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This summer many of my friends, who I regard as talented and committed architects, passed their Part 3 professional practice exams. However, surprisingly, just as many failed.

Why is it so difficult to acquire one's professional architectural qualification in the UK? What is it that drives us to do it and what does it really mean to become a professional architect in the UK?

Part 3 is a curiously elusive beast. Due to the eccentricities of the architectural education system, many young graduates come out of their Part 2 without a sense of what their professional exams entail, as it is barely touched on in diploma school. Dazed and without a central impartial comparative information portal which gives one an overview of Part 3, these young professionals stumble blindly through the tomes of prospectuses and complex websites to try and quantify what Part 3 is. Many end up relying wholly on hushed whispers within their architectural peer group from graduates who have only a rudimentary understanding of the matter. As a result, before they know it many find themselves enrolled on a Part 3 course wholly unsuited to their experience or work patterns.

I felt this acutely myself during the enrolment interview for my Part 3 course, when I was told, in no uncertain terms, that my American experience (where I practised for a year) wouldn't count and that unless I left the large urban practice - where I was working on some fantastic projects - to get the 'right' type of 'architectural' experience, I didn't stand a chance of getting my Part 3.

However, as it turns out, both these comments were incorrect. Six months of my American experience legally can count and it is possible, with certain courses, to base your case study on package work on a large project. There are a plethora of great courses out there offering everything from a three-week intensive course to longer courses, some of which can be officebased (Oxford Brookes) or correspondence courses offering flexible learning, similar to Open University study methods (North West region).

But, in the cold light of day, what does the Part 3 qualification actually represent?

In Germany, as in many other countries, being an architect entitles you to certain protected functions:

for example, the right to submit specific types of planning applications. Currently in the UK there are no protected functions for an architect. Both 'architects' and 'designers' can submit a planning application.

In the UK, from a purely legal perspective, Part 3 simply gives you greater liability and a heavy bill of insurance and professional fees.

So why do we do it?

Perhaps because there is an overriding feeling that taking your Part 3 is an intrinsic part of becoming a working, living, breathing part of the world of the built environment. In reality, taking your Part 3, in my opinion, simply gives you a licence to learn the tools of the professional trade. For want of a better analogy, Part 3 is like taking your driving test; it doesn't make you a good driver but it gives you an overview of how you could become one. It gives you an understanding of the implications of architecture in both the physical and legal sense and, most importantly, an understanding of your responsibilities to others, the client, rather than to simply yourself, the designer. How you decide to practise after this, however, is a different matter.

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