Emergent Issues for Architects

July 21, 2009 · by DesignIntelligence

Responsible control and mobility of credentials are two issues coming down the road that will be large on NCARB’s radar.

The following remarks are extracted from an address by Gordon Mills, president of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, which were delivered at the NCARB Annual Meeting and Conference in Chicago in June.

As I indicated in my opening remarks earlier this morning, I’m going to focus on two issues that I see coming down the road that I believe will be large on NCARB’s radar. The issues are responsible control and mobility of credentials. Neither issue is urgent today, but they are emergent. I believe that both are embedded in changes underway in practice and in society. Responsible control and mobility will surface as important issues that NCARB must address when the time is right. To address them successfully, it is important that NCARB be prepared. That preparation will come from analysis, study, and the continuation of the dialog that we have had over the past two years.

Why do I dwell on just these two issues and not others? NCARB always has much on its plate regarding integrated project delivery (IDP), the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), communications, education, and customer service. These programs will require continued diligence as we journey down the road. However, I believe the environment in which these things are developed and delivered is reasonably foreseeable for the next few years. At the same time, architectural practice is changing, and across the globe, economics and politics are playing a greater role in regulation. As these changes continue, they will demand a response from NCARB, a response that is both timely and appropriate if regulation is to remain a relevant and a valuable part of public protection.

First let me talk about responsible control. Saturday we will take up a resolution that is a by-product of some very good work by our Procedures and Documents Committee and their Integrated Project Delivery Task Force. The testimony they received in their hearing last October has resulted in a relatively modest change in our definition of responsible control. It is far less of a change than I expected would result when we established the Task Force last year. I do believe the revised definition as presented in the resolution is appropriate to where practice is at this time and place. There is real wisdom in the definition they produced. Through the hearings NCARB determined that integrated project delivery, with and without building information modeling (BIM), is in flux. Practice, on all sides -- client, architect, engineer, E & O insurer, product supplier, and contractor -- is feeling its way in to this method of delivery. What is in place today is not what will be in place tomorrow. What is happening in big firms is not necessarily what is happening in small firms. What is happening on some innovative projects is not what is happening on most projects. Practice with regard to this delivery process is still very much in flux.

I believe that the signs are very clear that practice is moving in the direction of integrated project delivery. Down the line I see it as the prevailing delivery method for projects that are big and small and used by firms that are both big and small. The advantages imbedded in a process are great. It has the potential to apply the talents of the entire team in project decision making at a much earlier time in the life of the project. It will win out for many reasons, but notable to me is the fact that that through deep planning early in the project life, both time and dollars will be saved. This can be done without sacrificing design or the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

What are the signs this transformation is underway? There are many. First, you only need to read our professional press such as, DesignIntelligence, Building Design and Construction, and Architectural Record to know that IPD has traction. Clients are asking for it because they’ve seen the evidence that this can make for better projects, providing improved value not only near term but also over the years the building is occupied. You have all read about the stimulus plan and the dollars from that plan that are pointed toward buildings. The General Services Administration has about $8 billion in stimulus funds to spend on projects. They have deadlines for when those dollars must be spent. To meet these time and cost commitments these projects will be accomplished using IPD in one form or another.

There are other IPD champions out there as well. Colleges and universities are getting on board. So are state governments and other branches of the federal government. The private sector is also using this approach more and more.

The architect is the only person on the building team who is educated and trained to protect the public. IPD has the potential to blur the roles and responsibilities of the many team members. It is possible to view this potential as a threat. It is also possible to view this as a opportunity for architecture and public protection.

It’s time for me to provide my annual and last quote to you from Winston Churchill. It is a quote that I’ve used before but one that fits well here: “A pessimist is one who sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist is one who sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

I believe in that quote. As regulators it is critical that we grasp this opportunity. We must to ensure continued adequate protection of the public.

Forward-thinking people who have executed projects using IPD profess confidence that they are exercising appropriate responsible control by the architect throughout the project process. I hope that they are. The problem that I see is that our industry has not yet even begun to wring out the full potential value from BIM and integrated project delivery. That will come with time. As IPD evolves, it will be necessary for NCARB to consider how it regulates practice to protect the public. How responsible control is achieved will be critical. Will the architect maintain his or her strong role? Or will others supplant the architect’s authority? I am confident that larger changes in the definition will be needed down the road in order that regulation remain relevant and additive to process rather than an obstacle that detracts. NCARB will need to play a strong part as this story plays out.

What signals will NCARB receive as this transformation takes place? It is hard to predict, but there will be signs. BIM and IPD together have the potential to serve client project needs and add value from predesign through construction and throughout the occupied life of the building. As this happens there will be an expansion of BIM as a tool. It is already underway. To wring out the most value from the capabilities of BIM and IPD, adjunct programs that interface with BIM are coming in to use. These programs are for cost estimating, energy modeling, facilities management, and more. As their use increases the use of IPD as a delivery system will increase. And the roles of project team members will have the potential to blur even more. I believe it is important that NCARB keep an eye on the growth of IPD and on the expansion of BIM as a tool. We must continue to assess the impact of these changes on Responsible Control. We need to do so in order that both the definition and practice of responsible control continue to provide protection of the public as it meets the needs of architectural practice.

At this time it is too early for NCARB to get out in front. IPD is too much in flux, and practice must lead regulation. However, NCARB must be alert for a time that might well come where regulation, to remain relevant and appropriate, must lead practice. Putting a stake in the ground then would be a wise thing for NCARB to do.

