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Architect: what’s in a word?

employing an architect

When you employ an architect, you expect them to be just that, right? Well, that may not necessarily be the case. Our guest, Simon Howard, Head of Professional Standards at the Architects Registration Board’s, tells you what you need to know… 

In the case of the word architect, the term itself is all-important. It is a legally protected title that can only be used by people who are on the UK’s Register of Architects.

Architects are regulated by law in the UK by a body, established by Parliament, called the Architects Registration Board (ARB).

It is entirely down to you to choose who you want to employ. Nonetheless, be mindful that if someone is describing themselves as an ‘architect’ they must be on the Register. If they’re not, this is a criminal offence and the perpetrator can be prosecuted.

The ARB investigates over 20 such cases a month. However, only 25% of these are reported by the public – the rest come from the profession or the regulator itself, which is a reflection of the need to raise public awareness on this important issue.

What you need to know

Beware of words such as ‘architecture consultant’ or ‘architectural practice’. These aren’t covered by the law and anyone, no matter what their qualifications or experience, can describe themselves in this way.

Next time you read the classified section of your local paper you will see adverts using these terms. Alternatively, your friend, builder or estate agent may recommend someone to you, describing them as an ‘architect’ when, in fact, they’re not.

The only exception to this is the term ‘architectural technologist’, which relates to a different profession, overseen by a body called the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT).

Benefits of using a registered architect

There are benefits to using someone on the Register: architects must have undertaken substantial training; they’re required to hold insurance; and they must also act in accordance with a Code of Conduct.

Furthermore, if you aren’t happy with the services they’ve provided, you can complain to the Regulator about their conduct and competence.

Relatively speaking, complaints about architects are rare, with in the region of one in 230 architects investigated per year.

But if you’re about to employ one, take 30 seconds to see whether they’re genuine by checking they’re on the Register of Architects. Alternatively, the ARB’s website also contains some resources for consumers who are considering engaging an architect, including an online video and a ‘Meeting your Architect’ form.

By doing this, you could save yourself a lot of time, money and heartache later on.

This is a guest post by Simon Howard from the Architects Registration Board. All views expressed are Simon’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.

Have you or someone been duped by someone who you thought was an architect but who turned out not to be genuine? What did you do/they about it?


An acquaintance of mine has an architectural practice. His complaint is that universities turn out “qualified” architects who might be taught “concepts” but have little or no real knowledge of the practicalities of buildings. So they can establish a practice but without real life experience. If that is true then I’d be worried.

My own experience employing designers in a manufacturing environment was similar. Their qualification seemed to lack knowledge of how to make things in the real world – never been to a foundry to look at metal diecasting, draft angles, undercuts…… or to see what is entailed in injection moulding. metal spinning. laser cutting…………….. They also seemed to lack any awareness of tolerances. Perhaps we just came across the wrong candidates, but their were a lot of them.

A qualification with an apprenticeship seems the best route.

You need the right bit of paper to do any job at all these days experience is not good enough if you have the right bit of paper even if you know nothing about doing the job you can do it University ‘s and colleges do not give enough work experience but if you pass the theory exam you get the necessary bit of paper and then blunder on making mistakes as you go

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A great pity that Engineer is not also a protected title.

‘Engineer’ is a much abused title covering everybody from some of the most gifted designers and constructors to the guy who comes to rod your drains.

Always specify a Chartered, Incorporated or Technician engineer; their competence is in that order but all have to be registered and qualified by a professional engineering boy.
Ask the one you’re thinking of using which body he is qualified through and then ring them an check.

Brian Clancy FIStructE, FICE, FCIOB.

Incorporated and Chartered Engineers have real professional accreditation. They must demonstrate qualifications plus assessed work experience and responsibility.

I have recently endured a horrific experience of employing and Architect as a Contracts Manager on a £5 Million contract, total failure , the Builders completely dominated him.

Project and contract management is a tough job and a hard skill to learn.

Philip Pike says:
14 September 2017

should have used a quantity surveyor

Can not agree with you more but my Bank called the tune. I actually wanted to use an Architectural technician who had already sorted out Problems with the Building Control but unfortunately the Bank would not here of it.
Quite often it is not what you know , it is whom you know.

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It’s working fine for me, Duncan. But Which.net did experience a small hiccup earlier today – at around 1000. Maybe that’s affected your system?

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Perhaps the Lobby is a better place for technical matters : )

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Hi Duncan, please could you report such problems to us on The Lobby or even via email? This comment is off-topic and can also be easily missed if it’s not reported directly to us. I will reply to you on The Lobby.

The sort of information chimes with my idea of a CAWiki were people could speedily look up terms like architect, architect practice etc. to get the quick but relevant precis. Incidentally a £15 bounty might increase consumer awareness on seeking misuse of the architect term.

If this facility covered the terms as used in English and because of the range became the default place for consumer info. it would be great.

Malcolm touches on another aspect of info and that is how the general public probably instinctively realise there are different plastics but the relevance as to durability and cost is completely unknown. Brief general snippets linking to more techy pieces.

