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The RIBA's New Tack

After the International Union of Architects rejected the RIBA's call to boycott the Israeli architects’ association, RIBA set up a committee to look at its own practices.


By Esther Hecht
June 24, 2014

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has decided to set up a committee to consider its own role “in engaging with communities facing civil conflict and natural disaster,” the Architects’ Journal has reported.

The establishment of the International Committee Working Group is, in part, a face-saving measure that follows the RIBA’s controversial call to consider a boycott of its Israeli counterpart at the August meeting of the International Union of Architects’ (UIA) general assembly—a call that the UIA has rejected and that leading international architects opposed. The RIBA had sought the suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from the UIA “until it acts to resist projects on illegally-occupied land and observes international law and accords.”

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Itzhak Lipovetzky-Lir, past president of the Israeli architects’ association and its coordinator of international relations, said in an interview that he was satisfied with the outcome. After the British group received the UIA’s rejection of its boycott call, he said, “the RIBA council decided not to discuss it anymore. It’s another way of retracting it. Instead, they decided to establish the committee, which is perfectly legitimate.”

Lipovetzky-Lir said he had spoken with representatives to the UIA from many countries, including Russia, Turkey, and the United States, and they were categorically against considering a boycott. (As was RIBA Honorary Fellow Jill Ritblat, the wife of former British Land chairman John Ritblat, who said the RIBA should stay out of politics, according to the Architects’ Journal.) “It opens a Pandora’s box," said Lipovetzky-Lir, "that will be the end of the [UIA].” He added that he was grateful for the support and that “we are happy that this threat to the UIA has been removed.”

In its boycott call, the RIBA contended that the Israeli association had disregarded the international body’s Resolution 13, which “condemns development projects and the construction of buildings on land that has been ethnically purified or illegally appropriated … [and] all action contravening the fourth Geneva Convention.” In response, the Israeli association wrote to the president and vice president of the RIBA stating that the IAUA “has no political agenda [and] no impact on personal stance.” The letter added that Resolution 13 “was never meant to be a tool to be used against architects or associations of architects under the aegis of the UIA.”

A group of more than 220 Palestinian architects wrote to the RIBA’s president, Stephen Hodder, asking that he “stay firm” on the boycott call, which they described as a “a crucial move in the face of illegal and unjust Israeli architectural practices that breach ethical codes,” the Architects’ Journal reported.

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