"Pathetic" architecture watchdog gives
Dezeen ultimatum over Pawson story

| 93 comments

John Pawson

News: UK architecture watchdog the Architects Registration Board has been described as "crackers" and "pathetic" after the body gave Dezeen 14 days to amend an article describing John Pawson as an architect (+ interview).

In a letter sent today, ARB wrote: "It has been brought to the Board’s attention that the article ‘St Moritz Church by John Pawson’ on your website, www.dezeen.com, refers to John Pawson as an ‘Architect’."

The letter points out that Pawson - who is highly regarded internationally for his minimalist architecture - is not a registered architect and is therefore not allowed to use the title. ARB has the power to prosecute offenders.

"John Pawson is not a registered architect and therefore should not be described as such," the letter states. "Could you please confirm in writing within the next fourteen days the steps you will be taking to update this article accordingly."

ARB's letter to Dezeen. Click to view a larger version
ARB's letter to Dezeen. Click to view a larger version

Our article started with the sentence: "British architect John Pawson's minimalist remodelling of a church in Augsburg, Germany, includes slices of onyx over the windows to diffuse light more softly through the space."

However, since it was Dezeen referring to Pawson as an architect, rather than Pawson himself claiming to be one, we contacted ARB to ask if the body had any power to force us to amend our story.

"We're quite limited by what we can do," admitted ARB professional standards administrator Sarah Loukes, who wrote the letter. "It's not like we're going to take you to court or anything."

But Loukes claimed it was "in the public interest" for Dezeen to use an alternative description for Pawson, and suggested "architectural consultant".

Loukes admitted that, since Pawson's studio does employ at least one registered architect, we could use the phrase "architects John Pawson" to describe Pawson's company, but not "architect John Pawson" to describe Pawson as an individual.

Pawson studied at the Architectural Association in London but did not complete the lengthly period of study required to qualify as an architect - a prerequisite for being allowed to register with ARB.

However Pawson avoids referring to himself as an architect, despite having a world-famous body of architectural work that includes houses, apartment buildings and churches. He is also designing the future home of London's Design Museum.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson
Our article about Pawson's St Moritz Church triggered the letter from ARB.

"It's a bit crackers," said Pawson's office manager Chloe Hanson. "He never finished his studies. That's why he's not allowed to say he's an architect."

"The whole thing is a bloody joke," said Amanda Baillieu, editor of UK architecture magazine Building Design. "He's as much an architect as Richard Rogers. Everyone knows that."

Last year ARB apologised to Baillieu for writing to her to say that her publication could not describe world-famous architects Renzo Piano and Daniel Libeskind as architects, since they were not registered in the UK.

"All they can do is run around chasing after websites for calling people architects rather than going after the big firms who don't pay their staff, who behave incompetently, or who bring the profession into disrepute," Baillieu added. "It's pathetic."

The ARB was established 1997 to regulate the profession, following the introduction of new legislation protecting the title of "architect" in the UK. The legislation prohibits anyone from using the title “architect” in business or practice unless they are registered with ARB.

Here's the transcript of the interview between Dezeen editor Rose Etherington and ARB professional standards administrator Sarah Loukes:


Rose Etherington: Why is it that we can't refer to John Pawson as an architect?

Sarah Loukes: It's because we work in accordance with the Architects' Act 1997 and within that act - it's actually section 20 of that act - it specifically protects the title “architect” and so in order for a person to use that title they need to be registered with us at the ARB.

So it's protected by law, but the act as I think I mentioned in my letter is very specific and it does only protect “architect/architects” whereas the derivatives “architecture” and “architectural” are not protected under the act so we don't have jurisdiction over those.

Rose Etherington: How should we refer to John Pawson in that case?

Sarah Loukes: I would suggest an “architectural consultant”. As long as it doesn't specifically refer to “architect” then that's fine - there's nothing illegal there.

Rose Etherington: Is his practice registered, or is the problem with him as an individual?

Sarah Loukes: We register the individual so as far as I'm aware, I don't think his practice is registered… Can I just get my files out if that's all right? One moment.

I've had a look and I've just searched. As I say it's generally the individuals who register under the act so I've just done a search generally for the practice and the name of John Pawson and it does bring up a Mr Benjamin Collins so actually you are right in the sense of the practice can be called architects because there is a registered individual.

[The issue] would be specifically related to [John Pawson] being called an architect or referred to as an architect.

Rose Etherington: The practice itself is called John Pawson - so we could say “architects John Pawson have completed a church” but we couldn't say “architect John Pawson has completed a church”?

Sarah Loukes: That's it. If that makes sense. It's quite specific in what we can allow and can't allow. But as I say, because I've located this Mr Benjamin Collins who is registered at the practice, in that sense reference can be made to “architects” as the practice and not as Mr John Pawson being an architect individually.