And let us not be shy to recommend good sites and videos that further the education. With a very brief synopsis and running time.

Knife sharpening for instance. This could link to any consumer tested products by Which? And why ceramic and titanium are perhaps not the best blades.

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Ron Dobson says:
9 September 2017

I have had over 50 years experience in the architectural profession. I have an honours degree in architecture (2:1). I studied architecture full time for five years at university. However – due to ill health I failed to complete the final theory project and thus was unable to register as an Architect.
In my career I have project managed multi-million pound schemes, designed buildings, acted as an expert witness and helped to tutor year-out students in professional practice. I have in the past had to help newly ‘qualified’ architects with contract documentation and administration – often telling them what to sign and when! I currently practice on my own and am heading towards retirement.
In all of this I have never described myself as an Architect – even though many of my clients insist on doing so – and I take great care to advise my clients of my status. This is complicated sometimes because they often don’t understand why I cannot describe myself as an Architect – even though that is what I do for a living. The various architectural practices I have worked for over the years have been happy with my status and have given me senior roles.
Much of my work these days comes from word-of-mouth and repeat clients. My fees are in line with the old RIBA scales as I would not wish to compete unfairly with ‘proper’ Architects (although my fees reflect my low overheads).
To qualify as an architect takes a huge sum of money (these days) and seven years hard work studying everything from architectural history to the psychology of perception, as well as construction and structural design. The complex and difficult legal side of the practice of architecture is also covered. Notwithstanding all this success in the actual practice of architecture comes from real-life experience and I have learnt from some very gifted and clever architects ‘on the job’.
I sometimes feel a little resentful that after all my hard work, and the fact that I can and do everything an Architect does, I cannot legally describe myself as an architect and that I have to go to great lengths (and not without some embarrassment at times) to avoid representing myself as a registered Architect. But then I think back to my time as an architectural student and my fellow students who also worked very hard and completed their studies and have earned that status.
My final word is to those who want a building designed. Yes, there are some very skilled architects out their just as there are some very skilled ‘architectural designers’ or ‘architectural consultants’. But there are some charlatans on both sides and I have had more than one experience of having to sort out a mess left by an Architect’ who should have known better. Word of mouth is always the best approach, not picking someone out of Yellow Pages. Look for a building you like the look of, find out who designed it (and who built it) and speak to the owners about their experience. If you can get hold of a copy the RIBA book ‘Do it with an Architect’ is a good read and can be recommended.
Sorry about the lengthy screed but it is a subject very close to my heart!

[Sorry Annie, your comment has been removed for being off-topic and also containing offensive comments. Please check our community guidelines for guidance on commenting. Thanks, mods]

Ron Dobson says:
9 September 2017

It has long been my regret that I didn’t return to complete my studies. I am somewhat insulted by the suggestion that I couldn’t be bothered or that I ‘failed’ three times. As I said earlier, it was due to ill health that I was unable to complete Part 2 and this along with other family issues prevented me from continuing. By the time these issues were resolved I felt that my wife had made enough sacrifices as it was and so we moved away from London. I had been offered an aegrotat award but I was concerned that that could be seen by my fellow students – some of whom had faced down their own problems – as a let-out.
It is a pity that people don’t consider that there could be very good reasons for a situation before making presumptive judgements. I never thought that there were vast sums to be earned. I had wanted to be an architect since the age of thirteen and I tried very hard to overcome a lot of difficulties throughout my education. I studied architecture as a mature student, backed by my wife, and I have never regretted it for one minute. My time at university was rewarding in itself and the trading of ideas and concepts was the stuff of life itself.
I am now a grandfather. I tried to interest my two sons in architecture as a career but sadly with no success. Perhaps I might manage to persuade my grandsons. It’s the best life you can have.

Don’t worry about it, Ron. You always get trolls on these kinds of sites where anybody can make a comment. To endure working at your profession through sickness and adversity is to be commended. A lot of people do not necessarily take their Part 3 Exam, but can take it at any time. It should be a fairly simple process.
All the best,

Being a registered architect is by no means a guarantee of professional competence. I have worked with many registered architects who are good with concepts, architectural theory and nomenclature and who ‘talk the talk’ but when it comes to drafting working drawings and detailing elements of construction they struggle badly and delegate what is the critical part of the role to architectural technicians . Bear in mind that many registered architects are primarily interested in aesthetics and innovation and not always functionality and performance. If you want the former by all means choose a registered architect. If you want the latter maybe an architectural technician would be a better bet.

Before hiring an architect, make sure you really need one. If you just need some plans drawn up for a garage or a shed in order to obtain planning permission then don’t employ an architect. I did (on a recommendation) and despite him being told of the planned overall cost, when the first quote came in and it was double, the architect submitted his invoice based on a % of the quote. When I said we needed to cut back to reduce the cost he suggested paying the invoice amount now and should the final cost be reduced this would be reflected in a reduction in the final invoice (there being a number of staged payments all based on a % of the overall cost) – i.e. there is no incentive for an architect to keep costs down ! . Needless to say he didn’t get anywhere near the final job and we settled out of court. If money is no object employ an architect !