On this week's letters page (pages 18-19), Craig Douglas of Douglas and King Architects points an accusing finger at CABE for decreeing that architects serving on its design panel should not expect to be paid; a variation on the familiar clarion call to architects to protect their value in the marketplace by refusing to give away their time and expertise. The argument that architects should exercise some sort of collective bargaining power by refusing to carry out unpaid work rests on the understanding that architecture is not simply a collection of rival traders but a collective entity with collective interests; a Profession with a capital P.
A defining characteristic of any profession is that it acts as the custodian of a body of shared knowledge and experience which is continuously replenished by the interchange of information and ideas. This is the principle which compels architects to ignore the usual rules of economic engagement in their dealings with each other and to speak at conferences, publish research, contribute to journals, serve on committees, judge awards. Employers shoulder responsibility for engaging and educating year-out students, as opposed to exploiting them for maximum monetary gain; the president of the RIBA carries out the demands of office for no financial reward.
While the motivation for such acts of public service ranges from egotism to altruism (with vague notions about market-positioning and profile-raising lurking somewhere in-between), there is a strong sense that serving the profession is important in its own right.
It is certainly true that architects are far too willing to give away their time and expertise, and that there are plenty of unscrupulous characters who are only too willing to accept. But surely we have to draw a distinction between providing free or cut-price services in a bid to undercut the competition, and pooling expertise for the profession's greater good.