The Case To Retain The Architects Registration Board of Victoria

In my previous post we saw the perspectives of the current chairman of the ARBV and the Victorian President of the Australian Institute of Architects in response to the State Government’s proposed abolition of the ARBV. As a contrast to these interviews, I also interviewed Andrew Hutson, who was Chair of the board from 1999 until earlier this year.

Andrew was a nominee from the Schools of Architecture in Victoria and his position was renewed every two years in accordance with the term for the role under the Architects Act. This history puts Andrew in a unique position of being both highly knowledgeable in all aspects to do with the ARBV whilst also being free from speaking on the behalf of others.

R+BA- Why do Victorians need a strong regulatory body for architects?

AH- The purpose of the Architects Act and the Board is to set, maintain and monitor standards of professional practice required to enable someone to be called an Architect. The hurdles of achieving an accredited qualification and registration examination give some confidence to the public that professional standards have been reached. The ARBV is the body that undertakes all the procedures that lead to registration and continued annual registration.

The ARBV also receives complaints regarding architects, processes and evaluates these complaints and makes referrals to an independent Tribunal. The Tribunal is facilitated by the ARBV but is an independent body set up to adjudicate on the complaint and if required impose penalties.

All of this is sheeted back to the main thrust of the Act and the purpose of the ARBV which is to serve the public interest in setting and pursuing professional architectural standards.

For this public good purpose the Board under the Act consists of architects, an academic, allied professionals and community representatives. Some are appointed following nominations and some are elected. The outcome is a Board that has a significant representation from non-architects who can appreciate the issues of public good from different angles than that of the profession while the Board retains architectural practice expertise.

R+BA- Why do you think that the government left the ARBV and the architectural community in the dark about a possible merger, until announcing it as a finalized decision?

 AH- I cannot speculate as to why there was no consultation with the profession, the community or the ARBV prior to the announcement. It does seem back-to-front that it is only after the announcement of the dissolving of the ARBV within the new Building Authority by the Government that they then turn to the profession and community for feedback.

R+BA- How do you rate the current ARBV in terms of performing its statutory tasks? Do you think it has been deficient?

 AH- There has been no complaint against the efficiency or effectiveness of the ARBV. While there have been issues with the Building Commission which have led to the proposed review and re-structure the ARBV seems to have been folded in to the re-structure process. This implies that the ARBV should be seen in the same light as the stated deficiencies Building Commission but there has never been any insinuation that the ARBV has performed poorly and it has been unfairly tarred with the same brush.

The ARBV is a very well-run organization and has developed procedures that are thorough, efficient and ensure equity and natural justice to all parties. It has been operating as a separate Board since 1923 and has developed a deep expertise and understanding of all of the myriad tasks required to administer the Act. The fact that it largely goes unnoticed in the community and the profession is testament to this efficiency.

The ARBV works entirely within the income raised from architects’ registration fees. It has not, within living memory, asked for money from the State Government or the Victorian tax-payer.  It has run a surplus budget except for one year in 2010 when it ran a deficit which was covered by its own reserves. Since then it has met its budget or returned a surplus. Current architect registration fees are under $200 per annum with a mooted modest increase for the next financial year that will bring fees in line with other States. This would further reinforce the financial foundation of the Board.

R+BA- Do you feel that this body must be specialized and independent or is the State Government approach of having a singular authority for multiple disciplines a good idea?

AH- The test for any new structure should be this; will it be as efficient and effective as the current arrangement and will it remain at no cost to the Victorian tax-payer? If not then why change? If the current system is not broken then why try to fix it? Whatever the motives behind such a proposal if a new structure works less efficiently at a greater cost then who will be accountable for the government’s decision?

It is not inconceivable that a larger bureaucratic, multi-disciplinary organization could achieve the same effectiveness as the current ARBV but it would require the same level of Board scrutiny of complaints, accreditation of architecture schools, registrations and transgressions against the Act as is found with the current Board. These are actions that under the Architects Act must be determined by the responsible Board and cannot be delegated to an advisory panel of experts. The reason being that if a recommendation from a panel comes before a new Authority it must be carefully considered otherwise it becomes a rubber stamp which would be a dangerous position for the responsible authority to place itself. The question is, how can a new Authority with only one Architect on the new body, as has been proposed, have sufficient expertise to be able to make informed decisions?

R+BA- What are your greatest concerns with the proposed restructuring?

AH- A larger multi-disciplinary Building Authority, will be required to attend to all Building Practitioners which include many trades and other building sector groupings. It is hard to imagine that it could be expert and nimble enough to deal in any detail with the scrutiny of the professional standards of Architects. This may put the public at risk if the expectations under the Architects Act cannot be met and standards are not monitored.

