'Part 3 has become an anachronistic roster of standards which no longer reflects the day-to-day realities of much of our work.'

Hardly a week goes by without an ARB newsletter dropping into my inbox describing in excruciating detail the latest infraction by a miscreant architect who has failed to provide a satisfactory service while extending some kitchen or other. The judgements, which usually accompany a mild slap on the wrist or an insubstantial fine, are barely newsworthy, even to the trade press. It’s difficult to see who benefits from this process other than as a cathartic reprisal for the wronged clients; other, more effective recourses exist to recover money lost due to negligence or incompetence on the part of their architect.

On the basis of these missives the ARB seems to exist solely to police the domestic market, chastising one-person practices over patchy paperwork or hauling into court enterprising “architectural designers” who dare deploy that precious word in the metadata of their website. Rare are the cases in which individual architects working for larger firms are subject to the same public humiliation. When the Museum of Liverpool was saddled with £3.5m worth of defects, during the resulting court case the judge was scathing of the delivery architects, claiming that they “simply had no real idea what they were instructing”, promptly awarding £2.3m damages against them. Did the ARB step in and strike off those responsible? I can find no record that they did: shielded by a large practice and its lawyers, the architects responsible for this fiasco emerged unscathed—their reputation in tatters, but their titles intact.

The day-to-day activities of a provincial one-person practice engaged on small-scale domestic projects are quite unlike those required for large-scale buildings, but this is an issue not just of scale: contemporary forms of practice extend far more widely than the out-of-touch image of us held in the mind of the public. The role we now find ourselves in is so expansive, so varied, that the criteria used to assess architects’ capability is entirely redundant. Part 3 has become an anachronistic roster of standards which no longer reflects the day-to-day realities of much of our work. Yet this hoop through which most of us choose to jump requires at least seven years, and many thousands of pounds to clear.

Perhaps now is an opportune moment to reconsider protection altogether. The title “architect” really only seems to have any genuine meaning within the domestic market; few professional clients care whether we’ve sat through an annual quota of CPDs on green roofs and washroom systems, but rather they expect us to be able to simply deliver the projects they’ve commissioned us to design to a high standard. That these buildings have benefited hugely from the contributions of not-yet-qualified “architectural assistants” is an irrelevance. Some of the young people we’re lucky to work with have acquired more capability and talent in their few short years than many on the register achieve in their lifetimes.

For those who value the qualification, the RIBA could provide an alternative method of validation outside the Architects’ Act (it already has more stringent membership requirements anyway) - and how much of the general public has heard of the ARB anyway? Despite me having qualified over two decades ago I’m still not sure my mum knows the difference between the two, so why should any other civilian know—or care? Take a walk around any British town or city and witness the dross that’s been designed by many of our colleagues on the register. Is that a legacy of which the profession can be proud?

Let’s instead imagine about a profession liberated from a pointless pursuit of Part 3. Freed from the conventional, costly route to qualification young architects could instead embark on a career unencumbered by crippling debt: what a more inclusive, accessible and interesting vocation it would be.

Russell Curtis is a director of RCKa and an Architecture Foundation trustee.