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CAD and public indemnity insurance feature in this week's Chatroom, which, with the online discussion forum at ajplus. co. uk, is the place to ask for expert advice and join in key topics of debate. We welcome emails, letters and online comments, queries, criticism or requests for information No job too small for CAD We have received many contributions in response to Darren Graisby's query on whether CAD is suitable for small jobs and sole practitioners (AJ 21.6.01). Here we air a few.

Do you agree?

There is hardware and software available for the smaller architectural practice at a very reasonable price. It can be mastered in two days, providing one has the motivation and a reasonable budget.

As an architect and a sole practitioner, I can say unequivocally that computer-aided design (CAD) is the most productive 'tool' - and has proved its worth in my practice for the past 12 years.

It is difficult to be precise regarding productivity, but I believe that I can execute five projects for every one that I used to draw with a clutch pencil, and then inked in on the drawing board. In some cases, a repetitive multi-storey elevation can be produced on a computer in 15 minutes which may have taken seven hours on the drawing board. No longer does one have to laboriously copy lintels, sanitary fittings, doors, windows and the like from the manufacturer's catalogue.

One simply obtains the manufacturer's CDROM and transfers the images into the CAD file in seconds. For me it has benefited every facet of architectural practice.

Having used both PC and Macintosh, I would suggest the Mac, being graphics based, is preferable to a PC, and much easier to understand. A new Imac costs in the region of £700, and second-hand PowerMacs can be had for as little as £300. An inkjet A2 printer for drawings (which will also print A3 and A4) can be obtained for as little as £500.

I have changed to Bentley Microstation, mainly because it is so intuitive to use, and in my opinion far superior to AutoCAD. This can be obtained for £400 with a user certificate. However, a full 2D/3D package could cost more than this if purchased from a reseller.

For many years I slaved at the drawing board; now I delight in running a one-man architectural practice in which the computer offers a whole new dimension.

John Kennedy RIBA, Dorset.

We couldn't recommend VectorWorks (or MiniCAD as it used to be) on Macs highly enough.

Two self-taught CAD partners and a host of other people who have come though our ranks have picked up its user-friendly interface very quickly. It is also cheap for a CAD programme, has various 3D and rendering 'bolt-ons' if you want them and, as with all Mac-friendly stuff, you can cut and paste from lots of programmes into VectorWorks.

I believe it is also available for PCs.

We use it for all our projects, which vary from the occasional small domestic fit-out to £3 million projects.

Jenny Goss, O'Leary & Goss, Bristol Linen request gets results Austin Williams writes: Further to the query by Mr Heriz-Smith (AJ 21.6.01) for information regarding draughting linen, we have received several responses from people offering to help.

Mr Haynes of Haynes Surveyors in North Road, Hull, supplies the complete picture:

'Draughting linen is Egyptian linen coated with wax, used in drawing offices pre-1970s, he says. 'We would often boil the material to wash off the wax and use it for hankies! It is semi-transparent, and could just about be used for overlays. It came in 50-yard rolls, for cutting off double-elephant portions for the drawing board.

'When you started a drawing you had to complete it on the same day because the material would shrink overnight, ' explains Mr Haynes. Both faces had to be rubbed with pounce to make it suitable for drawing on with mapping pens.

Mr Haynes says he has a quantity of the material available and we have passed the details on to Mr Heriz-Smith.

ARB is in need of restraint The Privy Council's appointment of Judge Humphrey Lloyd to the board of the Architects Registration Board will be good news if he is able to restrain it from exceeding its statutory powers.

At its February meeting, the board decided to require all those applying to renew their registration in January 2002 to sign a declaration stating that they have public indemnity insurance (PII) cover, and to provide documentary evidence of this from January 2003.

The ARB's cunning plan is to change its code of conduct so that not having PII is deemed to be unprofessional, and failing to make the required declaration can be treated as failing to undertake to abide by the code.

The ARB's demands, however, will be ultra vires. While learned practitioners still advise that, if there is no statutory prohibition, a particular course of action is within the powers of a statutory body, an 1875 House of Lords decision means a statutory corporation can do only that which it is expressly empowered to do by statute. Statutory bodies, such as the ARB, must exercise their powers reasonably, but it is not necessarily the case that something reasonable or to the advantage of the public is within their powers.

While it is reasonable and to the advantage of the public that registered persons have adequate PII cover, it is not within the ARB's powers to make it a requirement of admission to, or retention on, the register.

Section 4(1)(a) of the Architects' Act states simply that persons are entitled to be registered if they hold such qualifications and have gained such practical experience as may be prescribed. No regulations made by the ARB can override that provision.

Unprofessional conduct must be investigated in accordance with the requirements of section 14 of the Act, and the only penalties available are those specified in sections 15-18. A person without PII might be fined or even suspended for a period not exceeding two years, but cannot be denied entry to the register.

The simple truth is that to make PII a condition of registration, the Architects Act must be amended. This will not happen any time soon. Indeed, in the light of the new regulatory regimes to be imposed on the medical, legal and accountancy professions, it is possible that the architectural profession could be regulated in the consumers' interest on the same model. That would mean scrapping the Architects Act, which merely affords the profession limited protection of title, in favour of a regime that, at long last, would give architects protection of function.

Maurice McCarthy, Dorset

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