Rose Etherington: So we could say "architects John Pawson" even though there's only one registered architect there?

Sarah Loukes: Yeah.

Rose Etherington: Does it matter if the person who's a registered architect worked on the project we're referring to?

Sarah Loukes: Not essentially, no. He's essentially the architect at the practice so it allows him to use this title and the practice be called architects.

That would be okay because there isn’t any specific regulation over the plural or anything like that with regards to “architect/architects”. And yes, that would be fine in that context.

Rose Etherington: I've had a careful look at the PDF guidance you sent over, but in this case it's not John Pawson calling himself an architect, it's us as a media organisation.

Sarah Loukes: Quite right and that's why essentially I've gone direct to you because it's not him actively doing it himself but it is still an inaccurate way of describing him because he isn’t registered with us and he's not an architect. So in that sense that's why I've gone directly to yourselves and not to him individually.

Rose Etherington: So is it him that's responsible for the way in which he's talked about?

Sarah Loukes: Not essentially when it comes to on your website or on a publication because he's not actively holding himself out as an architect himself. it's slightly different if you see what I mean. But it's still our responsibility to contact the publication or writer to advise you that that description is inaccurate.

Rose Etherington: Is there any chance that because of what we've written John Pawson will be in any trouble?

Sarah Loukes: No, hence why I've contacted you directly but we wouldn’t contact him.

Rose Etherington: If we didn’t amend the article, what would then happen?

Sarah Loukes: Well we're quite limited by what we can do to be honest. It's not like we're going to take you to court or anything like that. But we would like to say that in the public interest it would be better to describe him as an alternative. Because in the way that it is, it's kind of misleading because he's not an architect.

Rose Etherington: When you say it’s not in the public interest, what do you mean by that?

Sarah Loukes: Because he's not registered with us, he doesn’t fall under our jurisdiction and as we're the regulator and, you know, architects are held to account and have to adhere to our code of conduct and regulations and guidance that we set out.

So when a person isn’t an architect they don't fall under our jurisdiction and there's not that protection there for the public.

Rose Etherington: So if John Pawson was going around calling himself an architect you could prosecute him but you don’t actually have the power to do that to publication?

Sarah Loukes: No, it couldn't be dealt with in the same way.

Rose Etherington: Would it make a difference it we weren't based in the UK?

Sarah Loukes: I think it does. The fact that if you’re based in the UK then there is that onus that if it is a UK-based business or publication it should adhere to the regulations of the act, whereas if it was outside of the UK it wouldn’t fall under our jurisdiction and legality.

Rose Etherington: But there's not any legal reason why we need to comply anyway?

Sarah Loukes: No it's very difficult for me to say you have to do this. But it’s our job to inform publications and websites of the correct way of describing the individual because it's a protected title.

So we try and do our best to ensure that the individuals are described in as accurate a way as possible. Hence why we contact you directly if something like this is brought to our attention.

Rose Etherington: How would someone qualify to be called an architect under your regulations?

Sarah Loukes: They have to go through a process of registration with us. I couldn’t give you all the details myself because it actually falls under my registration team's criteria but it is roughly around seven years of education and training to actually become eligible to register with us at the ARB.

As far at I'm aware there's Part I, II, III and the final part is an exam here in order for the individual to pass and to enable them to register.

Rose Etherington: Is there a fee?

Sarah Loukes: The fee itself I'm not 100% sure. When we said about the examination, I know it’s over £1000 but when the individual is eligible to register with us there is an annual retention fee. This year it's £98.50 so that's what's required for them to stay on the register.

Rose Etherington: Can people leave and come back?

Sarah Loukes: Yes you can come off the register and come back on at any point but there is a difference if you come back on within two years they don't have to provide evidence of continuous professional envelopment, whereas if it's over that two year period they have to show evidence of that.

Rose Etherington: Has John Pawson ever been registered with the ARB?

Sarah Loukes: It doesn't look like he has. There are three individuals by the name of Pawson and I would be able to see if there was someone previously registered.

  • j Schott

    A licensed driver is not the same as a good driver in some cases. Licensed architect is not the same as…

  • Ela

    J.P. is not a registered architect. The information is already in the public domain. The fact that a topic is discussed in the media does not automatically mean that there is necessarily a public interest in disclosing the information. The public interest is not necessarily the same as what interests the public.

    May be the public is more interested in the answer to this: Why isn’t John Pawson registered under thousands of restrictive laws, rules and regulations that govern even the smallest details of his professional live? Is there any other civilization in the Universe protecting words? Was these the intention of the Great Architect of the Universe to protect words like A-r-c-h-i-t-e-c-t ?

