I was not surprised to receive criticism from some UK academics about my column describing RIBA/CAA 'overseas' validation work (AJ 18.5.00). This service contributes substantially towards raising standards worldwide in architectural education, assisting schools and their graduates, as well as offices within disadvantaged countries, in their efforts to compete in the international market.
In today's global economy, it is easy for Western countries to extend the divide between the 'haves'and the 'have-nots' with barriers to exchange of professional services.
No country behaves with greater callousness and greed in this area than the USA and it is of course right that the RIBA and CAA, who together validate some 30 per cent of the world's architecture courses, stand firm against such modern day commercial 'imperialism'.
So, to those academics who argue that the RIBA should curtail its overseas activities in order to safeguard the £17 million of fees generated by the 2200 foreign students who study architecture here, I say that such protectionism is both immoral and counterproductive. The 'secure' markets of the old empire contributed substantially to the decline of British trade as our home-based industries soaked up undeserved profits from 'dumping' badly made and poorly designed products into captive colonial markets. Our universities are extremely competitive - they must not be allowed to go the same way!
But for those who genuinely believe that 'portable' qualifications put British 'consumers' at risk, let me set out the counter-arguments.
Two groups of 'foreign' architects need consideration: first, established off-shore practices operating here from their overseas base or in their UK office. Subject to reciprocal trading agreements, which the Americans (despite getting ever fatter in London) meanly reject, such firms should be welcomed in the spirit of international co-operation and trade.
For this group, technical and administrative competence is surely beyond question, and anyway, our courts can deal with any 'claims' providing appointment terms are based on UK law and PI cover is available.
Secondly, architects trained abroad who seek UK employment or wish to practice here.
Again, they should be welcome, subject to having obtained appropriate work permits, just as we would wish to see UK graduates properly received overseas. But to ensure that both clients and the reputation of our profession are protected, it is particularly important these architects are adequately trained and qualified. This is why an international validation service is essential.
Regarding 'portable' qualifications, we should consider which, if any, of the following areas require domain-specific knowledge and skills: design (the organisation of space and aesthetics); technology (environment/ materials/ construction); legislative controls (building standards/ regulations); and contracts/administration (procurement etc. ).
In a free market, design should surely be left to client choice. With respect to technology, any properly trained architect will respond well to local materials and methods - indeed such challenges are pleasurable. And anyway, it's both disingenuous and arrogant for those many British schools that have presided over a general drift away from teaching technology to suddenly express concern about the technical capability of architects educated overseas, which frequently exceeds ours!
Legislation and contract administration may provide stronger arguments for 'domainspecific training', but again it is notable that the Americans operate here without apparent problems. Indeed, their attractiveness to larger clients is probably because of their strong skills in project management. Of course, that may be little comfort for clients of small jobs who would prefer to be reassured through their architect at least having gained RIBA Part 3 here.
Well, perhaps, but I would rather that the ARB register contain a simple designation against the name of architects trained overseas.
In this way, the consumer has both choice and notification. After that, if he wishes to employ an architect trained outside these shores, but under an internationally validated course, that surely, is a matter for him.