Do we need an Institute of the Built Environment?

Do we need an Institute for the Built Environment?
This was the debate proposed at the Edge’s 58th meeting last night at the Royal Academy of Engineering by Terry Wyatt of Hoare Lea and opposed by Mike Murray of One Creative Environments Ltd.
The issue behind the debate is that while the members of the various construction industry sectors such as architects, contractors, engineers, QSs and others have their defined education and career tracks mapped out, it is questionable whether these well-defined tracks serve the needs of the professionals or society any more. It is more important that we deliver the buildings and places that our clients and that society need than we protect our current professional definitions. Liz Reason pointed out in the debate that we need to focus more on outcomes and less on the process that gets us there as the outcomes are the constant but delivery changes from year to year. The growth in Sustainability professionals over the last decade is a case in point, this discipline is needed, but no one Institute claims ownership of them, and the professionals are spread across at least three institutions, and some will not be members of any.
Terry Wyatt rather cheekily proposed a Royal Institute for the Built Environment (RIBE), made by amalgamating of all the engineering disciplines, leaving the RIBA playing gooseberry.
Simon Foxell suggested that the fragmentation in the industry is more a case of specialisms than disorganisation and could be better valued rather than being seen as a problem. Creating a new Institute (one ring to bring them all and in the darkess bind them) could lessen the ability of the existing institutions to cater properly for the depth of specialisms that already exist.
Terry Wyatt argued, convincingly I thought, that a concerted industry voice would be one that Government would find it hard to ignore.
Derek Croome argued that an Institution for the Built Environment is too narrow a focus and we need to include other people-focused disciplines such as sociologists to deliver better buildings, so where would you stop?
Education for the professions came in for a lot of discussion, Mike Murray’s counter proposal to the topic was to educate design team leaders to be just that. We need a new discipline, he argued, of design team leaders who can lead a team of multi-disciplinary specialists to produce excellent outcomes. The problem with current practices is that whoever leads the team has a tendency to lead their own discipline first and pay less attention to the big picture. Architects tend to concentrate on the architecture, engineers on the engineering, and so on. We need to train people in multi-disciplinary thinking and leadership.
Having done the multi-disciplinary Intelligent Building Masters at Reading, this struck a chord with me. That course has had a big impact on my career, partially because of the content of the course, but also because my classmates were facility managers, engineers, clients, contractors who each brought their insights to the course and taught me that everyone in the team has a valuable contribution to make in the design of the built environment.
My conclusion is that a group formed of leaders from all the main Institutes could form to develop a multidisciplinary strategy for the Built Environment, and work to allow greater flexibility for members to move from one profession to another or to share membership benefits. The Group could act as a lightning rod for the industry and lobby government and education authorities on its behalf. We don’t need another Institution, but we do need leadership.
The discussion was ably chaired by Professor Alan Penn from UCL.


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