Pedra Silva Arquitectos Founding Partner Luis Pedra Silva has accepted an invitation to run for the position of Lisbon (Lisboa Vale do Tejo) Branch President of the Portuguese Board of Architects. The business owner has led a global architecture practice for more than 17 years. In that time, he has built a solid international brand with a sophisticated signature mark – often partnering with artists and artisan designers – delivering highly unique and progressive projects. The firm has specialised in several key areas including Dental & Healthcare, Commercial Office, Hospitality, Leisure, Housing and Retail sector. And while its portfolio spans three continents it has also been responsible for managing many prestigious domestic projects including the likes of Google, OLX, Fraunhofer and Adidas commercial offices.
Mr Silva, who has a relatively low profile within the national architecture landscape, has until now operated on the fringes. However, he believes this is the right time to emerge from the shadows and help direct Portugal’s Board of Architects which could benefit from an ‘outsiders view’ from years of working beyond borders.
As he prepares to launch his campaign trail there are several key policies in a packed manifesto which have caught the attention including the introduction of ‘Standard Contracts’ to promote best practice and operational uniformity nationwide, as well as a ‘Ratings System’ to identify key threats to the industry and guide future trends. Meanwhile, Mr Silva believes the sector would benefit from a clearer ‘Code of Ethics’ to protect employees rights while his wide-ranging international experience places him in poll position to lead a new ‘Export Charge’ ramping up the profile of ‘Brand Portugal’ overseas. He believes an ‘Open Door’ policy will help engender a more supportive environment for members while increased dialogue will be essential in uniting the fragmented chamber regions – which recently splintered from two zones to seven.
Ultimately however, Mr Silva’s overarching mission remains plain and simple – to ensure the Board clearly reflects the trade it represents – being a hive of activity, buzzing with positive energy, driven by a creative and collaborative ethos.
Here he outlines key areas he plans to address if successful in securing the position on June 26.
- Can you outline the structure of the Portuguese Board of Architects, and provide context for the upcoming elections?
The Portuguese Board of Architects was established in 1998 as an official body representing architects nationwide. Originally, it comprised of two sections – one in the North (SRN) and one in the South (SRS) – which were relatively autonomous, running alongside a separate national body (CDN). If you were to compare it to the UK, there is RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) RIBA which manages the promotion of British architecture, awards, training, debates and exhibitions etc. RIBA works in tandem with the ARB (Architects Registration Board) which is appointed by the Government to carry out regulatory and disciplinary matters ensuring architects practice to a certain standard. The Portuguese Board of Architects manages both remits, rather than two autonomous bodies.
The national governing body (CDN) recently broke down the North and South sections into seven sections – Northern, Central, Vale of the Lisbon River (Lisboa Vale do Tejo), Alentejo, Algarve, Azores and Madeira. This was largely due to the fact that architects work so closely with city municipalities, and there are 350plus in Portugal. Until now if an architect in the Azores needed to contact the Portuguese Board of Architects, they would have to go through the Lisbon branch. So this move will see small offices located within each region with a group of people undertaking training and providing support more closely aligned to architects practising within these localities.
Every three years an election is held to appoint a president for each of the seven branches, as well as the overall national president. I recently received an invitation to stand for the Lisbon section with voting taking place on June 26. Each branch president has a budget and needs to deliver a programme in line with what the constituents require, and if you want to change a law this needs to go through the national body.
However, there remains a big challenge – in the past the northern and southern sections have gradually detached. Imagine the difficulties which will arise with seven regional sections. This is a gamechanger and whoever is going to be governing will need to focus on unity and really reflect on the main interests of architects and architecture. It could work very well but requires real political maturity and less ego.
- What is your key motivation for standing in this election?
Just recently the Northern area carried out a study to assess all the issues confronting architects – low wages, challenging working conditions etc… The aim of the analysis was to inform a strategic plan for the coming years. However, the study was hammered because it was only carried out in the north and considered regionally biased. Much of the criticism was unconstructive. Rather than entirely dismiss the report it would perhaps have been more sensible to identify this as a foundation on which to build, with greater acknowledgement of the hard work and effort. The study could be rolled out nationwide and become more representative, extending beyond the region. The point is, we should avoid a culture where you are ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’, where people are fearful of contributing, and worse still, where great ideas are stifled and burn out. This approach ultimately creates a vacuum, void of energy and ideas. I believe the Board should be entirely reflective of our trade – a hive of activity, buzzing with positive energy, driven by a creative and collaborative ethos.
In essence, this is one of my main motivating factors for standing. In many ways I am an outsider, and not especially plugged into the Portuguese system. In that respect, I have complete impartiality and may find it easier to unite people and create a culture more centred around collaboration and teamwork. I am not here for any personal gain. I have built a successful brand over many years by looking outwards with positivity and ambition – celebrating and sharing the work of our Portuguese architects and exporting our skills overseas. In this sense I am an independent candidate who can offer a fresh perspective. Moreover, I am passionate about creating an environment were people feel confident and rewarded for sharing ideas. In my experience the best results come through close collaboration and teamwork which help maximise the creative process. In that regard I would like for all candidates who are running in this election with great ideas, but do not win, to continue contributing and for these ideas to be incorporated and carried forward, to create a better working environment. The Board will be infinitely stronger if we work as a whole rather than regional silos and competitive isolation.
