Is your architect qualified?

Not a year goes by without the sad news of a collapsed building. Every time this happens, the construction industry outdoes itself trying to apportion blame. From KCCA, to the suppliers of building materials, the various engineers and architects, everyone gets their share of blame and the smart ones come out untarnished.

However, according to Robert Kiggundu, the chairman Architects Registration Board (ARB), the architect should take the major blame for any construction mishap because they are the team leader of all construction professionals involved in a project, coordinating those professionals and also directly answerable to the client for decisions taken. “Since the architect is usually the first point of contact for a developer, the architect hires the rest of the team and the contractor pays for their services through him,” Kiggundu explains.
In addition to transforming the contractor’s ideas into an acceptable design, the architect is also responsible for the legalities concerning the construction’s safety. Yet, many contractors prefer not to deal with the 230 registered architects because they consider this a luxury they cannot afford. “As a result, many of them end up hiring technicians, who in turn pay off rogue architects who stamp drawings as if they have been produced by those architects,” Kiggundu notes.

Who is qualified?
There are many professionals working in the construction industry, each of them with particular responsibility. For most building projects, the architect is the only one who works through all the stages of the building project from feasibility, inception all the way to completion. However, the architect also works with specialised professionals or consultants for particular areas of the project.

These include the quantity surveyor, structural engineer, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, interior designers, and landscape architects among others. There are also architectural assistants, technicians, and draftsmen who help them to complete their drawings.

These are diploma holders who are highly skilled in the production of working drawings. Kiggundu describes an architect-technician relationship as being similar to a doctor-nurse relationship. “While the nurse may be conversant with treatment and how it is administered, they are not doctors and are not allowed to refer to themselves as such.

The same applies to technicians or architectural assistants - they are not architects, although many of them may have acquired substantial experience as a result of working on a number of projects. By law, these people are not allowed to be in charge of a building design – and should not be referred to as architects,” he states.
Patricia Rutiba, the Principal Architect at Dream Architects, says to qualify as an architect, one should have completed a minimum of five years in a recognised, accredited institution and gained a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Architecture and a minimum of two years internship being mentored by a registered, practising architect before doing professional practice exams for registration.

“The graduate architect learns design and building principles in school but learns how to be a professional, manage real projects and run a professional practice during internship in the field. The graduate architect, who has completed internship and passed the professional practice exams will apply for registration with the support of his or her mentors. That individual is then ready to be an architect,” she explains.
ARB says only 197 architects have practicing certificates for 2018.

A contactor using an unregistered architect runs the risk of paying people for a service that they cannot be held professionally responsible for. “Every registered architect is required by law to have professional indemnity (insurance) to be able to pay back any client in the event that the client proves that they did not discharge their professional duties diligently. Therefore, any developer who uses a quack will not be helped by the ARB,” Rutiba explains.

According to Kiggundu, many accidents on sites have been attributed to designs and construction supervision executed by unqualified people.

David Bisiika, a real estate developer says architects need to be licensed so they have professional responsibility for the safety of the building design. “It is a way of monitoring the building’s safety.

In a way, not that different from practicing law or medicine. He, however, notes that not having a licence does not necessarily mean that the individual does not have the experience, knowledge and skills. He points out that for instance in the UK only the title is protected and that anyone can practice as an architect, provided they do not call themselves architects. In fact only a third of the “architects” in the UK are registered with the ARB.

Joseph Tatya, a stakeholder in the construction industry, says he would use an unlicensed architect as long as they are competent. He cites award winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando who never got any formal training but revolutionised the industry with his knowledge, skill and professional discipline. “Should Ando not be considered an architect? It is about the quality of the work. It does not matter what path you took, experience should always top the rest” Tatya adds.

Getting justice

We trust our architects to be the efficient and professional stewards of our spaces and our natural resources. Patricia Rutiba, the Principal Architect at Dream Architects observes that architects have the responsibility of making our cities, suburbs, and rural landscapes better in every way. But what happens when they fail to handle their responsibilities as expected?

If the architect is registered, the Architects Registration Board, takes over the disciplinary action. According to the board chairman, the committee handled 12 cases of misconduct last year (2017). Eight decisions have been made where the architects were found guilty of the offences as charged and they have been fined. In respect to the other four cases, hearing is still ongoing.

“By receiving complaints, investigating and charging architects, we help to maintain the confidence in the profession. It is important to note that the disciplinary Committee, which has the powers of a magistrate’s court, has jurisdiction over only registered architects and not members of the public,” he explains.