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Strip ARB to bare bones, says architect body

A leading organisation representing the interests of private practice architects has urged the government to slim down the role of the ARB

The Association of Consultant Architects (ACA) has demanded that the board’s functions are stripped back to ‘the minimum necessary’ and the annual fee to architects slashed as a result.

Mirroring the revised position agreed by the RIBA last week (see AJ 21.03.14), the association said it wanted the board’s other functions such as its roles covering the code of conduct, disciplinary matters and validating courses ‘contracted’ out - possibly to the RIBA.

The announcement comes as the ARB prepares for its three yearly review by the government.

A spokesman said: ‘The scope and process of regulation should be kept to the minimum necessary for its basic function and the cost to practitioners should reflect this. While it may be appropriate to have a dedicated body to deal with maintaining the list and regulation, it is possible for the body to draw heavily on well established functions of the RIBA, particularly education, course validation and examination, as well as discipline and CPD.’

Terry Brown, ACA President said there was ‘a compelling case for eliminating costly duplication especially with education and discipline’.

Council member Alfred Munkenbeck added. ‘There is currently a ludicrous situation whereby a registered architect is subject to professional regulation but anyone unqualified may offer the same service without regulation.

‘The consumer has no equivalent protection from the unregistered suggesting the government feels that qualified architects represent a greater risk to society than unqualified designers.’

The ACA’s position statement on ARB - in full

The government, through the DCLG, has embarked on a Periodic Review of ARB. The ACA was invited to attend an initial briefing in October 2013. The review group intends to publish the outcome of its investigations in January/February 2015. The ACA will be a consultee and it was explained at the briefing that the review would comprise two stages:
Stage 1: Is regulation still valid? and Stage 2: If the answer to question one is yes, how best may the regulatory function be delivered? Since the initial briefing meeting there has been no further contact by the DCLG team.
ACA Council discussed the various issues surrounding the review at length on 15 January, 2014 and various papers and emails issued since have recorded, amplified and commented on the discussion. Inevitably, various shades of opinion were expressed. The purpose of this paper is to encapsulate a policy and propose a response to the ARB review consultation on behalf of the ACA. The issues surrounding the questions set out above are discussed here under the following headings:
1) Definition of the profession of ‘architect’ and why it might need regulation!
2) Purposes of ARB and regulation!
3) Methods of regulation
4) Regulation: a Strength Weakness Opportunities Threats [SWOT] analysis.
5) ARB and its activities
6) Possible alternative agencies of regulation!
7) Political realities
8) What the ACA believes

1) Definition of Profession of ‘Architect’ and why it might need regulation: The professional service provided by architects comprises, at core, the analysis of a client’s requirements and the drawing up of plans for a building or group of buildings to meet these requirements on a specific site; the application for necessary consents and the amplification of the plans with sufficient detail to allow procurement of the necessary constructional services to deliver appropriate quality and design intent in the completed project. Architects also administer building contracts and monitor constructional activity on site.
Central to these activities is design: the deployment by a skilled practitioner of intuitive and creative aptitudes that encompass both analytical and visionary capabilities to bring forth desirable new artefacts and environments. Buildings and their social, economic and environmental ramifications are complex and require the unique holistic sensibility & skills of a trained designer with a full understanding of the design culture and regulatory
framework of his or her time and place. This ensures built solutions that effectively comply the requirements of their clients, meet peer sustained aesthetic criteria and accommodate and fulfil, in ethical, technical and aesthetic terms, the broader public interests that they affect.
For this reason the architects education has to cover a wide range of subjects and focus on the functional, technological, economic, aesthetic and environmental issues that may be relevant to a given site and brief, as well as inculcating the design skills and sensitivities required to handle these issues competently. To ensure that aspiring architects gain the appropriate knowledge and skills, standards of education and examination have to be set and overseen by a suitably authoritative body. The scope and quality of service an architect offers is effectively ‘underwritten’ by his or her architectural education and qualifications.
The services that an architect is trained so comprehensively to provide can also be offered, to a greater or lesser extent, by those who haven’t completed such training and it can be hard for the potential client to distinguish between qualified and unqualified practitioners and establish the scope and quality of the service that they may expect from either. The maintenance of a register of qualified architects and the statutory protection of the title ‘architect’ goes some way towards clarifying the situation in favour of architects.
Such a register should not only exclude the unqualified, but should also uphold the professional performance of those who are qualified. Theoretically this both maintains the standard of what qualifies as the norm of architects’ practice and protects the public from professional malpractice.
There are also, perhaps more pragmatic, reasons for regulating the profession, such as placing it on a par with other professions and seeking to sustain a level of remuneration appropriate to the time and energy the architect has to devote to a project in order to provide a fully competent service and because of his or her investment in education as well as sensitivity, training and skills.

