Opinion piece: Architectural Technologists and the register: BC(A)R SI.9

by Bregs Blog admin team

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The implicit assumption in SI9 is that only those already at the table are competent to provide the required services. This is incorrect. To truly protect the consumer, all who play an active part in the construction process should be assessed on their own merits and within their own competence, and then regulated as necessary. On the basis of this assumption, many will now be faced with being ‘shoehorned’ into the existing process, and will be destined to fail, due, at least in part, to the process not being fit for its newly defined purpose.

The Minister’s recent Dail comments urging ‘draughtsmen’ to submit to assessment under the various registration boards display a worrying detachment from the broader issue. There are a wide range of reasons why ‘draughtsmen’, and more particularly ‘architectural technologists’, to whom one can only presume Minister Hogan is actually referring, have not pursued this route before.

Until now there has been no restriction of function under the terms of the Building Control Act, which has instead focused on preventing misuse of the various protected titles, as was its original purpose and intent. It has been possible to legitimately pursue various business models under the descriptors permitted by the Act without fear of censure under the law. ‘Architectural Technician’ and ‘Architectural Technologist’ were specifically included in the Act among a group of prescribed, albeit unprotected titles, to ensure that this situation persisted. This ensured a variety of choice in the market place for the consumer. The very presence of these titles in the original Act highlighted a problem, but failed to address it, a recurring theme for architectural technologists. These amended regulations now zone in on the very essence of architectural technology – Building Regulations – and yet fail to see a role for those trained and experienced in this arena.

The insistence by the Minister that those who have been operating within the scope of the Act should now declare themselves as architects or building surveyors, and submit to assessment for Registration in those fields is deeply flawed. It will lead to many unsuccessful registration applications, and ultimately to more problems for the Department. Simply put, the system as it currently stands is not set up to deal with the Minister’s ‘draughtsmen’, and to suggest that it is is misleading. To present it as a solution to those now faced with re-training or an exit from their profession is much worse than that. The simpler thing to do would be to deal with the issue once and for all. The Minister’s referral of the problem to the Registration bodies is futile. They are powerless to resolve this issue, as the problem lies with the Building Control Act itself.

The irony is that this legislation demands that architectural technologists now rebrand themselves as architects or building surveyors in order to continue to do what they already do. The Minister’s comments attempt to validate that proposal. Worse still they suggest that the system supports it. The facts suggest that the opposite is true. The Minister’s mantra that ‘architects, engineers and building surveyors’ are those most commonly involved in the completion of construction projects is not entirely accurate, and his assertion in the Dail that the new regulations were subject to ‘discussion’ with ‘all’  of the people involved over the past two years is untrue. Discussion is a two way process, at least in the commonly understood sense.

In terms of registration, while many architectural technologists will have successfully completed a wide variety of construction projects, most would have done so solely on the basis of their own particular qualification, often as part of a team, and usually without the necessity to use any of the protected titles at all. Many therefore would be reluctant to now make a declaration regarding the breadth of their duties in comparison to those of an architect or building surveyor on foot of the scope of services they have provided. Some will be limited by the scale of project in which they have been independently involved, and others by their limited exposure to specialised areas such as Conservation, Building Pathology, Administration of Government Contracts and so on. Many will simply find the contradiction of claiming to be something which they do not consider themselves to be very difficult, and attempts at Registration will suffer on the back of this.

Professional architectural technologists carry out some, but not always all of the duties of architects and building surveyors, and do so on the basis of multiple shared competences. Such individuals possess varying degrees of academic training, but with a different focus to that of either regulated profession.

To deal with the Architects Register first, the timeframes outlined in the Act require candidates for Technical Assessment to have been carrying out duties equivalent to that of an architect for 10 years prior to the inception of the Act in 2008. The career path of architectural technologists usually involves an extended period working under the direction of architects, and offering purely technical design services ‘in house’ in architectural practices prior to undertaking any independent work, and indeed many may never do so at all. This, which might be described as ‘practical training’, is carried out in the role of ‘architectural technologist’ rather than ‘architect’, and its focus is directed accordingly. Similarly, the Register Admissions examination requires 7 years experience providing services equivalent to those of an architect, but the same issues apply. Neither is entirely fit for purpose in light of the duties set out under SI9, duties already carried out by many experienced architectural technologists.

Technical Assessment as an Architect is at present a ‘pass or fail’ situation, whereby the Assessment Panel is bound by the terms of the Act, and can only deem candidates to be either suitable or unsuitable for registration. There is no facility, whereby the Board can make a recommendation that gaps in a person’s knowledge might be filled, to allow a candidate to subsequently progress to registration. Similarly with the Register Admissions examination, while repeat examinations are possible, the practicality of this approach without a facility to address an obvious shortfall in knowledge must be seen as questionable.

The shortcomings of the registration process for architects have already been acknowledged by the Minister in commissioning the as yet to be implemented Fennell Report, a significant missing piece in the 5000 piece jigsaw that is SI9. Another is the lack of any mechanism by which a candidate who has already identified knowledge gaps in their experience can readily and promptly address them without a return to full time education.

Entry to the Building Surveyors Register is similarly fraught with difficulty for even the most experienced architectural technologists. Technical Assessment for entry to this Register is an almost unknown quantity, with little or no information available to prospective candidates, and so the fate of those presenting for Registration lies instead in the hands of one of the prescribed bodies, of whom all but one is UK based. The one Irish body involved, also the Regulator for Building Surveyors, sees few similarities between the competences of its Building Surveyor members and architectural technology professionals.

Essentially, the skill set of the architectural technologist, while relevant to the construction industry and, more importantly in terms of Building Regulations, valuable to the consumer, is outside of the terms of the current Act. The Assessment Boards must operate under the scope of this Act and are constrained accordingly. As a result, the situation of architectural technologists, while alluded to in the Act, is not adequately catered for by it, despite the Ministers fervent assertions to the contrary, and the system is weakened because of that exclusion.

For the current system to be fair, specific provision should be made within the registration process for the particular skill set of experienced, professionally accredited architectural technologists as qualified professionals in their own right. This will not be a straightforward task, and will take time and effort. It will prove to be a bridge too far for many affected by the recent legislative changes, who instead will be either forced through the current routes to registration, or face exit from the profession and from the industry.

If the Minister and the Department are intent on using the existing registers to provide the pool of professionals required to implement the amended Building control Regulations, then there must be change, and this change must centre not only on the underlying intent of SI9 – consumer protection in terms of Building Regulations Compliance – but also on the entire range of professionals competent to ensure it.

Architectural Technologists are at the forefront of this group, and should be recognised accordingly. The system and the consumer will be the better for their inclusion.

The above opinion piece is posted on 5th February 2014 by Bregs Blog admin on behalf of an Architectural Technologist
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