Distinct advantages to the media’s attention

Reginald Grover hit the headlines last week with his plan to rival that august body the Royal Institute of British Architects. The rebel Association of Accredited Architects proposed by this Berkshire architect made it on to page 2 of Saturday’s Guardian after news of it broke in the previous day’s architectural press.

There was less of the “how dare he” and more of the “this isn’t the one” from architectural pundits quoted in the Guardian piece, suggesting all is not well at the RIBA’s London headquarters. No one seriously challenged Grover’s claims that the RIBA is a “self-serving” and “aloof club” – and moves by RIBA director-general Alex Reid to set up the “naff caff” and garish external floodlighting at Portland Place have had as much bad press as did Dinah Casson’s interiors for the Chartered Society of Designers in its day. The concern expressed in the Guardian was more that the 161-year-old institute had time on its side and a start-up body would find it tough to gain momentum.

Good point. How many well-intentioned splinter groups have been and gone in design while the establishment totters on amid staunch criticism? The difference is that the AAA has caught the eye of the national press, and debate about architecture is likely to follow. Which of the many design bodies can claim such attention?

Two points are worth noting. First, design is patently not considered a public issue by the media on a par with architecture – though consumers encounter the industry’s output every day. Second, there is no single design body whose demise might cause a ripple in the scheme of things.

A decade ago Prince Charles refocused public attention on architecture, and though his assault was misdirected, interest has continued. Shenanigans at the Design Council have prompted media interest in that body – they have not, however, inspired public debate on design.

Architects might believe the AAA to be a red herring and that there are matters of more urgency for public discussion. They don’t realise the advantage any media attention gives them over other designers.

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