2) Purposes of ARB or other agents of registration and regulation: Essentially, the purpose of regulation in its current form is to ensure that the title ‘architect’ can only be adopted by those who have completed a course of education determined by an authoritative body and who have qualified through a process of examination establishing that they have acquired the necessary skills and knowledge. ARB maintains that this is its purpose and sets out the following aspects of this function:
-to keep an up to date register of architects
-to decide what qualifications are needed to become an architect
-set standards for education and professional practice
-to investigate complaints about an architect’s conduct or competence in the light of a defined code of conduct, to safeguard the public interest*
-to prevent unqualified practice: make sure that only people on the ABE register use the name ‘architect’.
[* it can be argued that a client, the reputation of the profession as a whole and/or the wellbeing of the users of a building and even the public at large may (to different degrees) be deemed to suffer as a consequence of the shortcomings of an architects behaviour through: incompetence, negligence, unethical activity, inattention to health & safety]

In principle, these functions/purposes seem to flow one from another. If it is deemed appropriate that those purporting to fulfil the function of architect should be regulated, then the two functions of (a) establishing of the criteria that determine the competence and behaviour of an architect and (b) taking steps to exclude and/or discipline those who do not meet these criteria (both those who have trained to be architects and those who have not) would seem to follow. The investigation of complaints might, however, not to be considered an essential part of the function, since clients have other recourses in this respect. With regard to competence, this can only practically be monitored through education, examination and performance. While built projects and professional reputation are the ultimate test of competence, education and qualification kick in at the beginning of professional careers, are more practically monitored and may be justified as a means of
forestalling worst cases of practical incompetence and malpractice.
3) Methods of regulation: There are essentially two forms of regulation, the first, protection of ‘function’, requires that certain activities can only be carried out by practitioners who are regulated to ensure that they have achieved and sustain the knowledge and skills that are deemed essential to the performance of their profession or trade. In certain European countries the role of the architect is protected in this way as they are required to sign off drawings of proposed projects. In the UK, regulation is restricted to more directly life threatening or potentially harmful activities such as those performed by surgeons or CORGI gas fitters.
The second is protection of ‘title’, where the adoption of a professional name is reserved to those who are registered to use it. Members of the register are qualified usually through educational examination. The term architect is regulated in this way.
The essential difference between protection of function and protection of title is that the latter does not prevent non-registered practitioners from carrying out tasks which are the province of registered practitioners. Whether protecting function or title, registers rely on adjudication of professional skills and knowledge, usually through the qualifying examinations of professional organisations, but underwritten by the Government.

4) Regulation: a SWOT analysis
Strengths

  • Perceived at grass roots as a valuable mark of status & protection
  • Emphasises social, professional status
  • Offers a recognised and respected standard for the profession of architect
  • Maintains objective criteria to be met by qualified architects

Weaknesses

  • Protection of ‘title’ does not prevent ‘unqualified’ individuals from adopting architects role and discharging function
  • Ultimately ineffectual in promoting larger practices tends to penalise architects for doing what others can do without regulation
  • Tends to gravitate to a policing role, rather than one of sustaining best practice/ unique skills
  • Focus on quality of “service” rather than quality of “product” is not in the profession’s best interest
  • Encourages low aspirations regarding architectural and design qualities

Unnecessary focus on ‘consumer protection’
Opportunities

  • Prune functions to essentials
  • Keep door open to protection of function
  • Find another more effective agent to sustain the register
  • Shift emphasis towards enabling architects to produce better buildings and environments

Threats

  • HMG does not see architects case
  • Consumer protection case hardens
  • Pressure for change can unleash unexpected outcomes worse than the status quo

5) ARB - origin & current authority

ARB, the Architects Registration Board replaced ARCUK the Architects Registration Council of the United Kingdom and is constituted through the Architects Act, 1997, which sets out the requirement for a board and and its activities including constitution, regulation and discipline. The Architects Act And ARB are administered through the DCLG.

Functions, ref. purposes of ARB/register in section (2) above

Current activities

WISH-LIST
Members directory

CORE
Maintain register
European issues & liaison

PERIPHERAL
Maintain Professional Conduct Committee

DUPLICATED and/or potentially DELEGATED
adopt and promulgate a code of conduct
prosecute cases of misrepresentation
validation of education
maintaining of code of professional conduct
specifying CPD requirements

Dysfunctions
Disproportionate time/money on PCC
Architect Board members do not have power
Expansionist programme
Process of adjudication of misrepresentation is inadequate
tendency to unnecessarily penalise architects

6) Alternative agencies!

