Viewpoint: Amanda Khan

October 2, 2020

As North East regional director at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Amanda Khan sits at the heart of the member organisation’s work to strengthen the built environment industry from Berwick down to Teesside. Here, she tells Steven Hugill about its goals, its commitment to sustainability and the next generation, and how the architectural sector will play a crucial role in the UK’s post-COVID-19 recovery

Tell me a little about your career journey. What first attracted you to architecture?

I didn’t set out to have a career in architecture.

I left school without doing my A-Levels and got on a business management foundation degree course at Newcastle College. But I then got itchy feet as my friends started university, and I transferred over to Northumbria University to continue my studies in my second year. I graduated in 2008 and had developed an interest in events management.

However, a lot of the jobs I was looking at required A-Levels, so I got a role temping with RIBA North East as an administrator in 2009.

How did you become RIBA North East regional director?

I worked my way up through a number of posts and became regional director in 2012. With the North East office being relatively small, I gained a lot of experience and skills during that period. One of the first big events I was involved with was the Reinvigorating the Region exhibition, in Newcastle’s Stephenson Works in early 2010. That was all about the history of architecture in the North East and was really exciting. I also got involved with RIBA’s annual awards programme and really enjoyed hearing how architects turned clients’ ideas into reality.

What is RIBA North East and what are its goals and objectives?

RIBA North East is the regional arm of the international RIBA body and we cover the area from Berwick down to Teesside. We help connect our community of architects and related built environment professionals and bring together their shared interests to create a support network. It is about creating experiences for members.

We support around 500 Chartered members and 60 Chartered practices, from large operators to small and sole practitioners – being an RIBA Chartered Member is seen as a gold standard. We also validate degree programmes for two schools of architecture, Newcastle and Northumbria universities.

I see RIBA North East has a number of Special Interest groups. What do they cover and how crucial are they to the organisation’s overall aims?

We have five groups. One is our equality, diversity and inclusion group Change the Record, and another is our Sustainable Futures group, which supports members on ways to tackle the climate emergency. Our Education and Research Forum brings together academics and practitioners, while our Small Practice Forum allows small and sole practitioners to come together. The fifth is the Young Architectural Practitioners Forum.

Tell me more about the latter group and its significance in ensuring the next generation of talent continues to flow into architecture…

This is our most established group, having been around since 2010. Originally called the Young Practitioners Forum, it began with informal networking sessions. However, as it grew, we realised we needed more of a structure, so we appointed a chair and formalised a delivery framework to develop a succession plan.

Nathalie Baxter, of FaulknerBrowns, led it until earlier this year, with Andrew Thompson, also of FaulknerBrowns, having now taken it on. People like Nathalie and Andrew are role-models for those coming through.
As well as supporting architects in practice, however, the forum is working hard to help learners complete their university studies. We piloted RIBA Future Architects in our region, and it has now been signed off to be introduced nationally.

I see another key area for RIBA North East – as part of the wider national organisation – is its commitment to sustainability. What are you doing in this region to promote zero- carbon activity across new developments and operational procedure, and why is it so important?

Sustainability is a huge issue – the built environment sector contributes about 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions. We think the industry can be net-zero carbon by 2030 and our RIBA Carbon Challenge 2030 sets tough but achievable incremental targets around areas such as embodied carbon, operational efficiency and potable water.

We’re also working hard to ensure our schools of architecture have a stronger emphasis on climate in their curriculums.

Mark Siddall, who leads our Sustainable Focus group, recently gave an online presentation on carbon action to Teesside’s Festival of Thrift too.

How was RIBA North East, and the region’s architectural industry as a whole, affected by the COVID-19 lockdown?

Our members are used to working collaboratively, so when lockdown happened, they were able to adapt quickly. Using digital technology at home also meant they could continue design work.

Our regional council came together very quickly too, which allowed us to listen to members’ issues and immediately pass them to our central teams, who lobbied the Government on their behalf.

We also launched our Recovery Roadmap and have just unveiled the Work with an Architect campaign, which highlights how using an architect adds real value to a project and saves money in the long-term.

On the point of COVID-19, how much of a role do you think the architectural and building sectors have to play in helping the UK economy recover from the pandemic?

Architects are very creative and will be important to the work we must take to redesign our cities and town centres for the future.

The North East is really strong on innovation – look at the redesign of elderly care on the Newcastle Helix development and the Passivhaus projects we have in this region.

Going forward, architects will have a lead role to play in a green post-COVID-19 recovery.

Amanda Khan

RIBA North East riba/riba-north-east

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