Finally, you are an architect. You studied day and night for 5 to 8 years, giving blood, sweat and tears (sometimes literally) in order to kick-start your dream career. It’s been a long road, but you have made it through the good, the bad and the tortuous times – standing in your cap and gown at graduation, you are the proudest you have ever been. It’s been more than tough, but at least you can now relax a little, knowing you have earned the right to be part of a respected, reliable profession that will protect your status and offer continual work over the coming decade. Or will it?
In the Philippines, it appears things are not so simple. A soon-to-be architect there – who wishes not to be named for – has given an insight into a local struggle for power between architects, civil engineers and the political system, with architects falling victim to out-dated legislation passed just after the Second World War. He states:
“In our country, civil engineers can sign architectural drawings (for residential mostly), a complete bulls***. Are you aware of this?
This "trend" started after the Second World War, when there was a lack of architects in our country. To compensate for the need, civil engineers were allowed to sign architectural documents. Sadly, it still continues long after the war, until today.
I am still an architecture student, and the future is not good for us architects with other professions grabbing the opportunity that's supposed to be ours. It really hurts to see a civil engineer in the space intended for architects.”
The source provided this photograph of an architectural drawing signed off by the engineer as evidence to support their claims
But, surely there are laws to protect those in the profession? Indeed: the unnamed source knows which regulation should apply, but it seems the government have been turning a blind eye for many decades:
“It's clearly a violation of the law (RA 9266 -- Architecture Law in the Philippines), but it is continuing. The law has no teeth. I just wonder if this problem also occurs in other countries?”
This source’s viewpoint is concerning, but is it an isolated case? Turns out the answer is no, as another source messaged me personally with the following distress signal:
“WELCOME TO AN ARCHITECT'S LIFE IN THE PHILIPPINES.
This is our problem: Civil Engineers, who by profession design bridges and roads, also practice architecture. They are commonly hired and commissioned to do medium-end residential and commercial buildings because of their ‘cheap’ professional fees. In fact, they already passed a law allowing them to sign and seal architectural documents.”
And behold, yet another user vented their frustration right on The Angry Architect Facebook Page:
“Here in Philippines, civil engineers kind of took over the role of architects, and the worst thing is they and the people don't think it's wrong.”
So, it appears the issue is widespread, and the disquiet amongst Philippine architects is not limited to lone beacons of angst. Are the assumptions about civil engineers being unfit to design architectural projects unfair? Are these comments a reflection of the arrogance and self-entitlement perceived by many outside of our profession? I would argue that the discontentment is well founded – but we must examine why, and seek ways in which to resolve the situation within discrediting others in the construction industry.
In the UK, an architect is not technically required to design a building – as long as a structure passes the planning application process and complies with building regulations, it can go ahead. The key here for architects is to make clients aware of the added value an architect can bring to their project – we must make our case convincingly, so that clients choose us and understand the great benefits of doing so.
By creating a building with a well functioning layout, considered specifications and beautiful detailing, the overall value of the finished product should comfortably outweigh the cost of architects’ fees. Further to this, an architect’s input can result in more robust buildings that require less maintenance, and energy-efficient designs that reduce running costs over the lifetime of the building – these are areas where an architect’s worth becomes clear in the long-term, making us better value than those Philippine civil engineers, even with their “cheap professional fees”.
Of course, could be argued that many of these aspects – quality detailing, robust structures, and energy efficiency, for example – can be produced to a high standard by engineers in the digital age, thanks to the power of BIM. Final year architecture student, long-time Angry Architect follower and astute commentator Xander Van Helden spoke to the subject on a recent facebook post, with a well-worded and fairly derisory view on what he calls “commercialist architecture”:
“Civil engineers can indeed design building, but they tend to think rationally, in figures and fixed budgets. Any BIM-oriented tool, in the right hands of engineer, becomes a tool for "generation with standardized elements". The result of this is a simplification of the role of architect as an independent designer. I doubt it should be called architecture.”
Another Philippine user sent in this image of a civil engineer's online portfolio on social media, in which they refer to themselves as "designer" - not "architect" in the legal sense, but nonetheless explicitly claiming authorship of the entire work. It raises the question, what place do architects have in the Philippines?
Significantly, Van Helden also points out the fact that commercial clients’ decision to use engineers over architects does not achieve the one thing they want more than anything else – to reduce costs. Unless a very experienced (and more expensive) contractor is used for such projects, the absence of an architect to oversee the work, manage the design, communicate with consultants and the construction team, and keep a handle on quality control can lead to a higher final bill. Van Helden notes:
“We may say that it is right as it saves money, it makes things easier for contractors; but at the same time the progress seems to be less evident.Any progressive thinking in architecture like Parametricism struggles to get through that ‘comfort zone’, remaining expensive and complex to be built without significant attention and development from contractors.”
In conclusion, as a profession we must recognize that we are selling a service that is not necessarily so tangible to those outside of the industry, or to less design-conscious members of the public. The profession is no longer protected as it once was; we must fight to remain relevant and remind people of the qualities that the profession can bring to the built environment, and to their everyday lives.
It is up to us to communicate our value, so that those choosing to spend their increasingly tight budgets do not see architects as a luxury, but as an essential component of their project: not only are we creative, we are also dependable, organized, efficient, communicative, competent, innovative and, most of all, professional. All of these things combined make us great value, in every sense of the word. We are worth it.
Let’s get that message across, in the Philippines and across the globe.
Yours through thick and thin,
The Angry Architect