Architecture

Should architects register upon graduation?

September 8, 2014

Many aspiring (and registered) architects around the world have been calling for the radical reform of the architect registration process. ADR’s contributing online editorial assistant, Wesley Perrott, looks at changes being made in architectural registration in the UK and US, in comparison with Australia.

Above image by michaeljung / shutterstock.com

Earlier this year, the American Institute of Architects, the Royal Institute of British Architects and their associated national registration bodies publicly announced that they would move to establish programs that enable students to register upon graduation. With two architectural superpowers promoting this substantial change, will Australia follow suit or will it be business as usual?

It should come as no surprise to suggest that many aspiring (and registered) architects around the world have been calling for the radical reform of the architect registration process. In an unexpected response, both the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) made public announcements earlier this year, stating that they would move to establish programs within their accredited university courses that give students the option to register upon graduation. The announcements come as recent research has shown that it takes nearly a decade on average to become a registered architect, and that graduates are beginning to seriously question the value of registration.

Following the announcements, former RIBA president Jack Pringle proclaimed that “drastic change” was needed. “It takes too long to get qualified. The average length is just under 10 years – that’s crazy. It can’t take that long to go into one of the poorest paid professions,” said Pringle. “Practice is vastly different from some 50 years ago when the education system was designed; we have to modernise it.”

In response to this reality, the RIBA and the UK Architect Registration Board (which have not always seen eye to eye) have joined forces with UK architecture schools and student bodies to overhaul the education system and bring it in line with the new ‘modernised’ European Union ‘Professional Qualifications Directive’. According to the new directive, architectural training should now comprise either five years of university study (‘5+0’) or not less than four years of study supplemented by a supervised professional traineeship of a minimum of two years (‘4+2’).

The RIBA Council has also supported the direction of a comprehensive review into the delivery of architectural education to strengthen graduate competency and the general profession. The review is based on five guiding principles for architectural education reform:

• revise the framework for architecture education to enable delivery of an integrated award leading to registration.

• embed the professional content of architecture entirely within an integrated award.

• restore relationships between practice and academia.

• allow for a more diverse profession by offering advanced standing/ conversion courses to holders of noncognate and affiliated degrees, and

• maintain and enhance courses in architecture without the loss of the creative intellectual, practical and professional content informing progressive practice.

In the US, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) has also “endorsed the concept of licensure at graduation from an accredited degree program” noting, “since then, the profession has been buzzing with both excitement and scepticism”. Shortly after the NCARB announcement, the AIA president Helene Dreiling issued the following statement: “I applaud the NCARB board’s willingness to endorse additional paths to licensure. Their aspiring to shorten the duration of the licensure process for emerging professionals, while maintaining the integrity of the architect registration’s purpose – to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare – is encouraging and exciting… I look forward to the AIA’s continued collaboration with NCARB, ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture), AIAS (American Institute of Architecture Students) and NAAB (National Architectural Accrediting Board) on removing any unnecessary impediments on the pathway to licensure.”

Meanwhile, back in Australia, public discussion about the ‘architect registration revolution’ has been eerily quiet (non-existent). The Australian Institute of Architects and the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA) do advocate for a national registration scheme, but have yet to provide in-depth comment on the ‘drastic changes’ to architect registration abroad. Newly appointed AACA CEO Kate Doyle has noted that while the AACA is aware of the moves to change registration overseas, there are currently no plans to change the pathway to registration in Australia. The AACA is, however, working hard to extend the APEC Architect scheme (reciprocal recognition of architects between Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation [APEC] members) and is currently undertaking a review of the National Competency Standards in Architecture (NCSA) to reassess the competencies taught in accredited architecture schools in order to better align with the AACA’s Architectural Practice Examination (APE).

The NCSA review comes at a time when the Association of Consulting Architects Australia (ACA) has released some confronting findings about the competency of recent Australian graduates, noting that universities are moving away from delivering the core knowledge that enables students to enter the profession. A recent ‘Salary Survey Findings’ report (June) produced by the ACA noted, “Many graduates are not well-equipped when they enter the full-time architectural workforce as previously.” In an earlier ACA ‘Event Report: NCSA Review’ (February), it reported a “concern about low levels of knowledge of structures and materials, even among very bright new graduates” and “in the current volatile economic climate, practices simply can’t afford to hire new graduates who can’t work productively straightaway”.

While most practising architects advocate for free creative expression during university studies, an increasing majority believes it must be paralleled with a rigorous exposure to architectural management, practice, law and technical understanding. For instance, a single ‘Practice’ unit in the final semester of a five-year course is no longer sufficient to prepare students for the complex business environment in which architects currently operate. The truth is that we are creating graduates who cannot function in the current marketplace, which will ultimately damage the profession’s ability to operate effectively and competitively. The deficit of core knowledge is fundamentally linked to the delay in graduates registering in Australia, as they consequently lack the confidence (and ability) to sit the APE.

Many graduates sitting the APE believe most (if not all) of the exam’s content can be delivered while at university, thus reducing the time (and cost) of registration. Integrating this knowledge within a university course would also remove the rarely mentioned discriminative nature of registration, as one’s ability to sit the exam predominantly depends on the ability to find/retain employment and be provided with the experience to fill in the logbook. The calls for registration reform have also been spawned from an overwhelming discontent among graduates (and architects) who are questioning the value of registering as fees plummet and ways to circumvent the need for an architect proliferate. For example, in Queensland one can register as a building designer ‘open’ enabling that person to have the same operational capacity as an architect. It requires the completion of an accredited course (which vary in duration) followed by a two-year professional experience period. It’s possible to then register in a few weeks with a 10-page form and three referees! It can be declared (in Queensland at least) that while the title of the architect may be protected, the function most certainly is not.

