The future for Architectural Technologists is outside the RIAI | Joe Byrne

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The following opinion piece was submitted by Joe Byrne BSc(Hons) ArchTech MIS a former RIAI Architectural Technologist Committee member from 2007 to September of this year, the Chair in 2011, 2013 and 2014, and was Architectural Technologist RIAI Council Representative in 2012. Mr. Byrne resigned from the RIAI on 8th September 2014. 

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The future for Architectural Technologists is outside the RIAI | Joe Byrne

The emergence of the Irish  Architectural Technology Graduates Network (IATGN) in 2006, and its subsequent recommendation that all architectural technologists should seek to become part of a professional body saw a conversation commence with the RIAI on the position of technologists within that organisation. I was convinced at that time, and remain so now, of the importance and necessity of that conversation.

I am now equally convinced that that conversation has reached a conclusion. There is no more to discuss. It is time now for clarity on the future professional direction of architectural technology, and in my opinion, that lies outside of the RIAI. I believe that this is the logical next step, for both technologists and architects, and indeed for the RIAI itself.

The 2012 amendments to the Building Control Regulations provided the perfect opportunity for the RIAI to seek to implement its own ‘Standard for Knowledge Skill and Competence for Practice as an Architectural Technologist’, thereby cementing a role and a sustainable professional context for its technologist members. This opportunity was spurned – not missed. This in itself was unacceptable, but the dithering that has followed the adoption of the Institute’s new policy on Architectural Technology last March has been unforgivable. The RIAI’s forum to discuss the topic churned up the same old questions of the last four decades, and in the end the direction to be taken was no clearer than when that debate first began. Talk of an absence of champions for the policy is simply spin to detract from the reality that the policy is not supported by many.

For the RIAI’s part, it is now time to accept and admit publicly that it cannot adequately represent the views of both architects and architectural technologists. The last three AT Representatives on Council along with former Chairs of the Architectural Technologist Committee, between them serving a collective time span of seven years have all stepped down for essentially that reason.While other organisations can represent the views of many different groupings, they do so on the basis of professional parity, with each group a different specialism under the same professional umbrella, but all starting from the same professional level. Surveyors and Engineers benefit from this arrangement, but the basis for this does not exist within the RIAI, with technologists essentially not considered equal Members in terms of voting rights, Council seats – even as far as actively participating in the recent motions put before the EGM. This presents a significant conflict of interests for the organisation where one grouping is at a considerable advantage over another,  and is an insurmountable obstacle for the technologist representatives within that organisation.

In reality, policy similar to that which has been recently adopted could easily have been brought forward in 2012 (or before) to provide for technologists within the scope of the BCARs legislation from the outset. It was not, and instead a policy of exclusion rather than inclusion was pursued. There has been no significant change to the way technologists are educated or admitted to the RIAI in the intervening time, and yet steps are now being taken to begin to develop a register for architectural technologists. The possibility of this happening was specifically ruled out by the RIAI as an option at that time, and yet the same organisation which saw NO role for technologists then has a commanding seat at the table now. There have been calls for more debate and discussion about what the Institute should do with and for its technologist members, but there is no consensus among the Membership as to what direction any such action should take, and all the while more time is wasted. The truth is that technologists should not be involved in any such debate with the RIAI until the architect Members have decided, (perhaps rightly) what outcome they desire. Once that becomes clear, I believe the same conclusion will eventually be reached, that there is nothing left to talk about.

The fractious nature of the debate around the RIAI’s handling of the BCAR negotiations on behalf of its architect members came to a head at the recent EGM. The motion favoured by the majority marks a circling of the wagons in my opinion, and I believe that AT issues will be far from a priority. It is impossible for the RIAI to promote the professional status of technologists without being seen in some way to dilute the role of architects, and this will not be acceptable to many – both architects and technologists alike. I believe there will now be a fence mending exercise while the Institute works within the current system to make it more acceptable to its Members. There is ostensibly a place for technologists in the proposals being formulated by the working group, but there has been no guarantee from the Institute as to what roles this will entail, and even these are subject to the proposed amendments to the system being adopted by the DECLG. The Institute has been asked repeatedly to clarify what roles it sees its technologist members filling, and has doggedly and repeatedly refused to do so.  In the absence of this clarity, further engagement by technologists with the RIAI is in my opinion time that could be better spent on securing our own professional security, both individually and collectively.

Architectural Technology is considered by many, (but by no means all) RIAI Members to be not a profession, but rather a subset of the skills of an architect. For some it should therefore not exist on the same professional level. While we as technologists may not agree with that standpoint, the opinion is valid to those who hold it. They should be entitled to defend it, without wasting more time at the expense of fellow fee paying technologist members. If the opposite is true, and architectural technology is indeed a distinct profession, then it is time it stood on its own feet and claimed that status by right, rather than by looking to architects and to the RIAI for that validation and approval. The RIAI has long since ceased claiming to ‘represent’ either architects or technologists, opting instead to supposedly ‘support’ both professions. This is the crux of the matter. What architectural technology needs at this time is REPRESENTATION, and strong, informed and unbiased representation at that. This cannot come from the RIAI. As an organisation it is already under considerable pressure from its dual role as Regulator and Representative Body for architects.To throw a third variable into the mix would be foolhardy.