- What are the Board’s key responsibilities?
The chamber has two fundamental roles. Firstly, to communicate the importance of architecture to society. This includes protecting architecture in the public realm and removing obstacles that impede the ability to deliver great architecture. For this they need to be really attentive with a public dialogue exposing situations where architects and architecture is under attack. We have had instances in Lisbon where prime plots of land should have been earmarked as ‘golden opportunities’ to showcase Portuguese national architecture. These plots can be used to illustrate how architects can manage the built environment in a progressive and dynamic way to accommodate people’s requirements and needs the 21st century. However, we still see little debate. The city council may have complex legal issues around real estate, but we can still combine public interest of architect and real estate concerns, to get a good deal for agents and society. Too often there are missed opportunities with architectural designs selected on cost ahead of quality because of a lack of dynamism and engagement. This ultimately results in basic developments which do not adequately promote the calibre of local architects. Moreover, a lack of public debate leads society to think architects and unimportant, disengaged and add little value. The Board would benefit from voluntary think tanks where members could brainstorm and develop innovative architectural solutions for areas with the greatest developmental potential across the nation. I would also encourage more dialogue between the Board and city councils/ mayoral offices, stimulating healthy discussion and debate. If leading authorities are not treating the built environment with the respect it should be, it is our duty to intervene. We need to be able to defend the architectural sector, so the public fully understands the importance of our trade. The built environment is only going to become increasingly important in the years to come and if we do not focus on designing and constructing healthy and sustainable places to exist it will affect us all in the long run.
Secondly, the chamber has an important ambassadorial role. It must ensure operational uniformity across its members, so as all architects adhere to a certain set of standards with consistent messaging and delivery to end users. There needs to be a firm guarantee on the quality of architecture between peers. This is where a disciplinary board comes into play, and issues like ‘Standard Contracts’. There is so much work to be done and I feel the Board would benefit greatly from a fresh perspective and outlook to help alter the status quo. I am a person of dialogue and would look to work with people across all spectrums to encourage a more cohesive and collaborative approach. I’m not interested in bald criticism – I’m interested in constructive debate and developing great ideas. I’m also not interested in simply promoting my ideas or taking ownership of other people’s ideas. I’m more interested by working in consensus to identify the best ideas and to refine them through positive and constructive teamwork.
- What are your other key policies?
In the architectural field there is a lot of exploitation concerning poor pay, working conditions and long hours. In that sense I believe our industry would benefit from a clearer ‘Code of Ethics’ which promote better working practices. This does not exempt firms from criticism, but criticism must be constructive geared towards positive change. I’ve always maintained that our team is the most important asset within our business, and a prerequisite to our success, so I am passionate about the creating a fully integrated and respectful working environment. Pedra Silva Architects has been built from the ground up with zero outside influence. We have strived for every inch of success and have worked tirelessly as a team to build our brand. It is because of our attitude, ethics and outlook that we have achieved notable success overseas exporting the best of Portuguese architecture. We are passionate supporters of our national architecture sector and believe in sharing experiences and best practice to encourage more firms to expand internationally, while driving industry improvements. More can be done to promote Portugal’s world-class architecture and architects on the global stage. Our market is actually very small, yet we have a product which is infinitely exportable, and more colleagues could be working across broader markets, in turn sharing knowledge and experiences.
Practices also need to carefully consider how we build a future for architects in this country because there are many challenges in the pipeline. I am keen to see the introduction of a new ‘Ratings System’ which helps the Board identify key threats to architects, for instance issues regarding salaries, working hours, sick leave, women’s rights in the workplace, harassment, maternity leave. If architects don’t have an area where they can address these issues, we cannot shine a spotlight and find appropriate solutions to tackle them. We need to find ways to elegantly expose exploitation in the workplace.
- What makes you stand out in this election?
In many respects I am an outsider in this election race, who offers something new – a fresh perspective. For many years I was involved in RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) events in the UK and overseas and I have noted many cultural differences in how these organisations are run and how receptive and forthcoming they are to their members. When I graduated there were five faculties of architecture and it got to a stage when there 20plus. If you look at the architecture body in Portugal, the people in my age bracket and upwards are in a very small triangle, and below is a massive part of the pyramid full of young architects who are open to change and evolution. There is no space for ‘status quo’. My door needs to be open for everyone who has a problem which needs to be addressed, and the chamber needs to be a place where people feel at home. People have advocated this in the past but it has never really been achieved I can recall approaching a former president and experiencing the resistance first hand because of the status quo, yet at RIBA I was invited to tea by the president (Ruth Reed) and exchanged ideas in her office. I feel the Board requires more leaders who are not part of the traditional establishment, who can offer a fresh perspective based on experience of doing things differently.
Lisbon’s stock continues to rise rapidly as a world-class capital city with unparalleled history and stunning architecture – both old and new. In recent years it has developed a reputation for urban evolution and innovation becoming a hotbed for start-ups, digital nomads, advanced technology, renewable energy and green infrastructure. Meanwhile the tourism and hospitality trade, which has always been synonymous with southern Portugal, gathers greater pace in the capital. I am keen for the Lisbon branch of the Portuguese Board of Architects to have greater prominence in this narrative, which is gaining increasing traction on an international scale. Through experience, I would look to ensure our world-class architecture and architects achieve the recognition and profile they deserve.