If complete registration upon graduation in Australia is too unpalatable, perhaps the profession could take note of how the Queensland Building and Construction Commission licenses its building designers in a three-tiered system as ‘low-rise’, ‘medium-rise’ and ‘open’ classes. On completion of a five-year architecture course, one could at least register as a ‘low-rise’ architect, then later register as a ‘medium-rise’ or ‘open’ class architect aligning with progressive experience. This would provide graduates with much needed morale and recognition after their extensive studies and progression through the profession.

Whatever the suggestion, architect registration is a hotly contested issue that divides opinion within the profession. On one side, you have ‘the reformists’ and on the other ‘the preservationists’. The recent ‘reformist’ changes abroad are about acknowledging a change in generational attitudes and marketplace realities. After all, a profession must adapt to external forces and facilitate accessibility; otherwise it risks isolating itself on ‘Irrelevant Island’.

As a final note for those who have not yet crowned themselves ‘architect’ (registered) or are stuck transferring their overseas qualifications, just remember that registration does not limit your ability to produce architecture. It may help to know that Le Corbusier was never a fully-licensed architect and, in the words of Sir Norman Foster, “Everyone is an architect… we all live in the real world.”

  • james stockwell September 10th, 2014 11:42 am

    In the interest of dialogue here’s a personal view

    It takes experience to manage the client and builder and come through happy campers at the end. It’s not responsible to imply to a graduate they are ok to do this work, it takes years of experience, (the graduate doesn’t know what they don’t know) and my personal preference is architecture that is tangible (built) so not really possible to avoid the building bit.

    Explaining ‘why’ the process is drawn out and staged might be useful to the graduate with some fresh examples of when x wrote a note to the builder that gave them permission to do something that wasn’t approved that ticked of a neighbour who sued for damages etc etc, Contract admin and graduate are mutually exclusive.

    I appreciated the ritual of the registration process in it’s written and aural components overseen by ‘elders’ of the profession who could convey the importance of prudence and caution and the virtue of experience.

    To suggest there is a ‘discriminative nature of registration’ is brushing over the potential damaging effects to graduates of inexperience. The first time you think someone might sue you some hair falls out then you get used to it (and that was after working under someone for 7 years). The real world can freak you out. Don’t hide under a rock though, graduates, just know it and enjoy your ‘sorry I’m not registered yet and am in my learning stage’ stage . I hope the client base can tell the difference and seek you out. From my experience they can?


  • Glenn Versteegen September 10th, 2014 8:41 pm

    I can appreciate the desire among architects to set boundaries around their profession but at the end of the day, graduates are working in practices as soon as they graduate and many, before so. The title that goes on the business card is largely irrelevant to most.

    Should graduates be willing to take the risk of undertaking projects they risk their professional reputation, client trust, perhaps their fees and higher insurance costs. It is unlikely that personal health and safety will be at risk as much as professional reputation, fees, future insurance costs, etc.

    That being said I don’t think that graduates are coming out of university prepared for practice and the task of building them into adequately experienced and educated architects is being left to the profession, or in some cases, the individual.

    If this discussion leads to a review of the architecture education requirements it may lead to something much more constructive. Perhaps if time spent on fields of study at university more accurately reflected the real world task base of an architect (registered or otherwise) we could produce graduates that are capable of undertaking work at a higher level on completion of their five years of study.

    Unfortunately, this points back to the less glamorous aspects of our profession like understanding of structure, detailing, materials research, building codes, client liaison, marketing, and perhaps some management strategies to round it off.

    I first entered the workforce woefully prepared to work as an architect (graduate or otherwise) and having spent the majority of my time since working with and leading teams I would very much appreciate any effort to bring architecture students in line with the reality of architecture practice.

    Registration on graduation – fine. If we must then let graduates get 12 months experience and have an architect endorse their application for registration which would then be not unduly withheld. But only if the education system can produce better graduates.


  • Frank Caruso September 15th, 2014 2:29 pm

    Do established, conventional and ultimately conservative practitioners even know how architecture is taught? Should education institutions be fodder factories for practice? Isn’t that just allowing for the profession to simply teach the rudimentary aspects of the discipline? Where are ideas, creativity and innovation if all universities are there for is to churn out students ready to undertake menial tasks? I fear this is a debate for regressive practitioners with little in the way of design ability or integrity and who, ultimately, are the reason this profession is sliding into non-existence.


  • Jo Murphy September 17th, 2014 3:06 pm

    I completely support the idea of updating the registration process to reflect modern day work arrangements. This is just one perspective on the situation but as one of many architectural graduates who don’t follow a conventional path of working in practice upon graduating – for so many reasons such as lack of job availability, taking opportunities that arise in other design related fields, working overseas, maternity leave etc, I think it would be really beneficial to combine the registration process with the studying program. It would mean that the situation I now find myself in could be avoided – where after graduating I worked in practice for less than 2 years and then went on to other exciting design related roles, and it is now a personal struggle to consider returning to work at a graduate level (of responsibility and pay) in order to fill the necessary requirements for log book and exam requirements. Too many graduates (especially female) never register simply due to circumstance and it is a such a shame after undertaking 5-6 years of intensive study – I would rather add the extra year/s on to the university requirements in order to achieve a lifetime of recognition.


  • Jonathan September 22nd, 2014 5:35 pm

    A significant issue relating to actually Practising architecture is the various education establishments and then the course accreditation bodies to accepting the notion that they are responsible for that level of education.
    With the current situation, of significant reductions in contact time in conjunction with significant increases in student/staff ratios it would appear unlikely in the climate of privatisation of tertiary education.


  • BambuBB January 2nd, 2015 12:36 am

    It is alright! Just take your time.it is life.


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