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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.

bishbut says:
5 September 2017

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


You keep on making practical sense Bishbut , as I said elsewhere young Scottish teachers have been criticized fior lacking basic English grammar+ mathematics skills and they are supposed University graduates.


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

Brian Clancy - Brian Clancy Higby Partnership says:
9 September 2017

‘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