At the recent EGM, comments were made by a senior RIAI Member, lauding the ‘clear blue water’ that SI.9 puts between small rural practices and technologist led offices. Regrettably, in a sense, this was not the off the cuff rhetoric of a disgruntled rural architect, but rather the considered viewpoint of a respected senior Member, albeit uttered with the assumption of the MRIAI’s equivalent of Dail Privilege – the sanctity of a Member’s Only EGM. For me, that is the biggest disappointment – not that the comments were made, but that they were made in a room with no technologists present, and therefore could not be refuted. It smacks of the kind of commentary that may well have happened in the run up to SI.9, SI.80, BC(A)Rs and most likely the original Building Control Act. It hints at conversations that may happen over the coming months with no architectural technologist representative at the Council table, and indeed into next year if, as is entirely possible, no one can be found to fill the role. RIAI silence is bad enough. The suspicion that the Institute may have acted against its technologist members is intolerable.

That is not to say that these comments reflect the sentiments of the majority of architects. Indeed architects from small rural practices have been among the most supportive of the new technologist policy, even those with reservations about how it might work in practice. It is, rather, a sign that a parting of the ways is necessary in order for the fledgling profession of architectural technology to find its own ground, its own identity, its own place in the industry and in the professional sphere. The irony of the situation is that the very organisation which appears to fear most any professional progression for architectural technology is the one that spawned it.

In any case, enough time has been wasted. With no clear road map, timescale or destination within the RIAI the system marches on without us, the RIAI’s heralded ‘expert technical designers’. There is no sense of urgency to address that issue, but rather a desire to talk, to debate, to discuss further.

I challenge those who say that the RIAI remains the home for technologists to support that stance. Provide the evidence to back up proposal. In light of the recent technologist resignations, if the proposal can’t be sold to existing members, how can the unimpressed and the sceptical be convinced ? Check the Dail Record, check the public consultation documents lodged with the DECLG, check whatever media source necessary, and you will not find the term ‘RIAI Architectural Technologist’ mentioned positively anywhere in official documentation. An utter failure by the Institute to support technologist members as it so often claims to do.

Until March of this year technologists were practically invisible to the RIAI Council. It took the catalyst of considerable dissatisfaction among architects with the whole BC(A)Rs debate to plant our issues firmly on the table as part of the general malaise, allowing the last AT Representative to educate his Council colleagues as to the extent of the problem. For that, I and others are grateful. Now however, many who supported the March policy no longer sit in the Council Chamber. ‘Ordinary Resolution 2’ as passed at the EGM is the new law of the land, and it will be business as usual in the New Year.

For architectural technology, business as usual is no longer enough. Too much time and opportunity has been wasted. For too long it has been a topic with a past and a future – but no ‘present’ – that has never been tackled. Until that happens, there can be no change. It is time now for the reasoned and logical  eloquence of many technologists which has emerged out of necessity in the debate of the last number of years to be channeled in the correct manner to achieve that long sought after professional recognition, but through our own voice rather than through the filter of another profession.

Other posts of interest:

Architectural Technologists: Are you on the right bus?

CIAT Architectural Technologists Register goes live today!

Dáil: CIAT & RIAI- 2 Architectural Technologist Registers

Dáil: response on Architectural Technologist Register in 7 days

UPDATE- CIAT Register for Architectural Technologists in Ireland

Dáil TD’s want to Revoke SI.9 (4 of 4)

Architectural Technologists + Architects | Parity of Esteem?

Hot topic: Architectural Technologists and SI.9

Thoughts on a Register for Architectural Technologists

Architectural Technologists and BC(A)R SI.9: CIAT

Architectural Technologist – Platitudes, Head Nodding and BC(A)R SI.9.

RIAI NEWS ALERT: Architectural Technologist Register

Message from Mick Wallace TD to Architectural Technologists

Audio Clip: Dáil Debate 27th May- Architectural Technologists & SI.9 

6 thoughts on “The future for Architectural Technologists is outside the RIAI | Joe Byrne

  1. Liam Buck

    Very well reasoned and articulated from the perspective of having been a member of the council, it will be interesting to see if this gets the respect of a considered response from the RIAI which it richly deserves. Thank you, Joe.

    Reply
  2. Paul Lee, Dip. Arch., B. Arch. Sc. (Architect & Non-Member of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland)

    Very interesting and illuminating commentary. I think you’re right Joe. In my experience the RIAI isn’t really interested in sharing power even with those who would or could be of great benefit to them.

