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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)

  • John Kellett

    Well said Lisa. I had the same problem with BNI and the same issues with clients thinking they’ve engaged an architect, haven’t but expecting ARB and RIBA to be responsible for policing non architects. The property programmes on the TV are partially to blame as they are constantly referring to non-architects as architects. ARB needs more powers to prosecute and imprison the fraudulent charlatans.

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  • Industry Professional

    If Kevin McCloud can get away with it, then why can't I? I'm a Chartered Architectural Technologist by the way and the quality of my work is on a par with an 'Architect'. There are good and bad Architects, just as there are good and bad Technicians. To slam technically qualified staff and label them as 'lesser beings' is not welcome in the architecture profession today. Most domestic scale projects do not require the services of an 'Architect' and its the Client's choice at the end of the day. If technicians/ designers are purporting to be Architects, they should be called out and fined. If public perception of the term 'Architect' is extended to anyone who designs (or draws) buildings, then where's the harm in that? The title 'Architect' has come to mean very little in the last decade or so, and this just goes to show those charged with representing and promoting the profession are not doing a very good job.

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  • Gordon  Gibb

    Lisa is incorrect in what she says about the role and responsibility of the professional organisations with regard to educating the public about the benefits of using an architect. That is not in the remit of ARB and you would complain about the increase in the amount of the retention fee if it was, and it is not in the RIBA's charter to engage in the promotion of architects.

    I would suggest that is where the problem has always lain, for anyone who thought that the role of architect would be supported by those to whom we pay fees. You just have to plough your own furrow.

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  • a lada niva cannot be compared witha Ferrari 275

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  • Surely the point about being part of a professional membership organisation is not about being left to plow your own furrow?

    Lisa makes a number of good points, and I agree one of the roles of professional bodies is to promote the value of the work of its members.

    This is entirely consistent with one of the key objectives of the current RIBA 5 Year Strategy (2.1) which is to ensure the public understands the impact and value of architecture and architects.

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  • Saw a highly intelligent client yesterday who had been recommended an ‘architect’ by the builder who was in fact a plan drawer. She took it on trust, didn’t know to check and was very embarrassed.

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  • Lisa is absolutely correct. I have been supplanted by a Design and Construct builder who shows in his publicity that he has in-house architects, but he doesn't, he has technicians or CAD operators he refers to as architects. The client was therefore assured there would be the services of an architect without having to pay a fee! Another client found an "architect" who would charge less than me, then having obtained a planning permission with an appalling design then asked me to build the impossible design! The public needs a better understanding of the role of architects in the building industry, particularly when considering domestic jobs.

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  • I wouldn't sign up to the BNI in the first instance despite a number of requests over the years - I believe that one is required to put forward other members on the network - and that I think is not compatible with the RIBA Code of Conduct...

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  • The BNI, through some of its other local members, has contacted me numerous times over the last couple of years, so I doubt it is 'tough' to get in at all. It is a private company which is funded by a membership fee.

    It may be a good idea for a new practice or small business to join - you can feel isolated if you have just become self employed - but I have found that, once you are established, the value to your business reduces.

    Many networking groups are often filled with representatives of charities, who are there to obtain promises of donations; or lawyers (for reasons I have yet to fathom); or financial advisors. I have never found a client at any of them, but have often enjoyed some good food and company.

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  • Daniel Lacey

    It's simply poor designers that are to blame, not non-architects.

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