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.
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.
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