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Valuing the work of all architects

The great thing about the recent Munkenbeck and Marshall v. Kensington Hotel case is that Judge Wilcox has endorsed what everybody in our profession already accepts - everybody that is except the arb: you don't need to be a registered architect to design good buildings!

A fuller account of this litigation will be given by Sue Franklin in a future aj, but let us here consider some of its wider implications.

While stating that, under uk law, those who provide architectural services are not entitled to call themselves architects unless they are registered, Wilcox revealed the essential flaw that renders the Registration Act absurd and futile: 'There is no prohibition however against carrying out architectural work.'

We all know that despite not being registered, Zaha Hadid is held in the highest esteem around the world. Yet she could be hauled into court for calling herself an architect - if, that is, the arb would ever dare! Why do we continue with this nonsense whereby the term architect is legally denied to some of our best architects? Protection of title remains a farce!

Check out the status of our leading teachers: schosa (Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture) is increasingly attended by delegates who are not 'architects'. Helen Mallinson, Stansfield Smith's deputy for the current riba review of education and head of school at North London, is not registered, and nor is Portsmouth head Wendy Potts. Peter Salter - like Zaha, one of the outstanding architects of his generation and now head of school at East London - cannot use the title either, and there are many others . . .

In saying that our Part III exam deals with matters of project and practice management, Wilcox went on to draw a fascinating distinction which most architects (but not the arb!) also accept. In concluding that Munkenbeck and Marshall's engagement had not required 'any of the skills falling within Part III' - despite having 'involved the preparation of design . . . tender and construction' drawings, the judge affirmed that it is possible to carry out such work without having a Part III qualification - again something everybody accepts - except the arb.

In assessing the status and quality of those among Munkenbeck and Marshall's staff who were unregistered, Wilcox was satisfied that they 'were of high standard by academic qualification and practical experience', and that their pay should reflect that fact. Accordingly the judge found that the firm had been justified in charging out the time of its senior 'assistants' at the market rate for registered architects!

This conclusion has wide implications which will hopefully benefit those unqualified and underpaid staff across this country who are so disadvantaged by the consequences of the Registration Act.

The client had argued that rates of only £15 an hour for such staff were applicable. After overheads, this racks back to £5 an hour salary, or £8700 a year before tax - a disgrace even after only three years in university education, let alone five years at college and several more in practice! Brian Green, chairman of gml Architects, should be downright ashamed of himself for arguing in court that such rates were 'fair and reasonable'. Indeed, Wilcox, preferring the evidence of Peter Melvin, admonished Green severely, saying that he had lost sight of the role of an expert.

But the final, and for me delicious, irony in this case was that this tight-fisted client was represented by Mishcon De Reya, about whom I have previously written (aj 18.3.99).

Remember that firm? It was reported as charging over £2.3 million as solicitor to Princess Diana's Memorial Fund. If Alfred Munkenbeck were to apply his charging rate, as allowed by Judge Wilcox, to Mishcon de Reya's £2.3 million bill it would take him 57,500 hours to earn the fee - that is full time until 2033 when Alf will be 83!

In courageously fighting this case, Munkenbeck has at last proved that architects and architecture have real commercial value which should be properly respected and paid for. He should be heartily applauded.

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