The Eye of the Fish

February 16, 2011

Architect bites Dog

I’m reasonably impressed by the actions taken this week by the NZRAB (NZ Registered Architects Board). If you watched TV One news last night, you will have seen Paul Jackman, head of the NZRAB, get his hooks well and truly slung into the unruly rabble that are the Real Estate agents of NZ. The story is a variation on the usual situation of unqualified numpties passing themselves off as architects when they haven’t got the training or the ability. Lying and cheating never impressed me much. It always seemed to me that architects just lay down and let some people walk all over them, although the law in NZ seems to allow this as standard.

In this case, RAB has taken to the estate agents who fraudulently advertise properties as being designed by an architect, ie in cases where no architect was actually involved. As usual, the property sellers are just being slack, lazy, and in some cases, downright lying through their teeth.

I suspect that most people have noticed some stretching of the truth in the advertisements of the property press. There are numerous websites around the world dedicated to exposing the amusing parallel universe that some estate agents inhabit. An example from one in the UK notes that: “Charming” can mean “Another word for tiny”; “Easy maintained gardens” described a garden “so small that investing in a lawnmower would be a waste of money.”; and “A real fixer-upper” was really standing in for “Tear down and start again”. I’m sure that estate agents in NZ would never say things like that…

It’s interesting to see the effect that the REAA (Real Estate Agents Authority) has had on the profession of those who sell property, especially when you compare it to the Architects Act passed a few years ago. The REAA’s stats show that there are about 411 complaints made about estate agents since July last year, with most of the complaints dismissed, but 53 upheld, and 17 awaiting disciplinary action. That seems, to my uneducated eyes, to be quite a lot. Maybe it’s not really – after all, there are about 16,000 registered estate agents.

By contrast, there are only a tenth as many registered architects (around 1600), but, it appears, proportionately a lot less complaints about architects. The NZRAB reports that “No architects who are currently registered have been disciplined within the last three years” and has published details of, it seems, only two disciplinary cases. Either the NZRAB is keeping quiet about complaints, or perhaps architects uphold themselves to a significantly higher standards. There obviously have been complaints, although the figures don’t appear to have been published on the website. NZRAB notes that complaints have typically been about:

# Generally complaints relate to residential projects, with home-owner clients.
# Almost invariably residential projects founder because of poor budget control by the architect.
# Excessive self confidence leads to sloppy communications with clients.
# Casual language, particularly with emails, leads to the architect not maintaining control of the project.
# The loss of control of the project is worst in relation to money matters, setting budgets, and obtaining cost estimates at the various design stages of the work.
# Not getting independent estimating advice is a common failing.
# Often conditions of engagement and fee-setting are not formalised and changes in scope aren’t documented.

Hmmm, cost control.

17 - 02 - 11

Hmmm… is it just me, or is it a bit odd that this topic should be the one to get no response from the members of the profession looking into the Eye?

17 - 02 - 11

It’s just you. Architects are soooo wary of ever making comments to the media.

Apparently, they’re quite talkative if you ever get them in the pub. Of course, that just shows up the differences between Estate Agents and Architects – you can never get an Estate Agent to stop talking, and of course you’d never want to get them down the pub….

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Of course, we do have a lot of Estate Agents who follow us as well – we can see from our Twitter Feed (we have nearly 200 people who have signed on to our twitfeed) that Leaders, Bradfords, the Professionals etc, all have subscribed. It would be great if they joined in the discussion as well !

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20 - 02 - 11

Interesting how an issue that is about real estate agents turns in to an attack on architects. The best form of defense is attack? If real estate agents are using the term architect because they are misinformed, uneducated or are being deceitful then that is unprofessional. And shouldn’t they be held accountable for their professionalism? Being a registered architect shows that a level of competence has been obtained. Old boys club? Maybe. Can anyone start calling themselves a real estate agent? Does the NZRAB or NZIA differ greatly from the REINZ? I’d be interested to hear the answer.

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m-d : thanks for the link. I felt that I should reply to the article you mention by Not-PC, and so posted the following comment as a reaction to his blog:

“As an architect, I feel that this post and the subsequent comments cannot go unchallenged – especially as Not-PC is himself an architect and I suspect knows that a lot of what he writes is just to get a reaction.

