Editorial: Crossing Borders


The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is most often associated with the free trade of goods, but an important component of the agreement is also the exchange of services—including architectural expertise. It’s the latest in a series of agreements that place Canada firmly in the midst of the globalizing landscape of architecture.

Once ratified, the TPP will potentially open further markets for Canadian architects in the participating Pacific Rim countries: currently the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Chile and Peru. On the flip side, the agreement will, in principle, make it easier for architects from those countries to work in Canada.

In fact, Canada already has Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) with several TPP countries. The 1994 NAFTA agreement laid the groundwork for reciprocal architectural licensing between Canada, the United States and Mexico. In 2014, this process was simplified even further: registered Canadian architects from any province with at least one year of post-registration experience can now obtain a license in 42 signatory American States without further credentialing, and vice versa. The process with Mexico is more complex, and includes a minimum of 10 years of experience, submission of a work dossier and an interview.

Last year, a MRA was also signed between Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The agreement takes place under the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Architect Project—an initiative that facilitates the cross-registration of senior architects between participating economies. To qualify, architects moving between economies must have at least seven years of experience in practice and pass an interview demonstrating familiarity with local codes, contracts and construction documents. The TPP will likely facilitate future MRAs with other APEC countries.

Canada’s architectural regulators are also negotiating reciprocal licensure with the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) as part of the CETA trade agreement, and hope to have an agreement in place by the end of this year.

Outside of the boundaries of NAFTA, APEC, CETA and the TPP, architectural licensing authorities in Canada are pushing for reciprocity in other countries. A separate initiative, the 2008 Canberra Accord, recognizes the educational equivalency of accredited architecture programs in Canada, Korea, China and Australia—a first step in facilitating the movement of architectural expertise between these countries. Canada’s Broadly Experienced Foreign Architects (BEFA) Program, launched in 2012, helps architects from abroad become registered in Canada.

Such agreements point to the internationalization of architectural practice, and recognize the mobility of talent. Architects from abroad bring valuable skills to Canadian offices. Conversely, working in other countries benefits Canadian architects and their businesses.

Ultimately, as architect Scott Kemp, FRAIC put it to a House of Commons Standing Committee this spring, “allowing the movement of architects between countries or economies will benefit our residential, commercial and institutional built environments.” The development of reciprocal licensure agreements, including through the TPP, he said, “fosters and generates new ideas and perspectives, new connections that can only enrich our profession and, by extension, the public’s interaction and appreciation of architecture, resulting in a better built environment, both domestically and internationally.”

Most Canadian architects will never make direct use of these reciprocity agreements. They are nonetheless important—both as practical tools, but also on a symbolic level. In an age of growing nationalism, they signal the Canadian architectural profession’s commitment to international mobility, to the exchange of knowledge, and to a multinational future.