An open letter to the RIAI Council and Members from the AAI Committee, May 2011
To whom it may concern,
The Committee of the Architectural Association of Ireland is deeply concerned over the current level of recognition and reward given to those that make architecture happen.
The AAI, which since 1896 has existed as a forum for those interested in the culture of architecture, sees some of our members who work within the profession exploited through low or no pay. This unacceptable behaviour carried out by employers appears concurrent with a trend in architects' own acceptance of unsustainably low professional fees and the proliferation of 'free-consultations'. Through this exploitation and the 'race to the bottom' in terms of fees the profession is complicit in nurturing a society where architecture is undervalued.
Justification from some within the profession is that one must work without pay to gain experience. We disagree. If one's work has a value, either as investment in a practice through competitions and research, or in the conventional production of design documents for paying clients, one should be fairly paid. If not, the message given to society at large is that the work required to make architecture happen has little or no value.
While it is not in society's interests that the practice of architecture in Ireland becomes exclusive to those from particular social strata, it would seem that due to the current tendency towards unpaid internships, only those with sufficient financial support have the opportunity to gain the experience required to progress. Those from lower-income backgrounds with understandable pressure to earn a wage following what is an already lengthy education, are excluded outright. Furthermore, young emerging practices cannot compete with those practices backed by years of very healthy yields, who are
now offering a degree of free work or work 'at a loss'.
Thankfully one member of the RIAI, Dublin-born architect Angela Brady and President-Elect of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), is contesting this sub-culture and is standing up for better values in architecture. The current RIBA President, Ruth Reed is already overseeing the enforcement of statutory minimum pay for all working students from this July and President-Elect Brady has vowed to continue this work through a zero-tolerance approach to practices that break these rules.
The AAI committee would welcome such development within the Irish profession. As such, we will be asking our members to sign a declaration on fair pay on their next submission to the annual AAI Awards. We call on the RIAI to join us in this stance for better values by ratifying and implementing the following:
• Following immediate consultation with all stakeholders, to establish rules on minimum pay and hold to account those practitioners who ignore these rules
• To make mandatory a signed declaration, for all competition and award submissions, that all employees used in the production of those submissions have been paid according to these rules
• To actively publicise Architectural Graduate Member status to all students and reduce the prohibitive cost of graduate membership
• Compile a complete register of all architectural graduates with the view to formalising all paid experience prior to professional examinations.
In summary, the value of architecture in our society and the values within the profession are under threat. It is from all those values combined that a built legacy will emerge. Hopefully, that legacy will be considered as a great gift given to the generations to come rather than a burden to be borne by them.
The architectural profession has a key responsibility in that story. We look forward to discussing how these proposals might be implemented at the next RIAI council meeting.
The AAI Committee
President: Douglas Carson
Site Visits Officer: Fergus Naughton
Hon. Treasurer: Joa Van Wyk
Ex-Officio: Hugo Lamont
Cultural Liaison Officer: Ellen Rowley
Honorary Secretary: Conor McGowan
2nd Year Competition Officer: Alice Clancy
Programme Officer: Kate Gannon
Membership Officer: Colm Dunbar
Website Officer: Dariusz Cyparski
Building Material Editor: Stephen Mulhall
Awards & Exhibition Officer: Paddy Cahill
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