Yes, architects are protective of, and immensely proud of their title, having spent a minimum of 5 years of university and at least a couple of years working towards registration after that. Calling yourself an architect is a hard-fought for battle, and yes, architects get annoyed when someone comes along with less/little/no training and tries to pass themselves off as something they are not.

Architectural education is so much more than just designing a building so that it does not leak. It is a wide ranging education, allowing architecture students to think about structures as large as a city or as small as a phillips screw. Most of us graduated as students with a passion for the architectural world and the knowledge that what we could do was way in excess of the dross that most of us see around us. Let’s face it – the vast majority of NZ houses are not designed by architects, and the vast majority of those houses are cheaply built, dull, and poorly designed to minimum standards.

Evidently most of us New Zealanders will never have enough money than to buy the cheapest house we can get within our price bracket. Consequently most people will never really get to live in anything that may have had a little more thought and individuality implanted into it. There are some great designers in the country, some of these are architects, some are designers, some draughters, and there are some people, untrained, who are gifted individuals. But on the whole, there is not as much thought, training, or design input into buildings by those other than architects.

So yes, “gravedodger”‘s point that architect-designed houses are very personalised – well, yes, of course – that is the whole point! They may have things like taller ceilings, which give you a wonderful sense of space, but may fall outside the standard 2.4m high white gib board box of 90% of our housing. Design features are tangible to those who have a sense of individuality, but may slip by those whose ambitions are dulled by living in NZ’s typically dull housing.”

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….. to which we then had this reply, by:

“Fred Stevens B.Sc., B.B.Sc., B.Arch(Hons) said…

“Maximus…you can call Peter and me architects since that is exactly what we are. We both have degrees in architecture and have both been practicing successfully for several decades, yet sadly Peter or i cannot call ourselves architects because we would be liable to a criminal conviction and a fine of up to $10,000.

Being an “architect” meaning a registered architect does not guarantee that you will be a good designer. Maximus….if you look at all the leaky buildings in Auckland you will find that many, and in particular the apartment blocks, have been designed by “architects” registered with your own old boys club.

I went all the way to Wellington 5 years from Rotorua ago and made a lengthy submission to the select, and yes, they did as Peter explained unanimously agree that only the words “registered architect” be protected allowing the word “architect” to be used freely as a word in the English language.

The irony of the present building practitioners licensing regime is that you and all your old boy friends from the institute aka the architects registration board will be automatically licensed on the basis of your club membership rather than your individual abilities.

If you are so good at doing what you claim, then why should you need propping up by your “club” and their unnecessary heavy-handed tactics against your less talented (as you categorize them) competition?

I have an honours degree in Architecture yet if I put my degree after my name..Fred Stevens B.Arch(Hons I could face a criminal conviction since a reasonable person may be think that I am an architect!! So in effect my 5 years of university education is effectively wasted since I must keep it a secret lest someone may think I am an architect…….”

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….to which I feel compelled to answer on this blog, by stating:

Fred, Yes, I am well aware of you and your submissions to the Select Committee on the Architects Act. Your actions caused considerable annoyance to architects around the country.

I don’t know why you have such a massive chip on your shoulder about getting registered. The impressive set of initials after your name show that you have certainly had enough education – B.Sc., B.B.Sc., B.Arch(Hons) – more than most in fact, and if you wanted to be registered as an architect, all you have to do is apply to the NZRAB. There is no reason that your “5 years of university education is effectively wasted since I must keep it a secret lest someone may think I am an architect…….”

As you say, you have been practising as such for years, and I recall the publishing of a lovely house on the edge of Lake Tarawera by you, that showed you are skilled in design. I don’t have any issues with you doing what you do – designing houses, for happy clients. All good, and the best of luck to you.

You seem to me to be getting things muddled up however. Yes, the NZIA is an “old boys club” and there is no rule against that, for people who like to gather round and talk to other people who might think the same way. The NZIA is not, however, the registration board. That is the role of the NZRAB.

The NZRAB exists to register the people in NZ who desire to be accorded the label Architect, and, as you have caused to be inserted, the label “Registered Architect”. As you well know, this normally consists of having attended and passed the correct university courses (as you evidently have), and then, having practiced for a couple of years, sitting the final interview/oral exam. Those vital few years working on the job are an important part of learning the practical side of things, as you well know. When you graduated from Arch School, like most who do so, I’m guessing you would not yet have had enough practical experience to satisfy a rigorous client.

