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American architects are making a mockery of UK

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Letters

So, the AJ is now regularly awash with news of the continuing success of American practices operating within the UK market.

Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (3.5.01) celebrates its new commission - £25 million of HQ offices for Railtrack - while Koetter Kim last week showed its £13.5 million health club planned at Canary Wharf, that other great American gravy train.

But will readers remember that Mr Pedersen has recently been investigated by the ARB over alleged misuse of title in this country, along with eight fellow citizens from a range of practices including HOK, Gensler and Swanke Hayden Connell?

The point here is that the ongoing activities of 'architects' who practise in this country, using the suffix of their own institutes, make a complete mockery of UK registration laws that protect the title architect in the interest of the consumer.

Make no bones about it, the Americans think consumer protection is essential, which is why AIA (American Institute of Architects) corporate membership is restricted to those who are registered with their state licensing boards - an issue currently under consideration by the RIBA.

Furthermore, American architects effectively enjoy protection of function whereas their British counterparts struggle within the farcical alternative of protection of title (anyone can act as an architect here, but only those registered can use the title).

Result: American firms advertise extensively within the RIBA Directory of Practices, listing within the 2000 edition non-registered practitioners, while professional fees of some £27 million relating to £540 million of construction work are taken out of the UK market to service merely the American staff within American offices operating here.

Yes, I know these are intelligent guesses at 'quantum' but the AIA London chapter refuses - in a manner more akin to a secret society - to release details of its membership quota. And the British? We roll over, make room, act fair and struggle to gain a smaller share of a diminishing market.

Sour grapes. No! I am absolutely committed to global free trade - but only under fair conditions of reciprocity. The Americans need to understand that nonsense about federal difficulties cuts no ice: we don't like ugly trade protectionism either in the UK or Europe. With our European colleagues we are committed to open markets.

Conversely, we need to understand that the Americans genuinely fear that Europeans want access to US markets for a profession that pays only lip service to public safety - which then takes us straight back to the issues of education and training.

Well, dear American friends, there can be no issue of safety that is of greater importance than ecological sustainability:

an area where your own record threatens not only the future of your citizens but that of the entire world's population.

In contrast, obligations towards this agenda are incorporated, in groundbreaking fashion, within our registration board's code of conduct for architects. The sooner you come to the table to talk seriously with us about working with integrity and commitment towards achieving reciprocal arrangements - with all that this involves - the better for us all.

Make no mistake, this argument will not go away: it will fester until we find a fair and decent way forward.

Meanwhile, we know all too well that your balance sheet profits from the stalemate that prevails.

Paul Hyett, chairman, Ryder

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