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The Problem with Architects – the inherent contradictions in Registration, Practice and SEPP 65

Posted by On Aug 11, 2015 In Essays, Ideas Tags , , , ,

If you take the time to consider what it is to be an Architect (under the Australian Architect’s Act), what being an Architect entails in day to day practice and what buildings require an Architect to design them, in my opinion you’ll enter a warren of contradictions and illogic.

In Australia, in order to call yourself an Architect, you need to be registered by the Board of Architects. In order to register you need to satisfy a number of criteria and to keep things brief, other than having a recognised architecture degrees the most notable requirement is having the requisite demonstrated practical experience working in architectural practice (full details here, should you be interested). The basic idea of this Act is Consumer protection – it’s to ensure that this person, calling themselves an Architect, is a fit and proper person and in possession of the fit and proper skills to provide an Architectural service to the client (NB: this does not include design skills). So far, so good, right? Let’s start to pick at the seams and see if the fabric of this thing holds together…

The vast majority of the practical experience for architectural registration requires that the candidate has worked on projects where the architect has been intrinsically involved in the construction of a project and requiring the administration of a building contract. This generally only only happens with single residential projects, houses, it is unusual for large buildings such as apartment buildings for the architect to administer the building contract – in a recent keynote given by Philip Thalis at the Housing Futures Symposium, he stated that they had designed over 70 apartments buildings and administered the contract on only one occasion. In other words if your day to day architectural work is in apartment building design you will not acquire enough experience to become an architect. “So what?” you may say, well the problem is that apartment buildings are the only building types that legally require an Architect to be involved, yet if that is the only thing you do prior to registration, you actually won’t have the requisite practical experience and can’t get registered. An open and shut case of Catch 22 and a contradiction that Joseph Heller would be proud of. Yes, it is possible to get the requisite experience working elsewhere, but why spend the time pursuing an architectural practice peripheral to your interest and chosen career path, simply to achieve registration? By most accounts, this is a classic case of the Architect’s Act being out of touch with the realities of change in modern architectural practice.

Let’s pick a little more at the seams. In NSW the State Environment Planning Policy 65 (SEPP 65 details) requires that an Architect is responsible for the design of apartment buildings (or at least signs a statement to that effect). The intention of such a requirement is that an Architect should be able to deliver an apartment building of superior design quality. The title Architect, afforded by registration, is no guarantee that your design skills are better than “building designers”, as registration takes no account of this as a central requirement towards becoming an Architect. Ipso facto, an Architect’s involvement is no guarantee that the design of an apartment building will be of superior quality – albeit there are other mechanisms in SEPP 65 that are intended to provide a higher level of design quality.

In summation…
If you want to be registered as an Architect, you shouldn’t be working solely on apartment buildings, yet to design an apartment building in NSW you need to be an Architect, whilst simultaneously, utilising an Architect as mandated by SEPP 65 is no guarantee that they have requisite design skills in apartment design. Huh?

Disclosure Statement: the author is not an Architect having been refused registration on the grounds that they have not accumulated enough practical experience as they only worked on apartment buildings (& with more than 7 years of experience).

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