Architectural Technologist! – Is that some kind of Architect then?

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

Architectural Technology first became mainstream in 1965, when, at the request of the RIBA to form an associated body for those that wished to specialise in the technical aspects of building design, it took fledgling steps into the world as the Society of Architectural and Associated Technicians (SAAT). But we didn’t leave it there, because 47 years later the ‘Society’ is now an ‘Institute’ and what’s more it has a Royal Charter. That’s progress, or rather it’s evolution.

The Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) has evolved into a highly respected profession; amongst those in the know. The biggest problem being that those ‘in the know’ do not constitute too great a proportion of those that live and breath within the construction industry, let alone the general public.

To be fair, most Architects are aware, at least, of the title and profession. Although there still exists a ‘superior race’ mentality, particularly amongst middle aged and ‘old school’ architects who still like to think of ‘Technicians’ as ‘drawing board fodder (from when we had drawing boards of course) – there to carry out the whims of the project architect. Just draw that up boy!!

Fortunately for the most part we can rest our hackles in the cupboard that used to store the tracing paper. Although, like tracing paper, they come out every now and again – usually to reside atop the monitor of the beleaguered Technologist, or is it Technician?

Oh my, how complicated it can appear to the outside world. It’s no wonder they don’t know we are, because it stems largely from the fact that we don’t know who we.

Having attained the title Chartered Architectural Technologist you have essentially reached the top of the tree, and like an architect your career prospects are governed by experience and the level of your abilities. But just take a peak under the sheets; there are Technician grades, Associate grades, Profile grades, Oh, and don’t forget the student’s grade and Honarary members.

So when someone enquires ‘what do you do then?’ take a picture of their sheer incredulity when you try and explain that you are working towards becoming an Architectural Technologist, before they lose the will to live. “Oh I see is that some kind of ‘Architect’ then?” I dare you to start again. You should, but your audience may well have moved on.

I have never studied as an Architect, but I have worked with a great many. For the most part they are quite human, although, as I have said, some still retain their old school’ aspirations that are generally above their modern day station.  Sadly they are now clinging to the ledge that still supports the armchairs occupied by the doctors and lawyers. I say sadly because that’s an affectation that reaches us all.

Fortunately for the profession, the young architects coming out of the ‘Architects’ sausage machine, are readily impregnated with an acknowledgement of their limitations, and seem happy to defer to those more experienced – Architect or Technologist.

I gained my academic pieces of paper at the local Building College. As we were finishing one or two on the course looked into continuing on to train as Architects. Having visited the local ‘Poly’, they came back with stories that said all we had learned during the last four years would be discounted, and that they would ‘break us’ of ALL our technical training to start again as architects. Only one picked up that gauntlet and last I heard he was leading projects at a design firm, ironically started by an ‘Architectural Technician’ (back in the day).

So how do you begin to explain the difference between ‘Architect’ and “Technologist’? – The Technologist will learn how to put together a building constituent piece by constituent piece, and take it all apart again and rebuild it in another way that achieves the same end. This may or may not be to an overall building design by the Technologist. Now it’s getting complicated. – The Architect has a more holistic approach, with an ‘Art’ base, as opposed to the technologist’s technical, or science base dealing largely in building physics. You can understand why people expire in front of you! Of course nothing to do with ‘Design’ is prescriptive, and some architects and technologists migrate towards the middle of the technical and art extremes; designing their buildings with a leg, or at least part of one, in each camp.

Currently the rules of the Institute allow that a full chartered member may carry out, in full, the role historically attributable to an architect. We may design, administer and certify a building project in a manner that is recognised by the rest of the industry. Who knows, one day that may change. So full members can carry out the role of an architect, but please don’t ever use that name – it’s use is protected by law. But there again so is ‘Chartered Architectural Technologist’; as opposed to ‘Architectural Technologist’ which is not. Oops, there goes more confusion: The innate differences that promote the architectural technologist’s change of track on becoming chartered. Are you with me so far?

The Technologist’s biggest problem is that ‘Architect’ is such a snappy title. It’s short and has a ready association in most peoples’ heads, and has a quarter of the syllables – which seems to be quite important.

There has been three changes of title to the AT professional body, and there are those of us who started their careers, knowingly, as architects drawing board fodder, and through no fault of their own have been transformed into fully fledged ‘Chartered members’. No complaints. We’ve earned it. We haven’t trained academically for any where near that of an architect, but I would pit my knowledge gained through experience against that of any of them on comparable subjects.

No architect bashing here, just an underline to the fact that Architectural Technologists do a very similar job to an architect, but often from a different starting point and in quite a different way. But we have two very heavy anchors that keep our ship in harbour: The first is that as long as we profess to be able to carry out the architects role, they will continue to keep their draw-bridge up, and their bat in the cupboard. Secondly, without a concerted campaign of enlightenment the man on the street and in the offices of the large institutions that insist on identifying specific professional roles, will continue to remain blissfully unaware that there are some very experienced and capable professionals out there that can resolve a multitude of design and construction issues.

The whole profession needs a different approach. We cannot just keep doing the same things and expect that one day we will get a different outcome. Not going to happen! I am proud to be a Chartered Architectural Technologist, and long for the day when a complete stranger nods approvingly at my title, and doesn’t ask “Is that some kind of Architect then”.

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