Published Plan Magazine, June 2014
"Greater onus is now placed on professionals to provide consumers with a more comprehensive service".
DECLG Press Release 04-04-14
It took me a long time to understand what my now wife does for a living. It’s not that her job is particularly complicated, vague or nefarious – it’s just that I have absolutely no familiarity with the world of specialist functions and skills that support large corporate structures and, indeed, medium sized enterprises. The subtleties and differences between; a business analyst, a systems implementation consultant, and an ERP specialist with an accounting background, eluded me completely. It’s akin to your second cousin who ‘works in finance’, or your friend of a friend who ‘is involved in IT’.
Having a professional title such as ‘Architect’ sweeps away all of this specialist ambiguity, describes succinctly what I do for a living, and lays bare my purpose in society – I design houses, right? Put like that, you can see the idea for what it is; a truly absurd notion. But in the course of a casual conversation, if you tell somebody that you’re an Architect, they think they know what you do, and worse again, you think you’ve told them.
This is a shorthand that we, as Architects, seem to buy into, and seem almost blissfully unaware of the wider implications of the title’s typecast. Obviously within the world of Architecture there are myriad different specialities – as there are in any field – and in architecture it’s particularly true today: Theory; law; technology; sustainability; building materials; building products; certification; regulation; design; urbanism; statutory permissions; development plans; house extensions; contract; procurement… to name but a few – All of the rules and norms of all of these examples are changing or have changed in the last 5 years – How can an Architect encapsulate this to a person who asks them to price for ‘a set of plans’? And this is before we go near the notion of the ‘Assigned Certifier’.
So, is ‘drawing a house’ as straightforward as ‘delivering the post’?
Why not: after all, we all played with lego as kids, and drawing is something you do for fun and relaxation anyway, isn’t it? At the end of the day, what you’re looking for is a proper set of plans that ‘a builder can price off’. The role of the Assigned Certifier* is ‘just’ making sure the Architect is responsible for his drawings, right? – Wrong!
And here’s the nub of it: Architects provide a service, not a product.
That may sound like word games, its not; it’s a really under-emphasised and misunderstood point. What an Architect does is provide professional advice on building, buildings and all things to do with the built environment. If an Architect produces a drawing, or a model, or a design, or a report, or a 3D model or high-definition computer rendered walk-through, it is as part of this service – it is not a product: And an architect has always been liable for the advice that he or she gives, regardless of what they sign.
It was, I suggest, the lack of understanding around this distinction that allowed the first draft and subsequent wording of SI 80 of 2013 to exist in the first place, and it is only by maintaining this misunderstanding that the Minister can characterise the role of the Assigned Certifier as a natural extension of responsibility that the Architect should always have had anyway. Take a look at the language of the press release from the DoECLG on 4th April this year;
“Greater onus is now placed on professionals to provide consumers with a more comprehensive service”
Greater onus to provide more comprehensive service – these are relative terms, but relative to what? Was there less onus on professionals previously to provide a comprehensive service? Were professionals uniformly providing an incomplete service? Perhaps so, but if that were the case then a more honest (and less defamatory) statement would have been;
“Greater onus is now placed on you, the consumer, to retain professionals to provide you with a more comprehensive service.”
But bashing the professions is just good politics.
* Note: Do we really expect anyone not thoroughly versed in SI.9 to understand the differences between the assigned certifier and design certifier?