Paul Finch addressed Council at the July awayday. Here is some of what he said to us
Wherever we look currently, it seems that com- plaints culture rules the roost. As soon as somebody makes an allegation, whether current or historical, up pops somebody else (responsible or not) to apologise profusely, to promise to investigate, and the ensure that what is being complained of ‘never happens again’.
Complaints culture requires a reversal of the nor- mal legal assumption, that people are innocent until proved guilty. Instead, anyone accused of this or that is required to prove their innocence. This gives carte balance to the contemporary equivalent of poison- pen letter-writers to accuse and abuse, very often anonymously. They smear people on social media who may be guilty of nothing at all. Are we really to assume that an accusation automatically means guilt? Apparently so.
This Alice in Wonderland world, in which words are defined by the user in the way they choose (rather than being regarded as having a normally accepted meaning), is now the informing context for architec- tural culture as well as that of other professions. The Bartlett School of Architecture, one of the highest- rated schools in the world, is now alleged to have a ‘toxic culture’ amongst other charges, with allegations applied to it common to every institution that is the subject of complaints culture, for example ‘bullying’, which is rarely defined.
One would hope that the assumption of guilt rather than innocence would be a rarity, but unfortu- nately in the world of architecture it already exists. Anybody who has been on the receiving end of one of the Architects Registration Board complaints procedure, including what can best be described as kanga- roo court hearings, will be familiar with this situation.
The RIBA has spent fortunes, dealing with an inter- nal system which was designed for rational individu- als, but has prompted a spate of endless destructive complaints quite at odds with any idea of rational professional conduct.
Of course architects are the whipping boys of the complaints system. They may be dragged into costly litigation where there are building failures because they have professional indemnity insurance. They get joined in actions which have nothing to do with them, simple because lawyers smell money in the form of that self-same insurance.
Disgracefully, unscrupulous lawyers, under the smokescreen of ‘protecting client interests’, now seek to pin responsibility for the behaviour and actions of non-architect members of the building team onto architects, with the threat of removal from commis- sions if they do not cave in to demands which come close to extortion.
But how can architects tackle this situation, when their own registration body is entirely divorced from the profession and its activities? It used to be the case that the registration body, which imposes a compulso- ry levy on all architects, had elected representatives from the profession, making up 50 per cent of the reg- istration body’s council.
That is all out of the window. We now have a situa- tion where architects could reasonably declare, like the founding fathers of the USA: ‘No taxation without representation’.
Who will complain?