The Architects' Registration Board is to lay its quiet, back-room image to rest and become a much more visible, proactive organisation in response to survey findings branding it as 'remote' and 'invisible'.
The survey of 1,800 architects, as well as consumer groups and clients, shows that the ARB has to do a lot to raise its profile - 64 per cent of corporate clients had not even heard of it.
'There is now a question over how much the ARB should be a small, quiet body reluctant to blow its own trumpet, ' said chief executive Robin Vaughan as he revealed the survey results. 'One of the things the ARB has tried hard to do is to get on quietly with its statutory duties. That seemed the right and proper thing to do because we had no desire to drive up costs. But we need to reconsider our position in the light of the fact that the profession seems to be saying they want a higher profile for the board, ' he added.
The 126-question survey was drawn up by a series of focus groups and the answers have shaken Vaughan, who was surprised at many of the findings. The standard of architectural education came in for a particular mauling.
Elspeth Clements, partner with Clements & Porter Architects and a former council member of ARB predecessor ARCUK, agreed the board should pursue a higher profile and a more aggressive role: 'We've got the RIBA saying they aren't a trade union for architects and the ARB saying they are there for consumer protection. There's nothing in the middle.'
Clements said that, in the interests of consumer protection, Vaughan could engage in lobbying activities as a way of extending its brief. The ARB should press the government to change the law and force everyone making a planning application to get their submission signed off by an architect, she said.
Amanda Levete, partner in Future Systems and an ARB council member until last year, called Clements' proposals a 'brilliant idea'. But she cautioned that the board would have only limited success in raising its profile because most clients do not need it. 'The irony about the board is that if a corporate client has got a problem with an architect it is not going to go to the ARB - they are going to go to court. That's why they haven't heard of them. They don't need them, ' she said.
The survey also showed that practitioners are generally unhappy about the state of the education system. Figures show that the profession wants architecture students to be more aware of financing projects and liaising with clients.
Architectural education was generally failing to meet the needs of clients, the survey found. And neither do current courses prepare people to be sole practioners.
Vaughan said it was too early to say what action the board would take in response to the results, but he has already shared the findings with the RIBA's education department.
RIBA president Paul Hyett said he would not accept any criticism of current standards, but that the 'focus' and practical nature of many courses had slipped. 'I was the one who began talking about this three years ago, ' he said.