Message from the RAIC President (October 01, 2003)

The future of architecture — a collective risk? The theme of the RAIC’s next Festival of Architecture in Quebec City may seem a tad ominous — but architecture is a risky business, a technological challenge and an avant-garde art. Risky indeed — but what rewards when we succeed!

Beset by challenges — mold, water ingress, inequitable liability, reduced insurance coverage, complex approval mechanisms, to name but a few, our daring profession strives to provide what it always has — buildings of firmness, commodity and delight. Still, there is much mediocre work blighting our environment and so, we have a collective professional responsibility through our own personal development and in passing on to others what we have learned, the future of Architecture — its quality or its failure.

Each provincial architectural association has, or is considering, adopting a program of mandatory continuing education. They are to be applauded for their efforts. Professional development is a source of renewal, reconnection and revitalization — it is also an expedient vehicle to meet perceived risks to professional self-determination. The RAIC for its part has made the creation and delivery of quality professional development programs a priority. Still, that which began as a national collaboration to increase currency and quality in our profession has devolved into a bureaucratic barrier to inter-provincial trade. Each province has its own system — and the lack of inter-recognition is an unnecessary burden to those architects who practice, or wish to retain the right to practice, in more than one jurisdiction. The Committee of Canadian Architectural Councils (CCAC) is addressing this dilemma — hopefully their collective action will lead to a speedy resolution.

We learn in different ways, at different times and we learn best when the subject is immediately relevant. The principle of “standards without standardization” noted in the Boyer-Mitgang report on the future of Architectural education some years ago, continues to evidence itself in discussions of quality. Whether the issue is inter-recognition of distinct provincial continuing education programs, international recognition of professional qualifications, performance-based codes or awards programs celebrating architecture we must recognize that high standards are achievable in different ways.

Last year the RAIC rejoined the Union International of Architects (UIA). The architectural professions of Canada, the United States and Mexico recently signed a tri-national agreement. Now the Architects Council of Europe (ACE) is looking to have all countries of the European Union recognize the professional qualifications of Canadian Architects. There is a logical expectation that we will in turn, recognize their qualifications to practice. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) have signed an initial agreement with ACE and are advancing negotiations. The RAIC is urging the CCAC to address the regulatory issues together with the international, cultural and advocacy agenda of the RAIC to achieve a similar agreement between Canada and ACE in short order.

There are an amazing number of Canadian firms working internationally. Co-op and studies abroad programs are taking our architectural students to places that most of us had neither the means nor the courage to pursue only a few years ago. Most Canadians have ties to other countries — or they at least want the opportunity to have them. But, the diversity of educational and regulatory systems among various counties is vast. To broaden our international relations and facilitate the mobility of architects we will have to accept that standardization is not the only means of regulating standards.

Our students follow a particularly demanding course of studies and upon graduation face ever more requirements before being allowed to practice — or call themselves architects. The age of our interns is constantly rising and less and less of them are becoming fully registered architects. The benefits and mobility offered interns by a program recognized around North America is offset by it onerousness. There is also a disquieting vision of admirable individuals, scrambling for continuing education points. It takes years to see a few buildings built and through them learn our craft. As one seasoned practitioner replied to a challenge of the mandatory continuing education program: “It’s the best thing that’s happened to this profession in a long time. I’m reengaged, I’ve joined a working group that is making a difference I couldn’t have managed on my own, I’m sharing what I know and I’m enjoying it.”

But before such enthusiasm wanes, we must come to grips with the sustainability of the requirements we place on ourselves as architects. The recognition of specialties in the architectural profession; entitlements of practice and title based on graduated or tiered requirements of education, experience and examination; and the reallocation of requirements from the individual to the entity or collective providing service (such as the architectural firm) will have to be addressed. We will require new ways to demand high standards — without standardization.

The future of architecture — a collective risk?

Quebec City, June 16-19, 2004. Be there!

Bonnie Maples, FRAIC