I have recently had cause to reflect on the nature of professionalism in architecture as distinct from the commercial attitudes prevailing generally within the construction industry. Roderick Males pointed out in an article several years ago that the relationship of a professional person and his client is one of mutual trust. It is unique in the world of business and requires considerable dedication on the part of practitioners and protection from society if it is to survive. Although there has been a general widening of the scope of both professional and business activities in society in the last few years. the distinction between professional and commercial attitudes remains. The professional relationship becomes most meaningful when contrasted with commercial relationships.
An essential characteristic of trade has been that buyer and seller are free to drive a hard bargain each at their own risk (caveat emptor). Apart from fair dealing, neither party is expected to look to the other's interests. In contrast, professionalism has evolved to reduce the risks, which would otherwise be much greater for individuals seeking personal services on a commercial basis. The client must have faith in those from whom he seeks advice (credat emptor). Professional institutions developed with two-fold objectives: to provide additional protection to the public by reinforcing the law of contract with an assurance of special competence and a code of ethics; and to protect the professional by creating a climate in which relationships of mutual trust with clients may flourish, free from the need to advertise, to drive hard bargains over fees and fear of unfair competition during a job. The Competition Commission has created a conundrum by forcing architects to compete in the open market side by side with the commercial interests of trade. However, legally we are still being measured with the yardstick of credat emptor. It is illogical for the profession to be subject to two conflicting legal concepts, but where do we go from here?
Hans Haenlein www.haenlein.com