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Mandatory e-mail is turn-off message

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Paul Hyett (AJ 17.6.99) seems to have mislaid his customary perspicacity in his blanket defence of Alex Reid's mandatory e-mail proposal for inclusion in the riba register of practices.

If the riba for the first time in its existence really cannot afford to send the occasional letter to its members then that is a matter relating to its general finances and subscription levels.

What is of rather more concern is the DG's apparent assumption that whether a firm does or does not have e-mail is of any relevance to the role of the register of practices in assisting would-be clients to select a firm of architects who are on their wavelength.

The initial exploratory approach to the architect is rarely going to be via e-mail - if it is it only delays the inevitable telephone call at which both parties start o size each other up.

Any client who feels that e-mail is going to be a prerequisite for the way they will wish to liaise with their consultant can use the register as it stands to weed out those practices that do not measure up, just as other firms will be sifted out for a host of different reasons.

We have e-mail here: it has its uses but is surely still in its 'red-flag' phase. I cannot think of another form of communication in recorded history where the messenger hides the message on delivery, and the need to make a conscious decision to search for a document of serious importance that may or may not have been sent is going to seem extremely quaint in a few years.

As Paul Hyett himself implies, it is not even a tempting prospect to think of interrupting other tasks to check out what is less likely to be a billet-doux from Meg Ryan than a job application from a Bavarian student who feels that four months in England would help his career prospects, and who encloses a file that takes nine minutes to download.

The way this proposal has been presented - with the emphasis on the dynamic capacity of the institute that it will supposedly bolster - has a rather unfortunate Blairite air of image being used to mask a lack of substance.

Given that the competence of a practice to meet a specific brief is on most projects unrelated to its possession of a modem, the DG's proposals are as bizarre as the editor of a hotel guide suddenly decid- ing to axe half his previous recommendations for the same reason. How would an architect behave in a comparable situation to that being mooted for putative clients?

If you receive a flyer from Slackcalx & Shearfale, a newly established firm of structural engineers who claim to specialise in box girder bridges and rear extensions, and who made a special point of telling you that S&S were 'well-wired', you would probably not wish to e-mail Mr Vince Slackcalx to enquire whether his firm would like to come in with you on your client's new leisure centre project - regardless of your knowledge of his it facilities.

One's instinct is that Marco Goldschmied, as a partner in one of the key practices to bear the tag of 'high-tech,' might have sided with the dg's proposal. Rather, he has demonstrated commendable common sense and an understanding that the institute is being asked to meddle in matters that are none of its damn business.

Jeff Kahane, Jeff Kahane & Associates, London EC1

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