    Reply
  3. Kevin Tyrrell

    Well said Joe. For as long as I have known you this has been a driving force in your nature, and you know it is part of mine also. EQUITY. And we don’t pretend it means Equality. Equality is the notion that all things that are the same are equal. And we are not equal to Architects and in many respects they are not equal to us therefore we do not seek equality. We can not as we are not Architects and neither do we want to be. We are a distinct profession. Architectural Technologists. But Equity is the notion that all participants must receive what they deserve. It is all that governs fairness and just dealings between parties. And as a proud fellow Architectural Technologist we are not getting, and have been refused up to now and it seems into the future also our due regards within the RIAI. To Architects, it seems as long as we populate their offices offices and produce drawings elaborating on their vision, then we are and always will be merely a dispensible discipline and a tool they use. We have progressed as a profession well beyond any status as “CAD Monkeys” which I sometimes hear us referred to by our esteemed Architect colleagues. We do not exist solely to serve Architects and it is this notion that they must wrap their heads around, acknowledge and finally put away for good. And as the first step in this rethink of who the AT is, primarily in the Architects eyes, I think it is incumbent on the RIAI to once and for all leave that mentality behind, and prove that they see that we are not their servants. We are not equals, but we are better than they see us, and we deserve their respect for all we do and who we are. The RIAI must now stand behind their Architectural Technology members and promote us as a separate and distinct profession with equitable rights and privilieges and an equity of esteem and representation. Equity is what we deserve. It is all we ask for.

    Well done Joe…as ever the man with his finger on the pulse.

    Reply
  4. michael quirke

    Points are well made by Joe Byrne concerning architectural technologists . my opinion: Forger the RIAI, drop them now, they don’t want or need to recognise architectural technology requiring a distinct professional title. The future in construction design is technology. Design of the space requirement with considerable artistic folderol that accompanies it has its place etc. etc.
    In my view all Architectural technologists should join CIAT and canvas the minister to legislate to permit Architectural technologists to act as assigned certifiers. There is only a small amount of will required to push for legislation to recognise an Irish charter for suitably qualified technologists. We can affiliate with the CIAT as part of this process with some form dual membership, that way we will be stronger. I am confident that the professional architectural technologist will be the dominant professional in the industry within 10 years. We have started lets finish the job.
    When and where will we meet .?

    michael quirke (chartered architectural technologist)

    Reply
  5. Michael O'Neill

    The current debate appears to conflate Architects with Architectural Technologists. Apart from both building thinking they are right, I see little similarity between the Members of the Institute and the Architectural Technologists. Do technicians in other professions think that an additional year entitles them to be on equal footing with those who hold the degree?

    I can’t help feeling that the whole Architectural Technologist movement is a piece of opportunism on the part of Technicians who want to hoover up the small works market which small architectural practices and sole traders realy on for their income.

    This is the area where I suspect the RIAI want to protect its Members.

    I do not think they are worried about Technicians or Technologists at the level of international competition entries where the dearth of Architectural Technician and Architectural Technologist entries show their limitations.

    For what its worth, I strongly support the role of technicians in a practice. I recall discussions I have had on Boards some years back. About 25% of them believed (their own estimate, not mine) that they had the capability to move beyond competent management of the office and or selected projects within their comfort zone and become Architects.

    I believe that offices should support their Architectural Technicians to take time out to do this. I believe the RIAI and the Schools of Architecture should develop suitable accredited programs to allow this to occur. That way there is no confusion as to the roles.

    Otherwise you might see CAD “technicians” studying detailing for a year and claiming they were Architectural Technicians – you see they way this attitude could spread through a profession, don’t you?

    To sum up, therefore, I do not favour the growth of the Architectural Technologist movement, which seems neither fish nor fowl. It compromises both the professional standing of the Architect and the well defined role of the Architectural Technician.

    Before any of you think I am an RIAI shill, I want to make my position clear. Like Mr. Lee above, the Building Control Act 2007 prevented me from legally using my title of Architect since May 1st 2008.

    I fought for three years to roll back the provisions of that Act. I sought support from the government of the day to properly recognize the European Union Directives that gave me my right to use the Title because of my qualification.

    This culminated in the Building Control Amendment Bill 2010.

    There was a distinct lack of support from the Technicians and Technologists at the time, when something might have been achieved, especially given the unparalleled exposure to significant projects which many of them had worked on – as principals – during the boom years.

    So much for might-have-beens.

    My advice to Architectural Technicians is to step up to the plate and do the Architecture Course if you feel you have what it takes. Conflating Architects and Architectural Technologists brings only confusion, not clarity, to the profession.

    Reply
  6. Denise Germaine

    Well said, Joe. An excellent and informed piece.
    I would urge all Architectural Technologists to consider CIAT – a representative body for Architectural Technologists by Architectural Technologists. Apply to register with the Architectural Technologists Register which has been established with a view to its being made statutory in order that those registered will be eligible to act as Design Certifiers and Assigned Certifiers. Visit http://www.architecturaltechnologistsregister.ie to obtain information and a proposal form.

    Reply

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