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What's in a name? Plenty, if you call yourself architect

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legal matters

You may recall the case of Ron Baden Hellard who, while not registered, used the initials riba after his name, and thereby described himself as an architect. He was successfully prosecuted by the Architect's Registration Board. Whether as fallout from that matter or otherwise, the status of those calling themselves architects has again surfaced in the courts. In a civil action decided in December 1998 in which the statutory keeper of the register played no part, the incorrect use of the title 'architect' was used by a client as a defence.

The employer, Kensington Hotel, terminated its contract with architect Munkenbeck and Marshall and refused to pay outstanding fees. In its defence the hotel said it had thought it was employing registered architects. In fact, several of Munkenbeck and Marshall's staff employed on the project were not registered with the arb's predecessor arcuk.

His Honour Judge Wilcox, sitting in the Official Referee's Court (now the tcc) rejected this argument. He found that the Kensington Hotel had only wanted to ensure that practitioners with architectural qualifications were employed on their project, not necessarily registered architects. Had the hotel been concerned as to the qualifications of those to be employed on the project, they could have made further enquiries or asked for cvs. The judge found that the hotel had only said that it required Munkenbeck and Marshall's staff to be registered after the event - evidence perhaps of the influence of the Baden Hellard case and its illustration of the possibilities for using the registration provisions to attack the architectural profession.

Munkenbeck and Marshall's staff who dealt with the hotel's project were the products of a healthy spectrum of academic and geographical backgrounds, from the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart to Washington University, and with an equally wide range of experience. The judge accepted that within the architectural profession and the construction industry the term 'architect' is customarily used to describe people such as these who, while not necessarily entitled to register in the uk, have architectural qualifications. In accordance with this practice, when this particular contract was made, Munkenbeck and Marshall described its staff by various 'vernacular' expressions, including 'architectural assistant', 'assistant architect' and 'senior architect'.

The judge compared the experience and qualifications of those concerned with uk equivalents and found that the descriptions used was justifiable. However, while the judge agreed that the levels of qualified personnel were accurately described, '. . . the term 'architect' very strictly should not have been used. It could mislead.' That it did not, in the event, mislead the hotel was a matter of fact in the particular circumstances of the case. Munkenbeck and Marshall was fortunate.

The warnings in this case are clear. In an increasingly transnational world and in a Europe which has legislated for the free movement of services, the architectural profession in the uk is paradoxically faced with both the rigorous enforcement of a national statutory register by the arb and the prospect of related matters being used against it in the civil courts. While the judge accepted that there is a customary or vernacular use of 'architect', it is strictly incorrect to apply it to someone who is not uk registered.

Great care should be taken in describing personnel. The judge's suggestion of cvs is a helpful one. If issued to clients when agreeing terms of an appointment, there can be little doubt as to the qualifications and status of those working on projects.

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