Wednesday, May 19, 2010

JAC Committee Meets to Address Issue of Engineers Practicing Architecture

by Yvonne Castillo
TSA General Counsel

Yesterday afternoon the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) (Committee of members from the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners and Texas Board of Professional Engineers) met for the first time in almost nine months. This is the Committee that was legislatively mandated to help with the issue of engineers practicing architecture and vice versa – the latter not really being the issue.

Since its creation in 2003, nothing has been accomplished, including yesterday’s meeting. In fact, it took a longer-than-normal time (about 1 ½ hours into the meeting) for the engineers to start in with their same old, same old rhetoric: that engineers can design whole public buildings without architects as long as they’re “competent” to do so; the example they use that as long as there have been no problems with the building, they are competent to design them).

That’s like saying (and I’m borrowing this example): as long as I can conduct an appendectomy safely because I read a lot of books and I’m a pretty smart gal, it’s okay for me to conduct this kind of surgery without a license! This is why we have licensing laws.

The State of Texas licenses certain practices by establishing minimum criteria in education, experience, and examination. The three “e’s” as we call them are created to establish a minimum level of competency. Why the engineers think that the end result of the building should be a factor in that competency formula is beyond me.

It’s also beyond me to understand that when asked whether the reciprocal situation where an architect successfully and safely designs a structural beam that exceeds 24 feet could do so without violating the engineers licensing law, the answer was “no.” Stan Caldwell – one of the engineer board members - responded that “odds are,” the board of engineers won’t be going after them. Imagine the fairness of that! Architects, you can try it, but at your own risk!

Regardless of this illogical discussion, the Committee is forging ahead with lots of busy work. They’ve delegated to a sub-committee the task of creating a “scorecard” that matches objectively certain tasks to the three “e’s” with the hope that, in the future, cases that get referred to the JAC will have some objective criteria to resolve whether a subject professional crossed the line into the “other” profession. I “get” the utility of creating such a “scorecard” but the work seems premature, to me, if the engineers are still hanging onto the idea that an engineer can practice architecture without a license as long as they can do it competently.

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