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Architects slam proposal for ARB to assess fire-safety competency

ARB graphic logo

Architects have dismissed plans for the Architects Registration Board to assess fire-safety competence levels when designing ‘higher-risk’ tower blocks, describing the proposal as ‘missing the target’

The regulatory body could be tasked with scrutinising both the competency of architects applying to join its register and those already on it, according to proposals outlined in the Hackitt report, published yesterday (17 May).

Details are yet to emerge about how the ARB plans to test architects’ knowledge of fire safety, but the regulatory body said it was planning to hold a board meeting on the subject.

The body has been picked to lead on the proposal because, according to the report, its current review of the UK standards in architecture education could be used to ‘look critically at the level of fire-safety design within those standards’.

But many architects have expressed concern at the proposal.

Luke Tozer, director of London-based practice Pitman Tozer Architects, said expanding the ARB’s remit to cover fire safety would be a ‘poor and ineffective outcome’ and the board already had codes of conduct to ensure competency.

‘Does an architect designing a nuclear power station or a bridge require a separate competence assessment by the ARB? Of course not – they need to comply with the existing code,’ he said.

Tozer said the RIBA, not the ARB, should be the body to show leadership on delivering the ‘culture shift’ on building safety that Hackitt’s report called for.

Meredith Bowles, founder of Cambridge-based practice Mole Architects, said ARB registration was not an ‘appropriate’ way of ensuring competency when designing higher-risk tower blocks.

He added: ‘What Grenfell exposed is a culture that eschews robust examination by third parties, that relies on privatised regulatory checks, and where architects’ knowledge and commitment to building quality is abandoned in favour of Design and Build contractors working with an isolated understanding of the building as a whole.’

The proposal is ‘missing the target’, according to Richard Gatti, director of Gatti Routh Rhodes Architects. ‘It would be more appropriate to not design higher-risk residential buildings, but to dramatically simplify the current regulations, including banning combustible materials and requiring multiple cores above a certain height,’ he said.

Others said the proposal shifted responsibility on to architects, rather than clients.

Manchester-based architect Faheem Aftab said: ‘While competence can always be questioned, negligence is what we should really be looking at here, and that negligence does not sit with the role of the designer.

‘It’s a matter of great concern that not only has the RIBA been side-lined in the process of Hackitt Review, it now it seems that architects are being made the scapegoat.’

Stephen Sinclair, director of London-based firm Fourth_space, added: ‘Architects should be equipped with more means to counter cost-cutting by indifferent clients and contractors, and not have punitive auditing on current and future competence.’

But not everyone was against the proposal. Director of 11.04 Architects, Chris Roche, said it should be seen as ‘an opportunity not a threat’.

’Architects should now lobby ARB, and the government, to seek protection of function, in addition to the existing protection of title,’ he said. ‘In this way architects would have exclusive responsibility and accountability for the design of buildings.’

Yesterday (17 May) the government caved into pressure and agreed to consult on banning combustible cladding after the Hackitt review was widely criticised as a ‘whitewash’ for failing to do so.

Screen shot 2018 05 17 at 15.52.50

Screen shot 2018 05 17 at 15.52.50

Tozer said he supported a ban on combustible cladding, but that it was probably unnecessary. ‘Who is going to specify combustible cladding on high-rise buildings in future?’ he asked. ‘Which developer would demand them for fear of the impact on rental or sales values? Which manufacturer is going to keep making a combustible product that no one uses?’

ARB registrar and chief executive Karen Holmes said: ‘We welcome the opportunity to support the proposals of the review’s report and work with partners to review the current and future level of fire-safety design education and competence for architects involved in designing higher risk residential buildings.’

An ARB spokeswoman said it was too soon to speculate on the specific impacts of the proposal and that the board would be taking time to digest the report and its recommendations.


Readers' comments (6)

  • ARB doesn't have the resources to assess competency of Registered Architects on fire safety matters. Indeed, shockingly it does't monitor CPD at all - this is undertaken by the RIBA for all Chartered Architects, so Registered Architects are left entirely to their own devises. This is unacceptable and this is why it is a condition of employment here at Assael that all architects are Chartered Members of the RIBA, undertaking formal CPD. John Assael

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  • John Kellett

    ARB was set up ONLY to administer the register of architects who had ALREADY qualified under the RIBA criteria and those deemed equivalent to those under EU rules etc. After Brexit the ARB will have no purpose that could not be done by the RIBA in line with it's global reach and recognition. Brexit is an opportunity to simply things.

    "Assessing fire-safety competence levels when designing ‘higher-risk’ tower blocks" can easily be achieved by banning unqualified people from designing, constructing and managing buildings. It is madness in the C21 to allow anyone to provide a service to the public without being properly qualified to do so.

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  • Who is going to assess the fire-safety competence of those "non-Architects" working on construction projects?

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  • Tom Partridge

    This is a brilliant idea. I assume it will mean that only ARB registered architects will be able to sign off on high-rise/complex build projects. It could be the boost that the profession needs to differentiate architects from unregistered designers. It may also ensure continuity of architects throughout the construction phase of a project.

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  • Phil Parker

    Like all quangos, its ARB's inherent instinct to expand and grow until they collapse in on themselves like a death star (or CABE).

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  • Frances Maria

    And what about Chartered Architectural Technologists who are equally competent in building design?

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