Dezeen Magazine

John Pawson

"Pathetic" architecture watchdog gives Dezeen ultimatum over Pawson story

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,, 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.