R+BA- Are there any potential benefits to the change?

 AH- The current ARBV system is not broken, so why change it? The best that can be hoped for is that the new system works as well and as cheaply as the current board. A larger body without the capacity to focus on specific profession will be hard pressed to achieve this.

R+BA- Do you think this will diminish the architects role or standing in the industry and community?

 AH- It may impact on the standing of architects in the community as the public may be confused as to who or what controls the Architects Act. It may also confuse the public and architects as to the need for registration. I have already heard of potential candidates for registration asking whether, given the changes, it is worth registering given the uncertain position of the Board and by implication the profession.


Thankyou very much to Andrew Hutson for the time and effort he has put into these thoughtful responses.

I have written to the Minister for Planning, the Honourable Matthew Guy, asking him to make the case for the restructure and if and when I get a response, I will post it here, unedited and in full.

Architecture is for everyone.

About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
This entry was posted in all posts, construction industry, Government Policy, Interviews, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Case To Retain The Architects Registration Board of Victoria

  1. Fooi-Ling Khoo says:

    Thanks Michael. Like many other architects, am quite alarmed at how ill considered this restructure appears to be. And even more alarmed at how little consideration I can give the issue right now! Very much appreciate your tenacity in chasing the issues down.

  2. Mr Big says:

    I’m going to be the only dissenting voice in this discussion.

    Get rid of it entirely. Get rid of the Act. Get rid of the protected title of Architect. Control of the title of architect is a meaningless anachronism. So what if it blurs the distinction between a builder and an architect in the mind of the public. That’s a positive move. Architects should be builders, and builders should be architects. We should be engineers, planners, managers, sociologists, ecologists, politicians, and wealth managers too.

    This ridiculous title ‘Architect’ is a shackle that has led the practice down a funnel of mediocrity and uselessness. We are now the profession who produces pictures of facades, and soon the GCI artists will be doing that for us too, for much less money.

    The ridiculous attitude that ‘only architects can produce architecture’ needs to dissolve and be done away with. It’s been the chain of exclusivity that has damaged the perception of what constitues building quality, and led to the marginalisation of the profession.

    Everyone should be encouraged to be an architect (there, it doesn’t even need a capital letter). Embracing dialogue and opinion is the way to continued relevance. Everyone should be making architecture. This government is as useful as a damp tissue, but this is one policy I agree with. The problem is that they just won’t take it far enough!

    • Hi Mr. Big

      Thanks for reading and putting forward your point of view, it raises many interesting points.

      Let me start with where we agree. It is not impossible for someone who is not a registered architect to create excellent architecture. There are many examples of it happening throughout history. The excellent works of Italian architect Carlo Scarpa are a case in point. However what is definitely required to create architecture are skills and knowledge that have been developed and fine tuned through experience.

      In regards to the value of regulation, compare the current situation in the construction industry to that of the medical profession. If a person researched intensively and gained significant experience treating patients one could theoretically perform medicine as well as a registered Doctor, without actually being one. Never the less, society says that the risk to the public is too great to allow unaccredited people to practice tasks which carry such massive consequences. The same can be said for architects. There are many theoretical examples of how the negligent practice of architecture could have devastating repercussions on clients and the general public.

      The objective of any regulation is to avoid ‘bad stuff’ happening. In the case of the ARBV and the Architects Act they are in place to help protect the public from being put at risk from unscrupulous, inexperienced or inadequately educated design professionals. The flip side of any regulation is that inevitably it also prevents some ‘good stuff’ from happening. To assess any regulation fairly, one needs to objectively weigh up the risk of the bad stuff occurring against the potential good stuff which will be prevented.
      In the case in question the bad stuff is that many people without education or experience will lead trusting members of the general public into death, injury or financial ruin. The good stuff that would occur out of a deregulation would be confined to a small number of unqualified people, who were however, professionally capable, being able to compete for work. To me the pros do not outweigh the cons of this scenario.

      Finally you also argue that this level of regulation by the ARBV and the Architects Act has lead to mediocrity. Firstly I would disagree that the profession is heading in the direction of mediocrity, as evidenced by recent buildings such as RMIT’s Student Academic Building (Lyons Architects), RMIT’s Design Hub (Sean Godsell Architects) and the Royal Children’s Hospital (Billard Leece Partnership and Bates Smart). Secondly if it were heading to mediocrity, what evidence is there to suggest that it is the Architects Act and the ARBV which is causing it? Both of these have been around in various forms since 1923.

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