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Blurred lines: clients need to know what a real architect is

Lisa solo

Domestic clients often don’t realise that the technicians and draftsmen they are hiring are not proper architects, writes Lisa Raynes

When is an architect not an architect? When they are an architectural technician, a draftsman or even an interior designer. 

The line between architects and others who work in the same industry has become increasingly blurred in recent years, especially among homeowners looking for residential redevelopments.

As an independent architect and small business owner, networking is crucial to my success and recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to a local BNI (Business Network International) chapter to ‘pitch’ for a vacant spot for an architect. BNI is a global networking referral organisation with over 12,500 members in the UK attending 600 meetings each week. BNI only allows one representative from each trade or profession into each group – therefore locking out the competition in the area. Getting one of these spots can be tough, so I was delighted to be on the shortlist.

At the meeting, I was introduced to the other ‘architect’ vying for the same seat. After addressing the meeting, it soon became apparent this was not another professionally qualified architect, but rather an architectural technician. Yet throughout the meeting, he was constantly referred to as an architect – despite me clarifying the position to the group leader.

I see the same thing happening across social media. It’s not necessarily the technicians putting themselves forward as architects, but more the public perception that these two roles are one and the same. And it’s damaging our reputation.

Earlier this year, I was asked to join the Ask the Architect panel at the Homebuilding & Renovating Show. Over a two-day period, I met 37 homeowners who, for a variety of different reasons, had hit a stumbling block on their road to redevelopment. The one thing that struck me in the majority of these cases was the appalling quality of the drawings, which, on further inspection, hadn’t been drawn up by architects – something the homeowners hadn’t realised.

I believe architects need to make clearer to the public the differences between the roles within our industry. For example, in 2015 I launched Manchester Curious, a festival that not only celebrated Manchester’s finest buildings and secret spaces but raised the profile of our profession by demystifying architecture and the role of the architect, and in turn, showing the value of using an architect. 

But I also think the RIBA and the ARB have a responsibility to support architects in this issue, as it is one that has the potential to undermine and devalue the industry in the eyes of future clients.

This is not so much an issue for the specialist, more knowledgeable clients, such as developers, who already tend to know the difference and the value using a real architect brings. But homeowners embarking on redevelopment projects – which make up a large portion of our work – are so overwhelmed with information at the start of their project that they might not understand the difference between an architect or an architectural technician.

These people, and small businesses, need educating in the benefits of using a real architect. And that is the responsibility of the professional organisations.

Lisa Raynes is the founder and owner of Pride Road


Readers' comments (11)

  • Good to see the BNI network mentioned here. I’m a member of a group in Tenterden Kent and share the table with another architect. We differentiate our offer by clearly stating that I specialise in modern architecture and new build homes whilst my pier, Mark Horner, specialises in Oast houses and other historic buildings.
    It is certainly down to ourselves as well as the RIBA to promote our strengths over others that seek to win architectural consultancy work.
    Architects are trained with a wealth of historical, technical and philosophical education through the three parts of the qualification process. This arms an architect with a level of understanding of design and graphical skills that a trained technician cannot compete with.

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