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Royal Institute of British Architects in 'racism row'

CONTROVERSY: Royal Institute of British Architects on Portland Place in London (Photo credit: Anthony Palmer/Alamy)

ELSIE OWUSU OBE, the first chair of the Society of Black Architects, has been given a cease and desist letter following a race row at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The honorary secretary of RIBA issued the "gagging order" after Owusu made allegations of institutional discrimination and racism at the organisation.

The letter was sent to Ms Owusu after she openly questioned the £180,000-a-year salary of Chief Executive Alan Vallance.

Officials have argued that her “flagrant breach of confidentiality, is unsubstantiated and is damaging to RIBA and its chief executive officer.”

Kerr Robertson, who penned the letter, said that Owusu had breached the guidelines for RIBA presidential elections “in a serious and repeated fashion.”

He continued: “These public statements are very damaging to RIBA’s reputation. I am therefore obliged to ask that you cease and desist from making further, damaging public statements about the RIBA, whether in the press, on social media or any other public forum."

Owusu, who was born in Ghana, hopes to become the first black president in the institute's 184-year history. If she wins, Owusu will serve a two-year term as RIBA president.


PICTURED: Elsie Owusu

In an interview, she told the Telegraph: “People at RIBA tend to think I am talking about people putting masked sheets over their heads and burning crosses on other people’s lawns, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”

Owusu continued: “I’m talking about unconscious bias which results in some people of whatever stripe having a poorer relationship with the profession than others.”

The 65-year-old was unsuccessful in becoming vice-president in 2015, which she put down to a “tantamount to institutionalised racism”.

She said: “It does seem to be that when people take office at RIBA they become something else. They change from being nice fluffy creative architects to being, just bossy and sometimes downright unpleasant.”

In response to Ms Owusu's claims, a RIBA spokesperson said: "Like any long-standing institution, the RIBA has weathered many changes and had to adapt to the times.

We know there’s more we can be doing to update our own governance and processes, to ensure all members feel represented and that we are fit for the future; this work is already underway at the Institute.”

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