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Faking it — when is an architect not an architect?

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Registration is a guarantee that an architect will be skilled in functional design. A house designed by a non-architect is more likely to be badly designed and could considerably reduce its resale value.

Registration is a guarantee that an architect will be skilled in functional design. A house designed by a non-architect is more likely to be badly designed and could considerably reduce its resale value.

Registration is a guarantee that an architect will be skilled in functional design. A house designed by a non-architect is more likely to be badly designed and could considerably reduce its resale value.

A The subject of this column might be boring to most of you: the specifics of legal professional standards for architects and surveyors working in Ireland. But if you intend building an extension or renovating a home in the near future, then reading it could save you tens of thousands of euros.

We start with a court case.

Last week, a building industry professional was fined a total of €7,500 for unlawfully using the titles ‘architect’ and ‘building surveyor.’

William ‘Bill’ Doran (67) of St Mary’s Road, Ballsbridge in Dublin 4 pleaded guilty to two charges of unlawfully using the title “architect” and a further charge of unlawfully using the title “building surveyor”.

District Court Judge Marie Quirke noted that he had previously been convicted of misusing the title ‘architect’ in 2015. So the court fined Mr Doran €3,000 for each charge in relation to misrepresenting himself as an architect and €1,500 in relation to the third charge.

The actions against Mr Doran were taken by the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland (SCSI), as the registration body for building surveyors and quantity surveyors, and the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI), registering for architects.

RIAI registrar, Frank Turvey, said the Institute hoped the case would act as a deterrent to others who used the title architect in relation to their business to deliberately mislead members of the public as to their training and professional credentials. It’s a big problem in Ireland. The RIAI says it had 59 reports of misuse of title in 2020 and has had 27 reports so far this year.

But in case you might be aghast at a notion of scores of architect imposters running around out there, designing big public buildings when they haven’t got a clue, relax. This is definitely not the case or one of those buildings would have fallen down by now. New regulation of planning and construction since the property market collapse means that’s just not possible. Anymore.

Rather this is what industry calls a ‘grandfather’ issue’. It’s what happens when new standards/ qualifications are introduced which many practitioners (particularly older ones), would not have been required to get in order to start practicing back in their day.

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It means that Mr Doran might in fact be perfectly able to conduct professional architectural functions and skills with utter competence. Indeed, he might do a better job than many of those who are registered.

It might indeed be a fact that most non-registered architects are competent, but the problem is that we can’t tell which ones are not. So the issue the court had with Mr Doran was that he didn’t take the necessary steps to verify his skills under the new legislation requirements. By failing to do so, Mr Doran did not give the public the ability to differentiate between his skills as a competent practitioner and those of an opportunist incompetent, the real target of the legislation..

The Celtic Tiger left shoddy construction work everywhere. This included apartment blocks which had to be retrofitted to make them fire-safe, pyrite structural issues, mica issues as well as other matters of construction and structural quality.

It became apparent that the Irish system was also not equipped to make those responsible both legally and financially liable for their shoddy work. They got off scot-free.

So a slew of regulations were introduced to prevent this happening again. Among these measures was legislation to ensure that all the professionals operating in the industry are qualified to a clear and universally defined standard.

This involved ‘retrofitting’ the qualification system by universally grading those with various levels of training to the new standards. Those who pass muster are placed on the national architects’ register.

Those whose skills are not so easily definable must be tested to prove they pass muster in order to get on the register. As of 2008, anyone not on the register is not an architect in Ireland.

As RIAI registrar Frank Turvey puts it: “This is to protect the public from individuals who deliberately mislead people by implying that they are something which they are not.”

The typical path of qualification in Ireland for architecture is a five-year degree as prescribed by the State followed by at least two years of practical experience, followed in turn by a professional practice exam. The process generally takes eight to nine years to get through.

There are a many reasons why a homeowner shouldn’t employ a “non architect” as an architect. First, if you build an extension under the direction of a non-architect, when you come to sell the house, the conveyancing solicitor on the other side will verify that all is above board.

And they will check to see if your architect is registered. If not, the solicitor will inform their client and it could collapse your sale. Second, non architects are often not aware of newer requirements and standards. One case the RIAI encountered was with a house which was split into multiple units.

The hired ‘non-architect’ wasn’t aware of newer fire requirements. When it came to certification the building failed and the whole lot had to be redone at huge cost to the owner who had to pay a ‘real’ architect to sort it all out.

Finally, registration is a guarantee that an architect will be skilled in functional design. A house designed by a non-architect is thus more likely be badly designed, something that is always apparent to buyers and hits comparative values by tens of thousands and sometimes much more.

So how do you check to see if your architect is registered? The RIAI website has a freely accessible register checker and registrar Frank Turvey will happily take a phone call to search for your architect’s details on your behalf.

Meanwhile, architects who haven’t registered can do so in two ways. Take an Architects Register Admission Examination (ARAE) which is designed for those who haven’t taken the standard academic entry route. Or they can be interviewed by the industry’s technical assessment panel, to demonstrate their work over the years.

Last week’s court case sends the biggest message yet to Ireland’s non-registered architects: “It’s time to get real.”


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