pathways toward licensure for minorities, among other measures.