Opinion piece: View of an architectural technologist: BC(A)R SI.9

by bregs blog admin team

architectural services and technicians

Two separate radio interviews posted on the BRegs Forum Blog in the past week have hinted at one of the significant issues of the car crash that is BC(A)R and the subsequent SI9 – the complete exclusion of architectural technologists from the provisions of both.

In one interview, a registered architect and MRIAI sidesteps any responsibility by architects for high profile failures to comply with Building Regulations by wrongly pointing the finger of blame at ‘technicians and draughtsmen’ instead, and in the other, an experienced architectural technologist complains of his inability to certify his own work after March 1st.  Both hint at the existence of an issue, neither addresses it directly.

That issue relates to the lack of a defined professional context for architectural technologists in this country, and a definition of the role that we should be expected to fill on the basis of that context.

While the debate around the exclusion of technologists from this legislation normally descends into an argument around the reservation of architectural function, the truth of the matter is clearer than that. That truth is that parties as diverse and discordant as the professional organisations, educators and architectural technologists themselves, all agree that the technical design of buildings is the core competence of the professional architectural technologist, and that establishment of Building Regulations Compliant solutions is a key component of this area. The case could in fact be made that architectural technologists are among those best placed to design, inspect and certify building regulations compliance, and yet SI 9 completely fails to deal with or even to acknowledge this issue.

At the start of the last decade, architectural technology education, originally set at Ordinary Degree Level began to move towards the awarding of Honours Degrees, now generally accepted as the required minimum standard. The ordinary degree is 3 years to Honours degree which is 4 years. The increasingly technical nature of the science of building and associated performance and calculation standards and complex building regulations are now also seeing a shift to Postgraduate Specialisms. Consumers, professionals and educators have all identified the need for more highly qualified architectural technologists in recent times, yet SI 9 again fails to acknowledge this fact.

While the members of the two existing professional organisations argue over who is best placed to lead architectural technologists, these organisations themselves have failed to do so – one through refusal to do so, the other through inability to be heard. Meanwhile professional architectural technologists continue to fall through the cracks.

Minister Hogan, the DECLG and broader Government and the industry stakeholders deemed worthy of inclusion in the conversation around the Legislation insist that in order to play a lead role in this new regime, professional architectural technologists, many with decades of experience, must now deny their primary qualification in architectural technology, and claim instead to be Architects or Building surveyors, and seek entry to those Statutory Registers. They are told to submit to assessment by peers who are already established in those professions, with little sympathy for their professional plight, and the security of protected title and the reservation of function that now goes with that. Ironically, it is feasible that younger members of these Regulated professions could undertake the role of Assigned Certifier with just a fraction of this experience, and the expertise that comes with it.

This is an insult and an injustice to graduates of architectural technology courses in Irish educational institutions, it is an insult and an injustice to those who have filled this role in architectural and other practices for decades, and it is a threat to the very existence of architectural technology as a profession in the future.  Highly valued professionals in the construction industry now face a sea change in the way they must go about their work, with no clarity as to what is expected from them or what the future holds in terms of employability.

Either this situation must change or the profession of architectural technology, established for more than 40 years in this country, will wither and die in the absence of a viable and sustainable career model.

The Building Control Amendment Regulations provided the opportunity for such a model to be created. The case, and perhaps the need to include architectural technologists is obvious and clear. What is missing is the will to do so.

If true consumer protection is to be achieved, all those involved in the provision of assurances around Building Regulations Compliance should be capable of being held accountable, and there should be third party oversight and audit to ensure this. Where a designer is unwilling or unable to accept the role of Assigned Certifier, then that role should be capable of being filled by a competent, independent professional consultant, suitably accredited and insured, and subject to the imposition of statutory sanctions in the case of non-performance. More importantly this role should be capable of being filled by competent and professional architectural technologists.

There is a growing clamour for deferral of SI 9, a policy adopted by the RIAI earlier this year, but deferral is of little use without change. For that change to be meaningful and worthwhile, it must include a viable and sustainable role for this country’s architectural technologists. That change must be informed by the baggage of past debates being cast aside, and the core competences of architectural technologists being accepted and embraced by all parties, architectural technologists included.

It is vital that those who can bring clarity to this issue for architectural technology professionals do so, clearly and without fear or favour of any other party. If such change is achieved, not only will architecture and architectural technology be the stronger for it, but so too will the Building Control System that stems from it.

The above opinion piece is posted on 25th February 2014 by Bregs Blog admin on behalf of an Architectural Technologist