The Unaccounted

A cross-posting to re:speak, but there’s a freerange under-current to my thoughts on the survey below, which documents the trajectory of architecture graduates in New Zealand who seem to be disappearing from the coutnries official Register of Architects.

Some background to familiarise you with the architecture profession in NZ.  In NZ, practicing as an Architect (to design, document, consult on, manage contracts with, administer contracts, and supervise the construction of buildings) is legally protected by the Registered Architects Act (2005), which essentially ensures that Registered Architects comply to ethical, professional and quality standards in their practice, ensuring that when you employ a Registered Architect (or simply ‘Architect’ -which is also covered by this Act) you can expect a professional service (like a registered Nurse, licensed Doctor or Lawyer, etc etc).  You can of course participate in the construction and design of the built environment without being a registered architect, and there are organisations which represent these designers (like ADNZ, Architectural Designers New Zealand Inc) -but like I say, you can’t call yourself an Architect.  Anyhow, if say, like me, you get the idea you want to be an architect when you grow up, and your twelve, you study physics and maths, and maybe design, or art, at highschool, and you look at going to one of our three schools, because to become an Architect, you need to get a recognised Degree (now a Masters of Architecture -used to be a 5yr Bachelor Degree) from an accredited programme (accredited by the Australasian Architecture Schools Association, who are in line with the International Union of Architects – but the whole accreditation thing is another story – needless to say, they have to tick their disciplinary boxes.   So, with your degree in-hand, and presuming you still want to be an Architect [this is where my story deviates], you must prepare yourself for the Registration Examination, which grants you the coveted place on the Register.  A prerequisite for this exam is at least 140 hours of practice experience, all categorised/allotted across a number of areas of competency (and there are MANY), and other documented cases which exemplify your skills and capability of being an architect, and you have to satisfy a committee at interview, and you have to have some money to pay for the application fee (incidentally, this fee tripled recently).  Anyway, if you employ a Registered Architect, they are guaranteed to be an on-to-it muthafucka.

So the discussion below is based around a survey recently published which looks at the activity of architecture graduates and the architects register for the last 20 years, as well as looking at gender, and also throws in some stats on membership to the architects representative institution, the NZIA.

It’s a very nice survey, with some really interesting outcomes, you can download it too, see the links below.

There are a few lines of trickery or subversion which have been alluded to in another post, regarding how one is active in our wonderful discipline/practice, but one statistical outcome which I am glad to have my hands on now – so that I can ponder more accurately – is that only 24% of the total architecture graduates between 1987 and 2008 are now on the Architects Register.  Its a loaded stat, but the author re-estimates a more accurate ‘representative’ figure is maybe 38%.  I’m really interested in the Unaccounted 62%-76%, not so much to dream up elaborate and idealised illegal architects or whatnot, but to consider how this figure could be fed-back to schools who craft their curriculums towards an appreciation of architecture, the professional practice of architects, and a liberal comportment for ethics, representation, craft, discourse, community, etc…

Anyway, that’s a mean preface, here goes:

Errol J Haarhoff, Professor of Architecture at the University of Auckland, has published a new survey of NZ architecture graduates, revealing some great relationships between the architectural institutions of NZ.

“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (Auckland University, 2010) extends Haarhoff’s previous, and similar, survey completed in 2001 – and if you’re interested, extends two older surveys of Australasian architecture graduates undertaken by Peter Johnson and Susan Clarke in 1979 and 1987, and supplements Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’ comprehensive survey of architecture education across Australasia (see the end of the article for these references).  Fortunately, the study can be downloaded from the NZRAB here [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (look on the left-hand column for the link).

I don’t want to go into a full analysis or discussion of the findings here (but I encourage you to), but I did want to point out a few interesting statistics which I had always wondered about, but never really knew the numbers…

Firstly, and most striking is a comparison Haarhoff makes between graduating (architecture) students and those Registering with the NZRAB (the New Zealand Registered Architects Board [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=1] administers the Registered Architects Act 2005, and maintains the architects register, obviously), and he finds that in 2009, only 24% of graduates (from the 3 NZ schools) are Registered Architects.  Statistically, this is a drop from 30% which was achieved in his 2001 survey.

Clearly this is a complicated statistic.  Firstly, Ostwald and Williams (2008) show a current trend in our schools for international students to make up about 20% of the population, it’s possible a considerable proportion of these students emmigrate upon completion.  Another consideration is that more recent years will obviously drop off in registrations (given the 140 weeks of experience required).  Haarhoff also suggests that the registration itself has changed, especially with the introduction of the 2005 Registered Architects Act.  I won’t communicate the full translation of all that here, but Haarhoff does suggest the ‘real’ figure might be around 38%.

Even so, a quick scan of the results shows that never has more than half of a graduating class registered as an architect.

Haarhoff also goes on to show that even when considering the trail-off of registrations in the last five years (because of the experience required in practice), there is still a significant drop in the proportion of graduates who register, given the fact that the average annual cohort of graduates across NZ hitting the scene has jumped from 115 to 165 (43% increase, most of which is attributed to Unitec’s new programme).

A few more factors are discussed by Haarhoff, namely that graduates may now be progressing through practice careers without feeling the necessity for registration, achieving fulfilling working environments alongside other registered architects.  Another critical aspect which Haarhoff confirms, is that a disproportionate number of females never register (where graduate proportions are approximating 50% – although strangely all three schools show a drop in this over the last 2 years – while only 18% of registered architects are female).

Undiscussed here, but really interesting, is Haarhoff’s more detailed analysis of gender in the profession, as well as some curious insight into membership to the New Zealand Institute of Architects – a really great piece of cross-institutional research (which suggests for example that there are 300 unaccounted Registered Architects who aren’t Architect Members of the NZIA).

Unfortunately -and reasonably, given the breadth and value of this survey- it is still very difficult to trace where the architectural graduates really might be.  This is a piece of research that I think would be very very valuable.  It would be a bit of a headache to find everyone (1,850 of us perhaps), but reasonably empirical right?  I suspect there are a few interesting factors which account for the apparent 76% of us Unregistered (or 62%, or 1,850, by Haarhoff’s conservative figure).

1. We travel overseas.  A million New Zealander’s live outside of New Zealand, which by my proportionate calculations of registered architects to population, means about 440 of those ex-pats could be architects.

2. Recent diversification (or ‘fragmentation’!) in the discipline (in the last decade even) – into urban design, city planning, digital fabricating, and all sorts of hybrid practices, means a fair few may never benefit from registering as architects.

3. We research.  Haarhoff correctly identifies, although never puts a figure on, those who follow academic careers in architecture (or other related disciplines).

4. We change careers.  This one I quite love, and although we can’t all be Italians and imagine studying architecture as a generalist education in worldliness –or more accurately, convince others to– I am pleased that there are architecturally educated peers out there, because I believe there is an ontology, and a discipline to architecture education, something important to Being, which is not necessarily about registering as an architect.

Images are Copyright 2010, Errol J Haarhoff.
Email: e.haarhoff@auckland.ac.nz

Errol J Haarhoff
“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” Auckland University, 2010.

Peter Johnson & Susan Clarke.
“Architectural Education in the Commonwealth – A Survey of Schools”
1979 & 1987, University of Sydney.

Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’
“Understanding Architectural Education in Australasia”
2008, NSW, ALTC.