Architectural Registration Reform: Should We Change Too?

Architectural Registration Reform Abroad and its Effect on the Industry at Home


If it wasn’t evident before recent events, architectural pedagogy has been trapped in a prison of its own making, unable to define what an architect does in a clear manner and therefore unable to seamlessly fit into the professional world. Graduates therefore emerge from their studies ready to work in a world that either isn’t ready for their “ground-breaking” schemes or a workplace in which they are woefully underprepared, with limited practical knowledge. This poses a particular problem especially when graduates intend to take “The Test” and become a “Real” or “Registered” architect so that they can finally put it on their business card, requiring years of experience to get up to speed with what an “architect” really does in a practical sense.

Recently the question of how to solve these problems has returned as institutions in the UK and US debate the process of registration after graduation, and how reform to both the pedagogical system as well as the registration board needs to occur, with compromises needing to be made in order to allow our discipline to grow and find its recognisable and universal role in the world, or at least a somewhat agreeable term so that we can clearly present ourselves and our services. Recently the RIBA in the UK has been investigating the possible reasons for change, and how the system works for or against students. Much like Australia the time taken from starting their first degree to full registration usually takes around ten years, however it is possible to do it in seven if working full time immediately after finishing their final degree. Architecture remains one of the longest courses of study, this process posing many problems due to its inflexibility and expense, with many students struggling to afford the high price in a profession that is not renowned for its high wages, with comparatively long courses such as Law and Medicine having eventually substantial financial benefit, a fact we are told to accept not challenge.

Registration is an arduous process for seemingly little reward. In Australia prospective Architecture candidates must firstly complete a three-year bachelor in an AACA recognised course, then complete a two year masters in architecture. After which in order to start the registration process they must commence Part 1 of the Architectural Practice Examination (APE), beginning a log book to record and demonstrate practical experience in the field across all relevant areas as outlined by the AACA. Once completing the minimum two years experience and logging a minimum of 3,300 hours a statement of practical experience needs to be completed describing the involvement in practical work. Part 2 of the APE involves the National Examination Paper, with various multiple choice questions covering topics from how to create an appropriate fee proposal, to an architect’s legal requirements working with clients and builders. Finally, there is a 45 minute to one-hour examination by interview, where the applicant’s experience and capabilities are confirmed, only after these are successfully completed may the applicant apply for registration. Recently the process of registration has become more desirable due to Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA), between Australia, New Zealand and America making graduate architects more inclined to to become registered if overseas work is a possibility.

There is no argument that this system is antiquated, yet what would replace it? The process of becoming an architect can take nearly a decade or more depending on how quickly you are able to complete the previously stated requirements. Although the RIBA in the UK is investigating possible changes to the system the Architect’s Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) is making no attempts to investigate new possibilities. In the UK there is a lot of resistance to change as any large alterations could endanger the current mutual recognition agreements with other countries.

Although understandably difficult due to the large amount of liability that an architect takes on, the difficulty of registration also implies an attempt to create an elite group of those who can call themselves architects and those who can’t. Financially speaking, the process is extremely expensive with limited opportunity to work during the degree especially during semester. This creates large financial stress on students, preventing those who cannot support themselves from becoming architects.

As stated previously, architecture as a profession has had enormous difficulty defining what the official role of an architect is, with architectural education saying one thing and aiming to redefine itself in a postmodern era, and the registration board saying another wanting to remain as is. This desire to change is a very positive action demonstrating a response to context however the ability to define one’s self is an integral part to moving forward in the professional world, and therefore the two must work together.

An architect has always had to be competent in multiple fields, such as art, construction, engineering, project management and more recently sustainability, being able to question every notion of their world. However, has this multidisciplinary attitude gotten out of hand with education becoming too broad, that a critical understanding of what the discipline is itself becoming unobtainable? Or, is this universal understanding and ability to create form out of these conceptual ideas what makes an architect?

The discipline appears to be plagued by the questions and theorisations of “What is an Architect?”, however, where does this problem begin? Currently universities promote and encourage student to have a very broad area of interest which works well for students as they are able to branch off into various related professions making more employable graduates. Although due to this broad focus, and the amount of varied information that a student is required to gain, practical architectural subjects may suffer, making the arduous registration process a necessary precaution to ensure that all graduates who seek to become architects are assessed consistently. This raises the question whether or not the university needs to change in order to allow for immediate registration after graduation to occur, also calling into question the consistency of architectural teaching.

Something needs to change but what? Conceptually we understand what we do but practically it is unclear for the outside world. University education prepares students for the multidisciplinary nature of professional work life in the future, yet, this broad education seems to be at the expense of practical knowledge that will help students in the present and allow for the possibility of immediate registration after graduation. The role of the architect is at risk of becoming obsolete with the wider community unable to define what an architect’s role is, begging the question as to how the world can ask for something, when they don’t understand our role and neither do we? Moving forward there needs to be much more communication between what is professionally defined as an architect by registration boards and what universities intentions are in redefining that role. Potentially, this has the ability to become something extremely powerful. Architecture affects every person everyday controlling and facilitating how they live their lives allowing them to rationalise a space. If we can define ourselves and set a common goal or provide a common understanding to the world we could ensure the survival of the discipline and be able to reshape how we live and think.


Written by Daniel Viglione Published 25/1/17


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