More diversity is needed in architecture, says body’s first black president

More diversity and inclusivity is needed within architecture, the first black president of its UK professional membership body has said.

Muyiwa Oki, who began his two-year term as president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) on Friday, has pledged to help “tear down the barriers” which have long contributed to an under-representation of black people in the industry, especially at senior levels.

The 32-year-old is also the youngest president in the institute’s 189-year history and has insisted a “fundamental shift” is needed for architecture to show its relevance and importance in today’s world and inspire the next generation of architects.

Mr Oki described the beginning of his term as a “profoundly significant” moment.

Muyiwa Oki is the first black president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Nick Menniss/PA)
Muyiwa Oki is the first black president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Nick Menniss/PA)

In a blog post coinciding with his first day in the role, he said: “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.”

He said that “to reach its full potential, the profession needs to change”.

He said: “A more diverse and inclusive industry is a prerequisite for delivering architecture that is responsive to the needs of everyone in society.

“Although there are positive trends amongst newly registered architects, the profession is far from representative of the population we serve. We’ve got a large ethnicity pay gap in practice, and there is significant under-representation of black people, particularly at more senior levels.

“I will champion measures to make architecture fairer, more welcoming and inclusive. We must tear down the barriers wherever they exist.”

Mr Oki said he is conscious of the “huge, global challenges: the rising cost of living, widening social inequality and, of course, the climate emergency” currently facing the world.

He called on his fellow architects, who he described as “stewards of our planet’s future”, to see themselves as “an agent of change”.

Noting that the built environment accounts for around 37% of global carbon emissions, he said: “As RIBA president, I pledge to be a steadfast advocate for decarbonising the built environment.

“Architecture must lead the charge in promoting innovative design principles, energy-efficient solutions, and the use of sustainable materials.

“And we must use our collective voice to advocate for wider change, both in the UK and globally.

“Engaging with decision and policymakers to pursue effective climate action, including a robust strategy for minimising the carbon impact from buildings, remains a priority for me and the RIBA.”

He also said that, as experts predict 80% of the buildings in use by 2050 have already been built, “increasing the longevity and energy efficiency of our existing buildings through retrofit is essential to achieving a low carbon future”.

He said RIBA will, under his leadership, keep the pressure up on calls for a national retrofit strategy, which he said so far had not produced the policy action that is needed.

He added: “We will only attract the diverse expertise we need to meet future challenges if young people understand they can make a meaningful difference through a career in architecture.

“We must ensure that anyone with talent can aspire to join us and succeed, regardless of who they are and where they come from.”

Mr Oki, whose term runs until the end of August 2025, has taken over from former president Simon Allford.