The RIBA is developing plans to introduce a star-rating system for practices based on its management performance. Presidential hopeful Richard Saxon is spearheading the idea to introduce a new category of 'chartered practice' to be divided into a number of different levels with higher graded practices gaining an edge.
The 'league tables' would be offered to clients, potential employees and insurers and would be based on criteria such as adoption of an equal opportunities policy, the use of correct employment contacts, risk management strategy and, for the top bracket, even Investors in People.
There may also be a design element, measured with the Design Quality Indicators being championed by the CIC.
Although the idea is still in its infancy, the new levels could be introduced as soon as 2005.
The new category would cost more to join - 'probably a hundred or a couple of hundred pounds more', according to practice director Richard Brindley. But the cost would be 'outweighed' by the marketing advantages gained and by reduced rates of PII, which the institute hopes to negotiate.
Saxon - vice-president for practice and former chairman of UK's largest practice, BDP - who officially declared his intention to stand for the presidency this week, defended the move against the charge it would stifle small practices: 'If small practices want to play in the bigger pond they must arm themselves to play in the bigger pond.What we are addressing is how customers choose people. It's all about raising standards.'
However, critics of the proposals disagreed, arguing that the criteria were onerous for small practices. Rival candidate Chris Roche said it would be 'an opportunity for larger practices to position themselves in a way to get ever-increasing amounts of work? It also infers architects can be branded like hotels.'
And Will Alsop said the RIBA was 'jumping on the ever-growing bandwagon of league tables'. 'If it does that it would make it even more difficult for 30-somethings to get set up. They couldn't possibly have all those things in place. I don't think this is the way to appoint an architect, ' he said.
But Architects Design Partnership partner Roger Fitzgerald welcomed the proposal as a way of encouraging all practices to give greater attention to their management strategy, be better focused, better organised and better managers.