Architects: do you value your title?

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If you ask “the man in the street” what an architect does or what differentiates architects from other building designers or draftsmen, very few will have a clue. Even architects hesitate to mention their years of comprehensive education followed by requirement for experience and further examination before they can register under their State Architects Registration Act, nor what compliance to that Act requires.

Television programs such as “Grand Designs” hardly assist public understanding. Indeed, Grand Designs seems to delight in budgetary failures, often failing to mention the architect [if there is one] and I cannot recall reference to compliance with building regulations or [British] standards that are mandated. Similarly any impact of the Australian “House Rules” television program on the workload of architects may well be to help resolve workmanship standards and permit processes.

On Thursday 8 May 2014 the “… Victorian Government introduced a Bill proposing a sweeping package of reforms to the Building Act, the Architects Act and the Domestic Building Contracts Act, including significant changes to the regulation of the state’s domestic building industry.” Refer to the Victorian Building Authority ((VBA)) website.

The VBA will become the single integrated regulator for building, plumbing and architecture with responsibility for implementing the reforms, although they may not be enacted by Parliament until later this year. The functions of the current Architects Registration Board of Victoria will sit beside the regulation of plumbers and other industry “trades”.

It is proposed that “… the VBA will commence a comprehensive education program to inform consumers and practitioners of the new regulatory changes.”

The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) has been an active advocate for the appointment of government architects, now achieved in most Australian States. One of the purported roles of government architects is the education of the public service in the specific role and benefit of engaging architects.

It is not uncommon for governments, particularly local governments to appoint an external or internal project manager on their project. Their ability to differentiate architects from other building designers or draftsmen is often meagre and their knowledge of the Architects Act even less. The stipulation under the Act that an architect cannot commence work without a executed Agreement is only one common failing in their knowledge.

Of course it can be argued that architects are their own worst enemy, too ready to avoid frustrating the start of the project by insisting on a formal Agreement and too ready to participate in design competitions that flaunt the Architects Registration Act.

Perhaps with the proposed changes to the VBA, and complementary support from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA), Victoria will lead the way in improving public and client understanding of the role and real value of appointing an architects. Any lesser outcome should be a concern to the profession in all States.

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