Your (some would argue, ill-considered) submission to the members of the Select Committee was that it should be allowed that people such as yourself, with the appropriate education, should be able to call themselves architects, However, the Select Committee, in its rather finite wisdom, proposed to remove the restriction completely on who could call themselves an architect. By reserving the title Registered Architect for those who had the training and had registered, it left the title open for anyone at all in the country to call themselves an Architect – not just you, and Peter, but anyone – a plumber could say he/she was an architect, a school teacher could say he was an architect, a 5 year old, a teenager or a 95 year old – ie someone could say they were an architect without any appropriate experience. Can you see why that may have concerned the people in what you call the ‘old boys club’?

The considerable mana in the title ‘architect’ would have been severely reduced by anybody being able to claim that title. Why study for 5 years, at considerable expense, if any man, woman or their dog could call themselves an architect? As can be seen by the original post here, the action by the NZRAB is to stop Estate Agents from giving Architect status to people who are not – not preserving an old boys club, but under it’s focus of clarity and safety for the New Zealand public. For exactly the same reasons that I do not go around calling myself a Doctor or a Lawyer, nor do I want people who are not registered architects going around calling themselves an Architect.

Falafulu Fisi
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Dang! I don’t know what to call myself. Umm, I can call myself a physicist, computer scientist, mathematician, an engineer, blah, blah, blah… The good thing is, there is no organisaztion (or lobby group) telling me what I can call myself as a title. It would be pointless really to enforce (labeling) it by law for professionals like me (with a wide domain of expertise in a wide varieties of related fields), because it is just nonsense & meaningless. Do professional so called engineers (IPENZ members) better practice engineers than us all rounders (well scientists)? Umm! No. I’ve met a few IPENZ engineers in recent years and their work can be described as useless. Yes, pretty useless, but they pass themselves as professional engineers.

It’s good that the law, hasn’t gone that way to regulate anyone calling themselves engineers because it is just nonsense. Let the free-market sorts itself out. One can call themselves architect, engineer, physicist, tarot card reader, psychic, numerology, etc,… The law has no business in telling private citizen’s what they can or can’t label themselves with. I belong to the SIAM ( and APS ( but these organisations are not enforced by law as some official organizations where if one is not a member, then that person can’t call him/herself a mathemtician/physicist, etc,… Membership is voluntary, ie, you just submit you application and pay the fess and that’s it.

I think that NZIA is protectionist at worst. I say, let the magic of the market works itself out. No need for self-important lobby architects or lame politicians to get involve there. NZIA should be private as much as SIAM or APS are, and the law should butt out.

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Falafulu – ummm, the NZIA is private. That’s the whole point. The NZIA is not covered by a government law, nor any regulation. It is full of grey haired old white boys – it is the very epitome of a private old boys club.

I like the APS’s statement about becoming a member. As you say, anyone is free to join – their aims are simple:
“Joining APS is the perfect way to stay connected with the most recent developments in the physics world. In addition, APS works on behalf of the physics community to improve physics education, inform the public and policy leaders about the importance and excitement of physics, increase the diversity of the field, and reach out to physicists around the world. Join now and become part of these efforts.”

If only the NZIA was that open…

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Another commenter on Not-PC’s blog – that I have reposted here:

Julian said…

Maximus, Den MT etc,

Frank Lloyd Wright, who the American Institute of Architects called “the greatest American architect of all time”, would not have been permitted to call himself an architect in New Zealand under the regulations you applaud. He never studied architecture at university and was never a member of the American Institute of Architects. If he now lived in New Zealand and called himself an Architect, then he would be liable to a criminal conviction and a fine of up to $10,000. This is the absurdity that you are supporting.

As you recognise in your response, Fred studied architecture for many years and did so with distinction. He also has designed some stunning places including the one in Lake Tarawera that was a finalist, if I remember correctly, in New Zealand’s home of the year a number of years ago. (The same also applies to Peter I must add). And yet they are not permitted to call themselves Architects. This is the absurdity that you support.

