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Architects: To register or not to register?

Architects: To register or not to register?


Having recently transitioned from an architectural graduate to a registered Victorian architect, Amelyn Ng reflects on the process.

This is not your classic story with the concluding mandate to ‘get registered’. This is also by no means a representative or aggregative picture of architectural registration in Australia. Instead, this is a retrospective incursion into the thoughts of one such recently registered architect – an honest narrative that, while ultimately nothing more than personal opinion, I hope may resonate with other emerging professionals pondering a similar conundrum, and foster new discussions on approaching it.

Having only very recently transitioned from an architectural graduate to a registered Victorian architect, it was important for me to reflect on the six dense months of intensive revision preceding the national exam and interview, and the preceding years of accrued architectural experience, and properly examine my underlying ambitions for such an undertaking.

This dilemma, ‘to register or not to register’, is certainly not unfamiliar to graduates and working professionals in architecture – in fact, it likely haunts the thoughts of many non-architects who, even if they were experienced and well-placed for licensure, may see the registration pathway as too tedious, costly, administratively cumbersome or simply superfluous to what they want to do with their careers.

Truth be told, I found myself identifying with the last category – my deep interests lie in the cross-sections of academia, research, teaching, publication and public engagement: effectively all the things seemingly peripheral to the ‘real’ day-to-day procurement of buildings. By day I worked in an excellent emerging firm, gaining exposure to a good range of project work; in my spare time, I was writing articles for the architectural media, pitching conference papers, co-curating the PROCESS public forum and teaching theory at Melbourne University. I was also in no rush to set up my own practice – a common reason for choosing to register sooner rather than later. So, why did I get registered?

One motivating force was, surprisingly, not so much utilitarian (such as higher pay or a passport to offering one’s own architectural services) as much as it was philosophical: to ‘complete the trajectory’ of our long-drawn architectural education. By pursuing the traditional architect’s linear career pathway to its ‘peak’ milestone of legitimation, as it were, I longed to finally demystify for myself the ‘architect’ role and formally commit to a first-person understanding of its activities, responsibilities and obligations. This general sentiment is held by many colleagues of mine, but often understated for its apparent triviality.

Another reason for registering was, quite simply, so that I could count toward the statistical record. I felt a subconscious duty as a woman in the discipline to demographically improve the gender-imbalanced pool of licence-holders, to be an active participant in closing the gap between women as graduates and women as successful registrants. Parlour has thoroughly dissected this in its own writing on gender equality and women in Australian architecture (see, for example, its ‘Numbers in a Nutshell’ research on its website).

Yet, the fact that getting registered did not quell my deep interest in alternative modalities of practice – I am even more engaged in academic research now than I was pre-licensure – suggests to me that, maybe, the ways in which practitioners engage with the profession are fundamentally changing and diversifying in increasingly non-linear and multidisciplinary ways beyond the standard metrics outlined by the traditional architect.

Now, by no means have I regretted the route of registration, having personally found great benefit in honing my profession-specific, state-specific knowledge through the rigours of everyday practice, the pre-exam PARC course and by learning from the wealth of knowledge of senior licensed colleagues.

I found that being registered also allowed increased access to weighing in on topics; this access also helps support interchanges with clients, builders and the general public. There is also potentially more bargaining power in the structural formations of the discipline and its operations beyond the addressing of design-specific issues.

As a writer, registration has given me a far sharper set of tools with which to think through professional issues, and a common language to better recognise, understand and convey the situations of my peers in the field. It must be stated that I still have a vast amount to learn about this wonderfully multifarious and the open-ended field. In many ways, registration can be thought of as the start of a new trajectory, or the opening up of new routes for future practice.

I still think that something is missing from this ‘register-or-not’ binary equation. The broader takeaway is, perhaps, not so much how to make registration processes more efficient, nor how to get younger professionals registered more quickly, but to ask what it fundamentally means to young professionals to wear the badge of registration today.

The supposed marginal currents that surround or infuse the discipline may well yield important insights for us as we carve out our careers in increasingly uncertain futures. This may start with identifying broader needs: for new funding and inclusive occupation models in light of deficiencies in housing access, race or gender advocacy in light of unequal professional representation, typological or programmatic reinvention in light of rapid densification, better urban policies for public spaces in light of fragmentation, better business practices in light of unfair internships and employment fragility in boom-and-bust cycles, academic participation in light of evolutions in education, or alternative materials investigation in light of severe cladding system failures (to name a few).

By first registering these wider-ranging exigencies, we may be able to more meaningfully contemplate where the profession is, where we want it to head and, by extension, how we want to position ourselves as professionals and cultural agents to address these bigger picture priorities. In this way, we are better placed to assess what registration may offer to this picture, or even what registration could offer that we currently find wanting – thus, making progress in both the means (registration process) and its ends (architectural imperatives) in tandem, rather than keeping our gaze lowered and chasing the goal of registration as a mere end in itself.

This article originally appeared in AR154 – available online and digitally through Zinio.


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