'So', I asked my cabbie as we escaped the acrid stench of aviation fuel that drenches terminal buildings on a recent visit to New Zealand, 'how long have you lived in here?'
His story is common and tragic. Escaping the nightmare of Bosnia, Alek had sought refuge with his family in Wellington, but their new found peace had been gained at a high price to his own successful career.
Alek had been a respected doctor specialising in accident trauma. As with many architects his work was his life, but in leaving Bosnia he exchanged the drama of casualty for the tedium of the taxi-rank.
His plight is all about transferability or 'portability' of professional qualifications:
only medics whose training is recognised by New Zealand can register for practice there. In this respect, the English speaking 'first world' has generally established 'accord' procedures that enable movement between their countries, subject of course to immigration rules and work permits. Some non-English speaking states also enjoy such arrangements but for professionals from second and third world countries opportunities are restricted.
Alek's predicament takes me to the heart of the RIBA's ambitions in its international overseas validation work. For while, with the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA), our institute currently validates over 30 per cent of the world's architectural student population, the RIBA is continuing to expand this service ever wider.
The RIBA/CAA activities comprise three areas. Firstly, validation of the schools within the Commonwealth (substantially carried out by the CAA on behalf of RIBA). Secondly, validation of some 23 schools from a growing list of universities in 'non-Commonwealth' countries which seek the RIBA's 'endorsement'.
These range as far afield as Chile, Finland, Switzerland, Russia and the US. Finally, there are the 35 schools within the UKwhich the RIBA validates jointly with the ARB and CAA.
Such endeavours respond to both the RIBA's charter for the advancement of architecture and the Union of International Architects (UIA)'s intent that global standards in education should be improved. They also underpin the UIA's mission to create 'portable' qualifications in architecture which is of crucial importance to the less fortunate countries who can find the odds weighed against them in the global market place.
For such 'disadvantaged' countries, recognition by the RIBA enables their schools to compete for foreign students, and to deliver an internationally accepted qualification. It also enables students to transfer, during training, within the global network of 'approved schools'. (An RIBA Part 1 equivalent qualification in Manizales in Colombia can provide entry into a Part 2 course in Sydney and vice versa).
Finally, graduates from these countries can compete in the world market as salaried architects, while their local offices can vie for work internationally and, indeed, at home where inward investment (or financial aid) is often conditional upon internationally recognised qualifications.
The RIBA and CAA approach is, however, frustrated by local registration bodies such as the ARB and its American equivalents whose dogmatic refusal to accept the principle of portable qualifications relates more to old fashioned protectionism than any genuine desire to maintain appropriate standards.
No course outside America is deemed good enough to qualify an architect to practice in the US! Even Michael Wilford is obliged to work through joint partnership with a US office as his competence is disingenuously challenged by our American friends. And if he chose to emigrate to the US, he would suffer the same fate as Alek: his RIBA qualification wouldn't entitle him to practice.
The purpose of my visit 'down under' was to speak at the joint CAA/New Zealand Institute of Architects'conference which hosted among many interesting talks, memorable contributions from Andy Bow, Ken Yeang, and Ian Athfield. And of course Will Bruder of Arizona whose charisma earned him a TV interview which was the talk of the cabbies on our return trip to the airport!
Bright people, cabbies!