Reforms could lead to greater access for under-represented groups if approved

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Architects could be given more flexible routes to registration in what is being described as the biggest shake-up to the profession in half a century.

The Architects Registration Board (Arb) is proposing to open up new ways of becoming registered as an architect to increase the diversity of a sector historically dominated by people who are white and middle class.

It means that a greater emphasis will now be placed on an architect’s competences rather than what the body admitted is currently an “excessively bureaucratic” focus on process.

The body said: “We believe the most important consideration is what a newly qualified architect can do – not how they got there.”

The Grenfell Tower disaster, the climate emergency and growing calls for equality and inclusion across the globe demand sweeping reforms to the way professionals who design the built environment are assessed, Arb said.

Future of the Profession

The changes are partly a response to Judith Hackitt’s 2018 review of building regulations after the Grenfell fire, which recommended that Arb reform the competence levels of architects in relation to fire safety issues.

On climate change, Arb said future architects must be equipped with the right skills and knowledge, “underpinned with a commitment to sustainability”, to ensure the profession can reduce the built environment’s contribution to carbon emissions.

And the reforms’ focus on diversity follows a 2020 strategy statement published by Arb last year which set out what steps needed to be taken to make the profession representative of the UK population.

A key aspect of this would be to ensure access to the sector could be given to as wide a group as possible by increasing the flexibility of architects’ required period of initial education and training.

Any individual who wants to become registered and to use the title “architect” must hold Arb-prescribed part I, part II and part III qualifications.

But Arb said the cost of education and the requirement for work experience created barriers, disproportionately impacting people from poorer backgrounds and minority groups, as well as those “without existing networks in the profession”.

In a July 2020 survey of its membership, Arb admitted that just 1% of its registered respondents had described themselves as black.

In a report accompanying the findings, the regulator said the profession was facing “serious diversity issues”.

The reform proposals have been set out in a 23-page document, with the body inviting architects, academics, employers, students and others to share their views in a survey.

The body’s proposals also admitted that there is confusion between the roles of itself and RIBA about standard setting and quality assurance in architectural education.

Last year the RIBA announced what it described as ”the biggest professional shake-up for 60 years”.

Arb said it received regular feedback form students, institutions and from representative bodies on the issue, which it said “need to be addressed to ensure clarity and transparent”

The confusion has arisen partly because, since 2002, Arb and RIBA have shared a common set of criteria used for two different purposes, gaining entry to the register of architects,and a RIBA ‘kitemark’ through its validation process.

>> Also read: RIBA announces ‘biggest professional shake-up for 60 years’

What Arb said

Hugh Simpson, Arb chief executive and registrar:

“Architects have a crucial role to play if we, as a society, are to rise the challenge of climate change, enable social mobility and promote a culture of safety within the construction industry. Feedback from the sector is that reform of initial education and training is needed to address these challenges.

“The journey to becoming an architect needs to be more inclusive so that the profession can become more diverse and reflective of society. This means we have to make our regulatory framework more flexible to encourage new, different and cheaper routes to becoming an architect.

“Given the scale of change we are proposing, it is important we take the time to get them right, but in future years we don’t want to look at the Register and see the lack of representation that we see today.

“We want as many people as possible to complete our survey to help shape our reforms. I’m particularly interested in the views of architecture academics and students, so I’m keen that they look at our vision for the reforms and tell us whether it’s on the right track.”