Therefore, it follows, that having studied architecture at university and belonging to an architect’s old boy’s club (or an Architects union), cannot be a prerequisite for designing outstanding buildings. Yet you support the absurdity that it is, and must be.

You claim that regulation is required to protect the name “Architect” so that the public be protected from “unqualified” designers. And yet observe the number of leaky homes that were designed by “architects” who were members of the architect’s old boy’s club (or the Architects union). Also observe the lifeless boxes that some members of the architect’s old boy’s club (or the Architects union) design for their clients today. Clearly, employing the services of such a person is no guarantee of quality. And yet the absurdity is that you advocate an old boy’s club on the grounds that it is.

What you will notice if you read PC’s post and digest what he is saying, is that he (and some others) do not need or seek the endorsement of an old boy’s club to say that they can design outstanding houses. For them, I suspect, all that matters is what their clients think of the buildings that they have designed for them. For them, the free market will reward (and punish) good and bad work accordingly.

PC is arguing that the government has legislated for an architect’s union and whenever the government protects a profession, then the best interest of the public (and clients) are not served.

This is the absurdity that PC is highlighting and fighting. It is a matter of principle. It is one I applaud.


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Not sure if I can even be bothered to reply to Julian’s comment, except to say that the purpose of this post was to talk about Estate Agents, and their worth to society, rather than whether Frank Lloyd Wright would be sued in NZ. Fred Stevens is certainly no Frank Lloyd Wright – but, in the case of both Frank and Fred, all they would have to do is apply to the NZRAB (born in 1867, he would be about 148 years old if he did so now…), and they would gladly sign him up.

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It’s amazing how people really don’t understand the difference between being a member of the NZIA and being registered. It’s the same problem in the US. People think you’re only registered if you have AIA after your name. You can only use AIA (or NZIA) if you are registered, but the lack of it doesn’t mean you’re not. I refused to join the AIA, because I didn’t see them benefiting me as a young architect, much like I don’t see the NZIA representing young architects. In the US, those of us who are registered but don’t want to be AIA members use the title RA (Registered Architect).

I had a colleague who appeared in court, as a technical expert on a building fault issue and the lawyer absolutely refused to acknowledge that she was a registered architect because she wasn’t an AIA member.

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Ah, turns out there’s some bark left in the old dogs yet.

For us non-practitioners the arguments around registration and membership can get a little esoteric. I was more interested in the possibility raised in the original posting that there might be clients with grounds for complaint against their architects (however initialed) on the matter of budgeting and cost control. I have sometimes felt the client is too often cast as the cheapskate, the philistine holding the line on cost at the expense of the architect’s vision. An uncomfortable outcome from the commissioning relationship and one which the weaker willed or inexperienced can find horribly costly.

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The issue of cost control is one of those tricky things that keep arising, with any designer (not just an architect), in that while a designer can give an indication of what something may cost based on previous similar projects, the end result of the cost is completely down to the builder / contractor. That’s one of the main reasons behind the rise of Design-Build as a means of procuring buildings. Then again, Design-Build is not known as an upholder of high design values, as the contractor can keep their costs down by reducing / removing any of the bits that are perceived as a bit ‘fancy’.

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I guess the real issue is how far into that builder / contractor relationship designers take their responsibilities. Ideally, a designer will embrace all parts of the brief – including the budget – and seek to deliver the vision on all fronts. That could mean sustaining creativity a bit longer, reacting positively to the realities of budget, seeing the QS phase as an important part of getting the design right.

Surely the best results are those where this has happened? And some of the worst when a contractor butchers the design or delivering the design beggars the client?

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Having dealt with both real estate agents and an architect in the last 18 months, I must confess that I found the real estate agents easier to deal with. At least there is a mutual understanding that they are stretching the truth, they phone you back, they don’t send you bills before the project has even started and you can say ‘no’ without them taking mortal offence…

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“I have sometimes felt the client is too often cast as the cheapskate, the philistine holding the line on cost at the expense of the architect’s vision. An uncomfortable outcome from the commissioning relationship and one which the weaker willed or inexperienced can find horribly costly.”

Well put Starkive – but it cuts both ways. I remember one client who used to call any architect, as of right, “Mr Gold-Plated” – but all we were doing for him were some really cheap gib board rooms. I found him just a little hard to take seriously…