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Is registration really worth the candle?

Thumbing through my local Thompson Directory, my eyes fell upon the section entitled 'Architects'. We all know the story - here among the legitimate entries of respectable practices is a long list of the non-registered - although in some cases it is very difficult to tell. For example, 'Praxis Architecture' - does the tell-tale use of the suffix indicate to those in the know that these are pretenders masquerading as architects but not qualified? And what of 'Cube', or 'atp Group Partnership', or 'Chana, Mr K S', or 'Cochrane McGregor' or 'Blanchard Building Services'?

Well, Cube, atp and Kewal Singh Chana are all registered architects, and so is 'Praxis Architecture'. Blanchard Building Services is, perhaps obviously, not. In the case of Cochrane McGregor, the principals are not registered but some members of the practice are. The arb insists, in these circumstances, that each architectural project must be carried out under the independent direction of an architect.

Establishing just who is, and who isn't, properly qualified is clearly complicated. For example, despite Yellow Pages' policy of including only registered architects, the charming but somewhat cagey Mr Tom Verebes manages to get his firm Ocean uk listed, yet he is not qualified.

To find out whether the members of a practice are architects, a prospective client must first obtain the partners' names, and then check them with the Architects Registration Board. It's all very confusing for the consumer - so much so that it begs the question as to why we bother to retain registration at all.

So what of poor Mr Kewal Singh Chana who, despite serving his full seven years at Northern Polytechnic, maintaining pi, and submitting to the strict standards of the arb Code of Conduct, finds himself cheek by jowl with the non-registered? Why should he pay a registration fee, meet the costs of insurance, and comply with onerous performance standards when his registration board cannot even protect the title architect?

Protecting title is, of course, not easy, and the more enthusiastically the arb presses on with its expensive prosecutions, the higher our registration fees will soar. Pursuing hundreds upon hundreds of unregistered names is a ridiculous proposition, so perhaps if the arb cannot be more effective, it should simply give up this charade.

As the arb cannot protect title, isn't it sensible to reconsider registration? For the misrepresentation that exists in every telephone directory in this land makes, as we all know, a mockery of the whole business.

But don't forget: it is at the level of the local directory that the arb claims to be most needed, for it knows that any client who wants a new dome, college building, law court or opera house will not thumb through the Yellow Pages in search of an architect. The individual consumer who wants his house extended will - and this is the very group that the arb professes foremost to protect.

As a consequence, it is properly qualified local practitioners like Mr Chana who are most exposed to complaints to the arb, not our established major practices - and, obviously, not Mr Verebes of Ocean uk. Therefore, as long as the arb continues to demand registration fees, Mr Chana deserves to be properly served by a Registration Board which can, at the very least, ensure that his slot in the local directory is restricted solely to qualified architects.

If the arb cannot, for whatever reason, do that effectively, it should surely shut up shop. At present, it is simply wasting our money with its futile efforts to enforce what is an obviously unenforceable law.

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