There is a view that it is inevitable that any QUANGO such as ARB inevitably as an

empire building aspect and it seems (even in the opinion of recent and current Board

members) that over the years ARB has expanded beyond the necessary scope of its

original remit. They could be other agencies of regulation such as RIBA, ACA or someone else

Other?

7) Political realities:wh atever we might consider to be desirable in an ideal world, ACA ambitions may have to be limited by the inevitable political realities:

- Government in a ‘deregulatory’ mood
- Government preference not to go too far & time limit due to elections in 2015 therefore unlikely to disband ARB
- Government unlikely to want to repeal the Architects Act

ACA review of ARB and regulation

-Profession should not appear to be divided, i.e. ACA and RIBA opposed
-Possible impact of Red Tape Challenge
-Possible impact of self certification of Town Planning Permissions as well as Building

Regs
8) What the ACA believes

Following extended debate in Council and further comment by number of individual council

members the ACA’s response to the ARB review is as follows:

(1) Is regulation still valid? Currently, architects only have the benefit of protection of title. While, in an ideal world, the ACA believes that society deserves and would prefer to see protection of function, it has been advised that this is a wider debate than the current review committee is prepared to engage in and the ACA believes, in any case, that the government wouldn’t consider increased regulation at this time. The ACA believes that regulation should continue because at very least it is seen as offering some certainty to the public coupled with a perceived benefit to the profession, especially to single practitioners and small practices. The complete loss of a register of architects and any form of regulation would be a retrograde step for the profession in terms of perceived value and maintenance of professional standards and would mean that anybody may adopt the title architect (just as currently the case with builder) irrespective of their training or professional values. The scope and process of regulation should however be kept to the minimum necessary for its basic function and its cost to practitioners should reflect this.

While it may be appropriate to have a dedicated body to deal with regulation and listing, it is possible for the body to draw heavily on current activities of the RIBA, particularly in the area of education, course validation and examination as well as discipline and CPD. The regulatory body may need to adopt and promulgate standards for the profession to discharge its duties under the Architects Act, but such standards would effectively be those set and adjudicated by the RIBA or another existing and competent body. Duplication of standards, responsibilities and procedures discharged effectively by other bodies such as

the RIBA should be avoided at all costs.

In a nutshell, the regulatory body only needs to:

(a) represent the architectural profession within the EU
(b) maintain the register of qualified architects

Other necessary functions could draw on or be contracted out to another body, most likely

the RIBA:

(c) code of conduct
(d) discipline
(e) education

(2) If the answer to question (1) is yes, how best may the regulatory function be delivered? To answer this question, both the scope and process of the regulatory function and the appropriate agency to carry it out need to be considered. The ACA believes that the ARB, in its current form, is overly bureaucratic, has extended its scope of operation beyond what the Architect Act requires, appears often to be prejudiced against architects in its handling of complaints and is not fully effective in protecting title. The perceived role of ARB as a consumer protection body is a duplication of function, as other legal and statutory instruments are in place to deal with this. While the term “architect” should reflect a standard of education and professional behaviour, unless regulation reflects protection function, architects are unfairly adjudicated for services that others can discharge free of regulation. It would be perfectly possible for complaints against architects to be dealt with, albeit judged against a code of conduct promulgated by ARB, by conciliation, arbitration or in the courts as is currently possible.

The ACA seriously questions whether the current constitution of the ARB board will allow the scope and emphasis of its activities to be revised in line with the more limited (But also more focused) remit outlined in our answer to question (1) above. If the ARB is to continue to handle regulation of architects, the ACA believes that the scope of its activities should be along the lines we have set out in answer to question (1), but that revision of its constitution may also be required to ensure clarity in its objectives and ensure avoidance of expansionist tendencies and duplication of functions.

As an alternative, as a means of optimising, indeed minimising the size and scope of the regulatory body (even as an alternative to the ARB itself), the functions of regulation of title could be “managed” by another, preferably existing, organisation such as the RIBA or the ACA, who would be obliged to distinguish “registered architects” from members of their own organisation. This can be reflected in a form of “staged” fees so that the cost of registration to the practitioner more effectively reflects the cost mainly of maintaining the register and he or she may decide whether the further cost of complete membership of the professional organisation is worthwhile.

 

 

 

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