Architectural I.D.

  • Building Design Expert
  • 8 years ago

For many years now the word ‘Architect’ has been synonymous with the word, well, ‘Architect’. There is no substitute word. It’s short (3 syllables) and people know what it means, in general terms anyway. So it’s become generic. A bit like ‘Hoover’ is to vacuum cleaner; ‘Architect’ is to building designer. Most architects will probably want to argue that they they are so much more than building designers, but for blog purposes we will keep it simple.

So, we now have the seemingly insurmountable problem. Through no real fault of their own, where those who have qualified as architects have gained a title whose dictionary description describes them as building designers. The thesaurus listing provides the alternative of ‘producer’. The word has also been adopted into the English language as descriptor for one who oversees something from beginning to end. E.g. “He is the architect of his own destiny”. So you might ask “When is an architect not an Architect?” The answer is most of the time. The title, as relates to a designer within the built environment, is protected by law such that you must under-go the university training to obtain the relevant degree and post grad. qualifications; thereafter as long as you pay your money to register with the Architects Registration Board (ARB). Only then to have the legal right to call yourself an Architect.

In truth the public don’t really care all that much. They will almost always default to the dictionary definition, which they interpret as a person who designs buildings is an architect. Try it for yourself: Take a straw poll of six strangers (who are not involved in the construction industry) and ask them “How many different professions can they name whose job it is to design buildings?” After they have told you about what a good job they thought their builder did when they had to redesign the kitchen extension last year; chances are you will be left with ‘Architect’, and not much else. “Uphill” I believe is the term.

Anyone involved in Information Technology (IT) will be aware of the redrafted description that anoints those that are involved in the cradle to grave sequence of information and data generation management with the title ‘Architect’. They manage their own profession with the inclusion of the terms ‘Infrastructure’, ‘Technical’, Solution’ and ‘Enterprise’ before the word ‘Architect’. So whether public use of the title ‘Solutions Architect’ is actually illegal, remains a moot point. They might argue that their industry is so far removed from Construction that it becomes acceptable. The ‘Architect’ on the other hand might argue that if a business card simply displays a company name, the person’s name and their title as ‘Technical Architect’; the uninitiated may well mistake the description. After all Scandinavia supports the same term for a type of building design professional. Oh what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive.

It would seem IT has even more to answer for. Perhaps not at such a serious level, but none the less confusing. Working alongside the Infrastructure Architect is the ‘Technologist’. There is a serious amount of technology within IT, we cannot deny, but are you detecting a pattern here?

Chartered Architectural Technologists
The very name, or title, is also protected under UK law. Not even many architects are aware of that one. But then why should they be?

If recent press publications are to be believed the profession of Architect is looking to a bit of reinvention. For so long now architects have enjoyed their monopolistic status, but the economically viable services of yester-year have been put under so much pressure that they are starting to suffer from the bends. The only known management for this is a prescriptive period of reflection in a decompression chamber.

But what of Architectural Technology? The institute’s 2012 AGM in Belfast concluded on the Saturday afternoon of 17 November, with the usual positive air amongst delegates and attendees. The ATterarti were confident and looking forward, as they should be, supremely appropriate that the hosting city spawned the quote inscribed on the wall of their ‘Garrick’ pub:

“A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise.
A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.”
So with one good eye looking forward CIAT might also look toward a little reinvention on the way.

There is no doubt that as a profession the CIAT’s beginnings were more than humble. Under the banner of the Society of Architectural and Associated Technicians (SAAT), they were born to assist those exalted beasts in the architects chair, nothing more. In doing so they actually filled a gap in the market that, unbeknown to most, was getting evermore wider. Advances in the technology associated with architecture have grown exponentially since that time. So in today’s world the requirement for a design professional who has grown up with and understands fully the design process, whilst also understanding the application and implementation of that technology, has never been greater.

So what about these young, and now some not so young, upstarts then. Chartered ATs have developed a skill set that is technical and almost science led, but we still design. We survey buildings and open site areas, and we incorporate those results into our 3D CAD models. We examine existing buildings and determine how they have been constructed. We understand how that construction works, how to alter it and how to mend it when it goes wrong. We design the design that makes the design what it is, by resolving the technical to achieve the aesthetic.

So we know what we do and how we do it, but at this moment in time there remains two key issues to address:

Who should do this work and at what level? – The resolve is that of membership and practitioners.
The current organisation sets Chartered membership as the pinnacle goal, identifying the practitioner as one who has proved their practical competence in the profession by worthy assessment from their peers. There is a perception though that chartered status is confused by underling membership grades that have little relevance to today’s profession and its overall status within the industry.

Profile and Technician grades of membership offer some members a convenient career platform on which to reside. Their argument being that if this provides adequate recognition, fulfilment and remuneration; there is no incentive for further progression. On the other hand there is also the view that such permanence of this grade detracts from the status that might otherwise be attributed to Chartered members. As a profession we were once all ‘Technicians’, but as we have described, we have got up, packed up and moved on, in effect, from our humble village into the big city. Sadly, bringing our technician badges with us was not our best strategy, because to the outside world and its inertia we remain technicians.

How do we re-brand and re-package?
It’s not all about branding, packaging and PR, we must be seen to be solid underneath as well. However, our public face does need to be unmasked. We are still ‘Technicians’ or ‘Architects’ to too many people. So does the public need something more simple to focus upon? If we shed some membership grades, and become either full chartered members, or trainee chartered members (Associates as they are now), with a time limit on how long they may remain ‘trainees’. Will that improve our status and industry recognition? It just might. So then we promote one member level publicly, and the other Associate membership through education channels.

What must happen is a supreme resistance to the idea of promotion on a comparative basis to architects. We need to recognise that architects do what they do, the way they do it. Whilst we may do some similar elements of their role; if we do, then we do them in a very different way. We do them our way and that is what must be trumpeted. If we are to stand alone and tall as a profession, we should grow around our strengths, and not upon what might be perceived as other’s weaknesses.

The Architectural Technician was once reliant upon the architect for their oxygen. But the technician has grown up, and, as part of a metamorphic process shed its skin, emerging complete with wings and the stare to stand shoulder to shoulder with the architect. Architectural Technology is now a profession that is the result of that exponential growth, evolution and metamorphosis, and quite, quite different from the ‘job’ it started out to be. A profession with its own Architectural I.D.

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