On April 28, 2016, the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada announced it was changing its designation categories. Starting in a year, only licensed architects can use the term RAIC (and interns can use RAIC (Intern) to reflect the importance of the internship process to the profession). This announcement, in RAIC news was also posted to the OAA website and twitter feed. Being an active twitter user, I posted, and reposted, this several times because I think that this is an important, and overdue, move to clarify who is and isn’t an architect in Canada. This led to a lengthy twitter discussion on why this change is important and what it means. To go on longer than the 140 character limit, this blog piece is going to try and set a few things straight.

Let’s start at the beginning. The RAIC has a mission to “promote excellence in the built environment and advocate for responsible architecture.” Membership is currently open to all people involved in and supporting architecture and the built environment. Membership with full rights is now reserved for Architects, Intern Architects, Graduates of Architecture programs, and Faculty of Architecture programs; these members currently use the title MRAIC and stand for and vote in elections. Additionally, Fellows, [FRAIC], Life or Life Fellows as well as Retired and Retired Fellows have these same rights as members. All others are either affiliates (involved in the design and construction industry), associates (students [Associate RAIC] or internationally registered architects [Int’l Assoc. RAIC] ; None of these categories are entitled to vote or stand for elections, nor are they entitled to use the MRAIC designation.

Starting next year, interns will be able use the term RAIC (Intern), retired architects will use RAIC (Retired), and only licensed architects will be able to use RAIC. The use of MRAIC will cease; presumably, though not listed, FRAIC will remain.

So why is this significant?

Put simply, there is a level of confusion in the public about what defines an architect. Some assume that its enough to simply go to architecture school, or “draw up plans.” Others have a vague concept that architects are professionals of some sort, but not really sure what they do, why or how they are involved in society. Certainly, this is an education opportunity that organizations like the RAIC, and the provincial regulators have been engaged in for years. However, more troubling is the impression that is given when a non-professional “does plans” and uses the title MRAIC to add legitimacy to their name, creating the impression that they are an architect when, in fact, they are not. And when these non-professionals skirt the edges of the legislated mandate of the regulator, its very hard for those regulators because the member is just a hairsbreadth inside the rules.

This means that graduates and faculty members cannot use MRAIC. They can still be members, but just not use the title. This means that they can show support for the organization, and for built form. They can advocate for architecture, have access to professional resources, attend the annual festival and take continuing education courses at membership rates. The title is reserved for architects, eliminating the confusion over who is and who isn’t, an architect.

As an example, I support the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce because I think that they do good work for businesses, for the economy and put on good events. I don’t have to join, but feel that is a good use of my money to raise awareness of the Ottawa business community and that, somehow, it gives a voice to my concerns. But I don’t feel a need to put “Member, Chamber of Commerce” at the end of my name. it goes without saying that if someone asked, I would tell them, and why, but its also obvious from my approach to business, my role in the community and network that this is important to me. Likewise, I don’t have to be a member of the RAIC and, if I wasn’t an architect, it would not bother me to lose those five initials because my support for architecture would remain.

Are there other things that should change? Yes, without a doubt. The RAIC should consider embracing a broader membership. For example, OAA Licensed Technologists (who are members of the OAA) cannot be members of the RAIC. Nor can Licensed Interior Designers (members of the Alberta Association of Architects). Nor can technologists who work in architectural practices, building officials or planners, all of whom are critical in the creation of excellence in built form. Perhaps membership categories that look at a more inclusive picture of the multi-disciplinary roles in creating excellence are needed.

And with that, there might be similar categories of membership in other regulatory organizations to recognize these roles. This could open a class of membership to a broader segment of the market, increasing revenues and unifying voices to better enhance the role of architecture in society. But, and here is the crux, it is architects who are leading this and have the education, experience and examination to prove that they are the leading voice in the creation of built form. And so, those who are architects have earned the right, and responsibility, to call themselves architect, and use the designation RAIC.

And to complete the picture, those who currently use MRAIC legitimately and don’t intentionally set out to create confusion are in the minority. But they do have to explain, probably over and over, “no, I’m not architect but…” when people see MRAIC, or, for that matter, M. Arch, at the end of their name. We can’t control what people think when they see a person’s title, but by restricting the use of RAIC, a possible source of confusion is eliminated. Now, when the public (or media) see’s someone’s name with a series of degrees (Mary Smith, BAS, M.Arch) they know the person has a Masters in Architecture and isn’t confused with Jane Doe, BAS, M.Arch, RAIC. Now it is clear, Jane Doe, BAS, M.Arch, Architect, OAA, RAIC says that that Jane has a degree, is an architect and believes in supporting a national voice for built form. And Mary Jones, BAS, M. Arch is a graduate of an architecture program and, in her job as a teacher, writer or researcher, demonstrates her support for built form.