"Architect" Protection Limited
ImageI realise that you have understood what you thought I was intending to say.

Planners, rather sadly, tend to read books on planning theory when they would do better to read "Alice in Wonderland". Alice points out, with admirable simplicity, that "words mean whatever I want them to mean".
 
Words like "participation", for example, do not really mean "participation" in the sense that you are allowed to participate. That would involve an unacceptable redistribution of power. Planners hold meetings to talk about roading options, but they would be horrified at the thought of anyone building, or even deciding not to build, their own roads. As a result those who are into real participation do not get involved in "consultation". Instead they go out, buy a car, and get on with life, making their own decisions about where they will go, when and how. The dysfunctional result is called a transportation problem, but it really has nothing to do with transport.
 
(Friendships are made when we share in the making of a building. Architecture can get in the way when it takes away involvement.)
 
Who could forget the look of dismay on the planner's face in the film "The Castle" when the protagonist in the path of the proposed runway says quite simply "but this is not my house, it is my home". Every architect in the audience cringed as they realised that they were building houses when what most clients really wanted was a home.
 
When we provide protection for the word "architect" we need to ask ourselves what exactly we are protecting. Are we simply protecting the relatively new idea of the consumer society? Are we reducing ourselves to providing consumer art objects, while leaving people to try to sort out how to make a home for themselves as best they can, probably making their decisions down at Briscoes?
 
To help us think about the issues the Minister for Building Issues, Clayton Gosgrove,  has clarified who may use the word "architect".
 
Under the new Registered Architects Act 2005 real estate agents will be able to call themselves architects. They define and popularise architectural values, but they don't draw them. Developers who employ architects instead of doing it themselves will be able to call themselves architects. They are responsible for most of the built environment because planners make it impossible for anyone else to build. Even the owner of the corner dairy will be able to call themselves an architect. They stock Trends and Urbis.
 
As Clayton Cosgrove puts it, referring to section 7(2), "If you are not designing buildings, preparing plans and specifications for buildings, or supervising the construction of buildings, it is not an offence to use the title 'architect'."
 
Thus anyone may put 'architect' on their tombstone. Academics are free to call themselves architects. Authors may call themselves architects. Those who have qualified in architecture but choose to build in the traditional vernacular way may call themselves architects.
 
The importance of Clayton Cosgrove's clarification is that the meaning of the word architect is not compromised by the Act. The role of architects as kaitiaki of the built environment remains. We are not just servants of a consumer society and lackeys of a materialistic process over which we have no control. As a profession we have a moral obligation to be "the critics and conscience of society", if we might borrow words which remains enshrined in another Act even if they are ignored in practice by the new corporate universities.
 
Only registered architects are defined as functionaries in a consumer society in the Act. Architects remain an altogether different breed, reaching up to touch the stars. The difference is as great as that between the bureaucratic plan-speak words of a Mission Statement and a person fully alive.
 
When Alice asked which way she should go the rabbit very wisely replied "That all depends on where you want to get to".
 

Tony Watkins.

 

This article first appeared in Issue 116, February 2006, of Architext, the Monthly Newsletter of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, Auckland Branch. 

It was subtitled "Minister clears way for general use of architect title".