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Getting to grips with an 'ology

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A new job title might (or might not) explain just what that person staring at the computer screen does all day

Ever wondered where the label 'architectural technologist' came from?

Most of us, I am sure, have grown up under the impression that the 'T' in BIAT (British Institute of Architectural Technologists) stood for 'technician'.

That certainly used to be the case.

A technician was someone who, in the dictionary definition, was 'skilled in the practical application of a science' - the person who 'does the details' after the fag-packet sketches have been finalised.

However, within the past five years, the job title has metamorphosed from 'technician' to 'technologist'. This has been a variation of job description by stealth.

Whereas many architects of my acquaintance just assumed that it was a new-fangled way of saying the same thing, the BIAT has now helpfully provided a definition of the titles 'architectural technician' and 'architectural technologist' to explain the difference.

An architectural technologist is defined as someone who is able to 'analyse, synthesise and evaluate design factors in order to produce design solutions which will satisfy performance, production and procurement criteria'. This, it continues, 'will be achieved through the design, selection and specification of material, components and assembly and the management, coordination, communication, presentation and monitoring of solutions which perform to the agreed brief and standards in terms of time, cost and quality.'

An architectural technician, on the other hand, is now designated as a 'person able to establish the purpose, methods and techniques for preparing detailed design solutions. This will be achieved by the preparation, coordination and communication of technical information including drawings, graphical information, reports and schedules, contributing to meeting relevant statutory regulations and controlling projects by monitoring agreed quality standards and obtaining, recording and organising information.'

It is about time that the work of the technician, (or should I say 'technologist'? ) is finally being recognised - in definitional circles at least, although whether this is matched by improved remuneration is harder to judge. Architectural technologists who perform the above duties can now apply for full membership of BIAT, but there are some technicians of over five years' standing who choose not to upgrade in title.

These new definitional differences are subtle, but emphasise the technologists' analytical and coordinating abilities within the design team and during the course of the project. So are these new definitions intended to promote the modern quest for self-esteem among HNC students, or has it got wider implications for the recognition of the work that technologists do?

In many practices, up and down the country, technicians and technologists are running jobs (maybe with a token presence from the architect to ensure insurance and client harmony) and are doing it for the same salary as an architectural assistant.

Their work involves client liaison, feasibility studies, surveys, scheme preparation, detailed drawing and site supervision - all in all, a synopsis of much of the architect's role.

Many technologists have also carved a niche for themselves as the resident computer buff: the CAD technician, the computer QA auditor, as well as the software purchaser.

And they are always the ones you go to when you want to get advice on upgrading your personal home computer - often finding out, at a cost, that they are not as savvy as everyone thought.

But, remarkably, no BIAT data exists on the numbers of technicians/technologists employed in the UK. The only statistics available concern a 1997 Labour Force study identifying 14,000 architectural technicians and 63,000 draughtsmen - remember draughtsmen?

What we do know is that the number of pupils studying design and technology at GCSE level increased by five per cent between 1998 and 1999. Meanwhile, for example, the number of pupils taking the art and design GCSE increased by one per cent.

1BIAT is forbidden by the Office of Fair Trading from setting fee guidance lest it 'distort competition'. But Hays Montrose has a database of national salary scales, identifying average salaries for 'senior technologists HNC/D [with] 10 years' experience' at £25,667, 'technologists with three years' experience at £19,583, and 'junior technologists' with HNC or BSc architectural technology qualifications at £13,583.

2BIAT has issued the definitions for the benefit of both employee and employer. Dr Elizabeth Brookfield, BIAT's education and research officer, says that in the past 'the role of the technologist was not appreciated and so we sought to clarify the position'. However, 'because we do not have restricted title', BIAT has sometimes tried 'to clamp down' on cavalier use of the term 'technologist'.

Brookfield says that it often writes to employers who are advertising for technologists to ask whether that is really what they want.

Ultimately, technologist/technicians will call themselves what they like. It all boils down to caveat emptor.


1Data from the Design Council

2 There are significant variations across the country and Hays Montrose has useful up-to-date salary information on all professions.

Contact www. haysworks. com Entries are now being accepted for BIAT's Open Award for Technical Excellence in Architectural Technology. Entrants, who may be students or practitioners, must demonstrate their technical achievement in construction with illustrated working drawings. Winners will be announced on 24 November. For more details, contact Diane Dale on 020 7278 2206.

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