I know many of my B.Arch./M.Arch. cohort and other architecture friends and colleagues have not pursued licensing but still actively participate in architecture and the built environment in one form or another.
I am therefore deeply concerned by the recent announcement from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada that they will be retiring the old MRAIC designation in favour of RAIC to be used only by licensed architects. Until now, the MRAIC designation could be used by non-licensed members including graduates and faculty of schools of architecture.
The headline “New designation set to raise profile of architects” makes me question whether that is to the benefit of architecture in Canada or to licensed architects.
In Canada, licensing and associated designations are legislated under the Architect Act and regulated by the provincial professional architect associations. I understand (though don’t fully agree) with the need to protect the title “architect” to protect the public and make sure it is clear who is licensed to design buildings over a certain scale or of certain types.
I do not call myself an architect. I do not use the professional designation OAA. In fact, I recently gave a career talk at Algonquin College and specifically titled my presentation “I am NOT an architect”. I have a long list of titles to work around using the registered legislated title:
- Architectural advocate/theorist/designer/activist/writer/educator
- Critical architectural/urban art practitioner
- Trained as an architect
- Studied architecture
I never present myself as someone who knows how to make door schedules or check a design against building codes and zoning regulations. I absolutely do not intend to imply that is all an architect does. I actually mean to imply that there is a huge overlap between what a licensed architect does and what I do, between what they know and what I know. I still wouldn’t stamp my name to a construction drawing or give advice on technical details I’m not trained or experienced in. They (most of them) won’t go around publishing in academic journals.
Do people misunderstand the distinction between “studied architecture” and “architect”? ALL THE TIME. I don’t call myself an architect but lots of people call me one. The use of M.Arch. after my name creates this confusion as much as MRAIC. I used to always correct them. Now I consider whether or not someone introducing me at a party as an “architect” is putting the public at risk or if it’s just easier than using one of the more accurate but cumbersome titles from my list.
There is an important distinction between misrepresentation and misunderstanding. While it is reasonable to regulate and impose restrictions to control against professional misrepresentation, the change by the RAIC claims to be about clarifying general public misunderstanding about who is and who isn’t an architect by restricting use of their non-legislated designation.
To what extent should I veil my architectural association/knowledge/expertise/disposition to ensure I am not accidentally misconceived to be an architect? And to what extent should I not be able to present my valid qualifications and associations because some unethical person might misuse them to misrepresent themselves?
Putting aside the legal definition, I do self-identify as an architect or, at least as a practitioner of architecture. I do so because I do not limit the definition of architecture to what is controlled under the Architect Act. I do not practice all types of architecture, BUT I DO PRACTICE ARCHITECTURE. The kind of architecture I practice is largely either theoretical or small-scale and does not put the public at risk (at least I don’t think it does) and therefore does not need to be legislated and therefore falls outside of the legislated definition.
We shouldn’t confuse the legislated definition with being a complete definition of architecture.
And this is where I see an important distinction between the provincial professional associations and the RAIC. The RAIC is the national body that can speak for Canadian architecture beyond the limitations of the Architecture Act and beyond the interests of the (legally defined) profession. I would argue the RAIC has traditionally defined and should continue to define architecture more broadly as contributions to the design of the built-environment and possibly even broader definitions of cultivating cultural identity and experience as related to the built-environment.
There are a lot of people making positive and important contributions to architecture in Canada and align with the vision and mandate of the RAIC. Not all of them are licensed architects. I think the RAIC should want to visibly support and acknowledge these practitioners of architecture and encourage them to visibly present themselves as members of the RAIC.
On a final note of concern, two important points related to my own circumstance and general interest in advocating for equity.
First, I graduated in 2007 and along with many in my cohort, struggled to find work during the economic crisis. Many of us put our critical and creative skills to work and found alternative routes to practice architecture on our own. For some, it built a portfolio that eventually opened opportunities in traditional practices. For some, like myself, it opened an interest in continuing to practice alternative approaches to architecture outside professional practice. Studies are starting to look at this cohort of architecture grads and how they are reshaping the definition of architecture and architectural practice.
Second, with gender equity issues returning to the forefront in architecture I have to ask whether this new policy by the RAIC is further marginalizing women and their contribution to architecture. Despite over 50% of grads being women for close to 30 years, the profession (licensed architects) is still only about 20% female. That means there is a substantial percentage of women architecture grads who are not licensed architects, ie not eligible for any other designation recognizing them as contributors to architecture in Canada. This concern extends to people of colour and other marginalized groups though more research has been done on women in architecture.
Full disclosure, I have been but am not currently a member of the RAIC. I am a big supporter of their work. I had to let my membership lapse due to financial constraints. Which on a related issue of equity, I will mention that many professional organizations acknowledge the barriers to entry and offer discounted rates to unemployed and under-employed members.