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Americans one problem in troubled ARB empire

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Like many readers, I imagine, I turn first to Paul Hyett's column. It is so refreshing that someone in a leadership position does not look first to compromise or surrender in the face of hostility to the profession or the riba, and covers the professional scene with cogency, common sense and, at times, courage.

His latest article (aj 25.11.99), whilst agreeably teasing our American colleagues over here, highlights two important issues. First, the World Trade Organisation's deliberations on liberalisation are continuing at the ministerial conference in Seattle and will affect professional services, in-cluding architecture. In this area as in others, the us needs to convince other nations that its interest in free trade is not simply commercial and cultural imperialism wearing another face: the American Institute of Architects and ncarb must play their part in that, not least by lessening the barriers put up for overseas architects by the cumbersome state and federal registration system with its rebarbative box-ticking examinations.

Secondly, however, Hyett's article is concerned by implication to show up the fact that we have a less-than-satisfactory state of affairs in the uk following the bungled reform of registration arrangements. It is not just a question of American architects (poor innocents) sinning by putting 'aia' after their names if not registered (and presumably, all other members of overseas professional bodies working in this country). But also the wider arb empire building exemplified, ironically, in the same issue's interview with its chairwoman. She indicates quite starkly, despite all the talk about peace breaking out, that validation is now the sole prerogative of the arb and goes on to talk about an expanding role, to include what appears very like a national curriculum for architectural education. As indicated in a previous letter, I doubt if the Act with its sole reference to prescribing qualifications will bear such an interpretation , but nobody can now say that the riba and the schools have not publicly been shown the writing on the wall.

I believe that if the quango registration bodies are allowed full rein they will ossify and undermine architectural curricula, free trade and professional independence nationally and internationally. This is a danger that the aia and riba (and other countries' professional bodies) should tackle together - and, for a start, what are the architect members of the arb, soon to face an election, doing about these issues?

Peter Gibbs-Kennet,

Bisley, Gloucestershire

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