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Weekend roundup: ARB looks to test architects’ competence

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This week’s top stories reviewed by the AJ’s Simon Aldous: ARB looks to test architects throughout careers • Jones’s woes make national press • Practices face furloughs and pay cuts • Architecture students hit by university closures • Feilden Fowles wins biggest project to date


The Architects Registration Board (ARB) is looking at testing the competence of architects throughout their careers. The board, with which practitioners must be registered to legally call themselves architects, will consider the issue as part of a review aimed at improving regulation.

The 1997 Architects Act says architects must ensure they are competent to practice throughout their working life, but the ARB notes that – unlike other professions with protected titles, such as doctors – there are no specified requirements for continuous professional development as a condition of being on the register.

Its review is part of a general crackdown on professional standards across the construction industry prompted by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Certainly, the first few weeks of the Grenfell inquiry’s current phase – before it was suspended amid the coronavirus crisis – will have led many to conclude that there could be shortcomings in some architects’ level of expertise.

The ARB also wants to ensure that only competent architects can join the register in the first place, which logically leads to the content of the courses that the board itself prescribes. It has already identified climate change and fire safety as areas that may need greater coverage during an architect’s education.

But many readers have questioned whether career-long testing can improve the quality of architecture so long as the act of designing a building can be carried out by a non-architect, possibly with no training whatsoever, and touting themselves as an ‘architectural designer’ or similar.

Reader Alan Maclean argues that most people had never heard of the ARB and wrongly believe the RIBA is architects’ sole professional regulator. The RIBA requires chartered members to compile a minimum of 35 hours CPD per year, which must include two hours per year on each of 10 core topics.

Is this simply another symptom of two bodies trying to do the same job?

Poll: Would you welcome the ARB testing architects’ competence throughout their careers?
• Yes
• No
Vote here

Jones’s woes make national press

Alan jones

Alan jones

Last week’s Weekend Roundup poll asked whether the RIBA should disclose the reason why its president, Alan Jones, has temporarily stepped down from his job. Only 4% said no; 31% said it shouldn’t have to give the reason if it was purely personal; while 65% said it should whatever the reason.

To an extent, however, the matter was taken out of the institute’s hands by subsequent reports in the national press. The Times reported that Jones was afraid that an unnamed woman, who claimed the two of them had had an affair, planned to reveal embarrassing details of the relationship.

It now transpires that the RIBA investigation, reported last week, will ask whether Jones in any way abused his position as president or misused institute funds during the alleged affair.

RIBA honorary secretary Kerr Robertson, who is covering presidential duties during Jones’s absence, said that no complaint had been made over the president’s actions and that it was indeed Jones who had ‘brought a matter to our attention’.

Practices face furloughs and pay cuts

Riba03 cropped

Riba03 cropped

As the coronavirus pandemic causes workloads to fall, some of the UK’s largest practices are having to take drastic action, putting staff on furlough or implementing across-the-board pay cuts.

Foster + Partners, the country’s biggest employer of architects, has asked all its staff to take a 20 per cent cut in salary unless they earn less than £25,000. In the year up to 30 April 2019, Fosters employed an average of 1,317 people, spending £121 million on staff costs.

It is also taking advantage of the government’s furloughing initiative. Since its offices are closed, those unable to work from home will have 80 per cent of their salary (up to £2,500 per month) paid from public funds.

Other AJ100 practices putting some staff on furlough include Zaha Hadid Architects, Sheppard Robson, Scott Brownrigg and Atkins. Many others are believed to be taking similar measures though have yet to publicly say so.

They are joined by the RIBA, which is furloughing 30 per cent of its workforce. Its chief executive, Alan Vallance, said the RIBA was ‘focused on providing members with the information, guidance and support they need’ during the pandemic, but that the furloughing would help safeguard jobs and ensure a level of financial security for the institute. 

Architecture students hit hard by university closures

Emptystudio

Emptystudio

Also affected by the lockdown are the nation’s architects-to-be. Their universities have closed just as many of them approach the final term of their studies.

But, as the AJ’s Will Ing reports, the ARB has sent a letter to the nearly-60 UK architecture schools telling them that they must ensure standards do not slip. And certainly, we don’t want to see today’s students become tomorrow’s designers of unsafe buildings.

Most students are now studying from home, with tutors teaching via video link. But the lack of equipped studio space is causing problems that wouldn’t be faced by, say, someone studying English. Bath head of architecture Alex Wright will speak for many when he says that studio teaching is a very big part of the course and that closing the school’s 3D workshops ‘has thrown up all kinds of challenges’.

The lack of any end-of-year shows will also be a serious blow, though the RCA’s decision to hold virtual shows instead has prompted a backlash, with more than 4,500 people signing a petition calling for the shows to be postponed instead.

But the biggest worry of all could be the contraction of the profession. With a major recession on the cards as we come out of the lockdown, many worry that the architecture profession will be struggling to keep all its current workforce employed, let alone recruit new talent.

Feilden Fowles wins biggest project to date

Feildenfowles 01 approach

Feildenfowles 01 approach

Feilden Fowles is not unaffected by the pandemic but will have been buoyed by winning its largest commission to date: a £16.5 million entrance hall at York’s National Railway Museum. The judges praised its ‘low-tech’ low-carbon rotunda design ‘for its elegance, ambitious energy strategy and [for creating] intriguing new visitor journeys’.

The practice, which made last year’s Stirling Prize shortlist for its Yorkshire Sculpture Park pavilion, has also unveiled its designs for the Natural History Museum’s grounds in South Kensington. Its proposal for the 2ha gardens includes ‘immersive educational experiences and varied natural habitats’. It replaces a bigger-budget design by Níall McLaughlin Architects.

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