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AIBC tries to maintain dignity behind the word architect

Shannon Moneo
AIBC tries to maintain dignity behind the word architect

Since April, the Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) has issued almost 20 illegal practice findings and launched three civil lawsuits against individuals and companies who are claiming to be architects or who are providing some form of "architectural" services.

Only an architect who is registered with the AIBC can say they are an architect and offer services derived from the word "architect."

Compliance with the Architects Act is also expected.

"A degree in architecture does not make them an architect," said Thomas Lutes, the AIBC’s lawyer and director of professional conduct and illegal practice.

After the AIBC was made aware of the faux architects, the scofflaws were notified, typically via letters.

In most cases, those advertising architectural design services or claiming to be architects on LinkedIn or Facebook profiles, or company websites, took "immediate" steps to remove references to "architect" or its derivatives. Others were somewhat slower at correcting their misrepresentations. The civil lawsuits are proceeding because some have refused to remedy their public information, explains Lutes.

Compliance is in the 90 per cent range, he added.

Jodi Kozicki received an illegal practice notice from the AIBC in May while she was in China.

"I was blown away," said Kozicki, owner and designer at her Comox-based company Ground Level Design. Since 2007, she’s done commercial and residential design work on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Until late May, her company website and Facebook profile featured "architectural design" services.

"I immediately took steps to correct it," she said. "It was a very serious allegation."

Kozicki, who has worked with an AIBC member for seven years, didn’t realize the inviolability of the word "architect" and associated terms.

"It was an honest mistake," she said. "I didn’t realize the word was as protected as it was."

Part of her reasoning for using the term "architectural design" was because some people consider designers to be more akin to home decorators.

Kozicki, a graduate of the B.C. Institute of Technology’s interior design and building construction programs, said her work as a designer goes far beyond decorating.

"Ten per cent of what we do is decorating," she says. Adding "architectural" spoke more to Kozicki’s varied abilities.

Her "innocent blunder" has cost about $500 because she can’t use her car sign or remaining business cards since "architectural design" is printed on the material.

"It was a good lesson," Kozicki said.

Driving some of the jump in complaints about misrepresentation is the selling and renovation boom in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, where design firms want a leg up on the competition.

But, when someone without comprehensive training calls themselves an "architect," or offers "architectural plans," unsophisticated clients think they’re getting the real deal, Lutes said. If something goes sideways on the dream renovation or new build, clients could be left with little recourse.

The AIBC does not scour social media profiles or company websites seeking rule-breakers.

"We wait for complaints to come to us," Lutes said. Each workday, several come in from the general public and sometimes from retired architects or local governments’ planning staff.

As well, there’s a growing concern outside the Lower Mainland that businesses and local governments are relying on non-architects to design projects. Large buildings, such as hotels, are being built in outlying areas with architectural services being provided by non-architects, said Lutes.

Some may label this a turf war between architects and the less-educated designers but there is a liability risk when structures are built without architect’s drawings, he explained.

"It’s not just law and policy. You also get a better building," Lutes said.

Beyond liability, there are additional reasons why the AIBC is vigilant.

AIBC members earn an undergraduate degree and then a Master’s degree in architecture, which, at the University of B.C., is a three-year program. Following university, graduates must complete an internship that can be from two to seven years. The internship is followed by a national examination and oral review, Lutes said.

Once they’ve passed those requirements, a $900 annual payment to the AIBC allows the graduate to legally lay claim to the title "architect" in B.C.

Even as a lawyer, Lutes said he was "blown away" by the prerequisites.

"It’s why there are very few architects in their twenties," he said. "There’s so much to learn in architecture."

As master builders, architects must know not only design, but engineering and construction, including watertight knowledge of building codes and regulations.

Architects are typically the prime professionals on projects. In June 2016, the AIBC had 1,951 registered architects. The AIBC also had 900 registered firms, 575 interns and 180 retired architects.

"Our job is to maintain the dignity of the profession," Lutes said.

To verify whether someone is an architect and to check credentials and professional disciplinary histories, contact the AIBC (aibc.ca).

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