  • Francesco

    I wonder why any decent academic institution cannot step up and honour John Pawson with an honorary degree! I believe that he is worth the title.

    • Mupppet

      He has a degree, just not a part 3. Does nobody read anything before writing?

  • ton papa

    I’d like to ask you to look at it on a wider angle and ask a more basic question, which I think should be defining the art of architecture.

    Can all architects draw with their hands? No. Should all architects be able to draw with their hands? Yes. Can an architect who can’t draw with their hands be an architect?Yes.

    When I was young, I thought architecture was about drawing buildings. Obviously we lost the essence of what architecture is: drawing buildings.

    ARB, go do something about this issue if you are the so called architect’s police.

    • Mupppet

      That makes no sense. Please make sense.

  • sultony

    John Pawson became famous through interior design first and being a minimalist. This explains why he did not qualify as an architect – he could only work within his limitations and do interiors.

    Not knowing too much about construction and materials, he was forced to use them sparingly. Voila! Minimalism arrived!

  • PeterB

    It is quite enlightening to see this type of discussion aired publicly. Although it might seem pedantic or pathetic to the casual reader and public at large, this is a topic of great importance to any professional organisation or individual who care for their profession and its standing in the world.

    Architects are one of a few professionals, lawyers being another, who have this degree of control over their use of the term “architect”. Because they do, we all know what it means to be called an “architect” and we expect them to be suitably educated and qualified in order to do so. That is the public’s protection against unlawful use of the term by unqualified practitioners and the resulting possible failure of buildings or other structures created by them.

    Because other professionals do not have this level of control over use of their professional title, we have a situation in the UK, which does not occur in other, more regulated countries, in which the title “engineer”, or “designer” (for instance) can be applied to virtually anyone who wishes it, qualified or not.

    As a result, the general public and the press in particular, habitually refer to their car mechanic, the photo-copier or washing machine repairer and many other similar tradesman, as “engineers”. The same thing happens with ‘designers’.

    One of the consequences of this, is that unlike say, in Germany, the UK does not give any status to the qualified ‘engineer’ or ‘designer’ whose duties and responsibilities, as well as creative powers, may be equally as important as those of an “architect”. As a result, we find that studying engineering or any technical subject is no longer popular and the country is now short of suitable recruits.

    So maybe this discussion topic is not as shallow as it might seem.

  • architect

    Bureaucracy, not skills or education qualify you as an architect. In Australia they educate people in contract administration and award them with a title of architect (subject to tests related mainly to business skills).

    I worked for a successful practice for a while where the principle architect appreciated my design skills because, “we need you, I’m a good architect, but a hopeless designer”.

  • Adrian

    This isn’t absurd at all. It’s a protected title. You can’t just go around calling everyone an architect, unless they’re qualified.

  • MiniMal

    Well from this side of 20 years as an architect, a real one, I reckon that calling yourself an architect is overrated, so nothing to see here, move along.

    Cushion-chuckers (aka interior designers, or even worse “interior architects”, puke) don’t expose themselves to the risk of getting sued because some crappy builder cut corners behind their back…and they don’t have to pass on purchase incentives on fittings and fixtures.

    In fact, they usually charge a hefty percentage cut on top of full price purchases. Wish I had listened to the fabulous law professor who stood outside my Part III exam hall in full garb and told me not to enter the room!

    Very wise advice, sadly ignored by my younger self who was determined to see a long course through to the (bitter) end.

  • Mart

    I’m pretty sure when you have not just one, but TWO issues of El Croquis (a “real” magazine by the way) dedicated to your body of architectural work, you get to call yourself an architect (not that he does, mind you. He’s dope enough to just get by calling himself “John Pawson”!).

    ARB, AIA, RIBA, etc. go get real jobs.

  • http://kylehoward.org Kyle Howard

    The whole thing is a joke. What petty idiots.

  • Nathan Beckwith

    John Pawson makes some incredible spaces. That’s all I need to know as a reader and admirer of his work. Make the edit and satisfy the bureaucrats with a sly snigger at their pettiness.

  • Gia

    Well John Pawson is very talented, but he DID not finish his architectural training, hence, he is not qualified to be referred to as an architect. What is wrong with that?

    I think the professional body is responsible for protecting the profession reputation, this includes only people who are qualified can be referred to as an architect. Furthermore, this magazine is in the wrong, if you got some information wrong, you should humble yourself and admit you made a mistake and correct it.

    It is every good journalists responsibility to get their facts straight. Clearly you guys don’t consider yourself as journalists, as you take no pride in accuracy of your article.

  • Arte

    Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright were not architects either. Architecture is about being registered in the ARB. Space, light, cities, peoples life, nothing to do with architecture.