Let me move on to my second issue: mobility of credentials. NCARB has a very good credentialing system. It works reasonably well with jurisdictional licensing. However, it presents challenges, or impediments, to mobility. NCARB has aggressively tackled our level of customer service with growing success. I believe that NCARB and member boards need to do the same with mobility.

For those of you who are relatively new to NCARB, the idea of having a truly national passport/national certificate has come up for discussion. Most recently, it was brought to the NCARB Board table in 2006. As a strong proponent of the concept for a national passport/certificate, I presented the concept for discussion at our Member Board Chairs Conference and our Member Board Executive Workshop in the fall of 2007.

I would like to pause here to describe the concept. The goal is to get all 54 jurisdictions to accept the credential provided by NCARB as sufficient evidence that an applicant for license is qualified through education, training, and examination to be licensed in each jurisdiction. Jurisdictions would remain the licensing authority and could, if they feel it appropriate, have a jurisdiction-specific overlay. One on state law and rules is an example. They would continue to focus effort on discipline-related aspects of regulation. They also could retain whatever requirements they deem appropriate for applicants who come to them for licensing without an NCARB credential. The idea is to dispense with the valueless friction of looking behind the “blue cover” for initial licensing and reciprocity.

While I embrace the concept, not all do. I presented the concept at the Member Board Executive Workshop in the fall of 2007. Here is the shirt that I wore. See this spot right here….I think that Rxxx Lxxxx lobbed that one. Dxxxx Kxxxx, do you remember this one? I do, it was a direct hit. Don’t take this as a sign that the discussion didn’t go well. It was a very good conversation. I knew that there would be some strong reactions expressed at that meeting. There were. I again thank the MBEs for entering in to that dialog with me. Oh yes, to be fair and balanced, there were some at the meeting who supported the concept.

Since that day, we have kept the dialog alive. In these exchanges learning ideas have flowed both ways. As we’ve moved through the past 18 months, more people have come to see potential merit in improved mobility for credentials. We are not at the point that we can implement a concept. However, we are at a point where we have more information available as we consider the concept. Here is one piece. A federal oversight board for accountancy directed the Accountants Licensing Boards across the county to come up with a mobility plan. This happened as the result of accounting scandals. This mobility drive was first reported to me at the MBE Workshop in 2007. At that time the number of states on board was approaching 40. In mid May it was reported that they now have 47 states on board with their mobility program. This includes states like New York, a state where licensing of architects frequently deviates from Model Law, making licensing and renewals more challenging that they would otherwise be. If they can figure it out for accountants in New York, we should be able to figure it out for architects in New York.

I have one more interested participant to paint in to this picture. That is the international community. You know that we come to you for approval of memorandums of understanding to establish reciprocity for the practice of architecture with other economies. Once we get the initial MRU in place, we then need to negotiate the details of the agreement. This is where we so often find a roadblock. In many economies reciprocity between political subdivisions is mandated. This is happening more and more. Therefore, many economies have an expectation that if they send a qualified candidate to a U.S. jurisdiction for license, that candidate should be, by nature of having a certificate from NCARB, eligible to receive a license in any of our jurisdictions. When we say that is not the case, negotiations stall. Most recently this has stalled our negotiations with the European Union. It is only one of many examples I could cite.

Europe and Canada are two geographies where the politicians have said to our profession, “You will have mobility between your subdivisions,” period. When the politicians say it, it happens. Could this happen to architecture in the U.S.? It could. We certainly don’t want it to, but if it should, we want to be the ones designing that mobility system.

Last summer I represented NCARB at the Union of International Architects Congress in Turin, Italy. It is at this triennial congress that the UIA sets their priorities for the next three years. They have three main priorities on which they are working, and one of them is mobility of credentials. This is still more evidence of this growing trend.

In mid May NCARB convened a Blue Sky Task Force to talk about credentialing from a clean sheet of paper approach. This small group with representation from inside and outside NCARB had a very good day. I have provided a report and recommendations from the Task Force to the NCARB Board. We’ll have the recommendations on the Board agenda for in depth discussion later this year. The Task Force generated a number of good ideas that were placed on the table for discussion. Among the ideas that have traction is the idea of improved mobility.

You may say, we don’t need this now. You simply don’t hear a demand for it. Perhaps we don’t need it today. But I’m very confident that we will need it in the future, probably sooner that we might think. If we don’t plan for it ourselves, it may be foisted upon us by unknowing politicians who simply dictate, “You will have mobility, period.” So I suggest as I leave this office that we pay attention to impediments we have. That we work to find ways we can improve mobility between jurisdictions in the U.S. and internationally. Keep the dialog alive. No one professes to have the perfect plan. This is a time for collaboration, of feeding good ideas in to the dialog, not just the most convenient obstacles. Some of those obstacles are real, but they can be overcome if we work together. The plan that will result will be an appropriate plan for architecture, not some cobbled, politically directed Rube Goldburg contraption.

Finally, given the opportunity to serve as president has allowed me to see and hear you work. This organization is loaded with talented people who are passionate about architecture and the NCARB mission. I’ve been privileged to be a part of it. I would like to extend my thanks to all of you who have worked so hard in your committee work, on the Board, and in the NCARB office in Washington. You have given many hours of your time from your offices, and families. You traveled great distances on behalf of NCARB, and probably arrived without your luggage. I thank you very much for this great opportunity.

 

Gordon E. Mills is the retired chairman and CEO of Durrant, headquartered in Dubuque, Iowa. He was the 2008-2009 president of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Mills is a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council and a Fellow of the America Institute of Architects.

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