Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Global and Local Competency Requirements for Architects

Global and Local Competency Requirements for Architects: The Case of Kuwait

Dr. Yasser Mahgoub


Globalization facilitates opportunities for architects to work in a worldwide business environment. Architects are increasingly finding work opportunities in countries different than their own. Developing countries are seeking the expertise of architects and engineers from developed countries. This has been evident in the Gulf countries since the middle of the 20th century, when they witnessed rapid growth and development on the hands of many foreign engineers and architects. While, there is a enduring need to benefit from global expertise in all disciplines., there is also a need to adhere to local cultural needs and understandings. The aim of this paper is to identify both global and local requirements for the development of competency evaluation system for architects. The paper surveyed examples of competency requirements for architects’ competency in different countries. Using the case of Kuwait as a vehicle for discussion, this paper proposes a model for identifying global and local requirements for the development of an objective evaluation system for architects. These requirements should be covered in education, experience, examination and continuing education. The paper concluded that, an objective evaluation system of architectural competency should recognize both local and global requirements as essential for a meaningful professional conduct.

Keywords architecture; professional competency, global, local, Kuwait


Globalization facilitates opportunities for architects to work in a worldwide business environment. Developing countries are seeking the expertise of architects and engineers from developed countries to improve the living conditions of their citizens. This has been evident in the Gulf countries since the middle of the 20th century, when they witnessed rapid growth and development on the hands of many foreign engineers and architects. There is a continuous need to benefit from global engineering expertise from all around the world while adhering to local cultural needs and understandings.
The aim of this paper is to identify both global and local requirements for the development of an objective evaluation system for architects’ competency to work in other countries. The questions paused by this paper are: what constitutes competency requirements for work in another culture? what do we need to learn globally and locally?


The paper surveyed competency requirements for architects in different countries. A comparative analysis of these requirements revealed the essential elements to be included in an evaluation system for architects. Using the case of Kuwait as a vehicle for discussion, this paper proposes a comprehensive model for identifying global and local requirements for the development of an objective evaluation system for architecture.

Globalization and Architectural Practice

The phenomenon of globalization is itself global, that is to say, all-encompassing. It is of course in the first instance a material or economic phenomenon, but, like all significant civilizational developments, it also has profound cultural or spiritual significance (Madison, 1998, p.5).
Discussions of globalization are currently dominating the intellectual and public discourse. While some view it as an evil trend towards dehumanization and economic domination others view it as a multifaceted phenomenon that pauses challenges and offers new opportunities. The architecture profession realized the impact of globalization on its practitioners. For example, the American Institute of Architects recognizes that:
We have actively entered into the era of the global market. The economies of the world are interdependent. Architects in the United States today have domestic projects with international clients, domestic projects have international investors and financing, and more and more architects, large and small, are exporting their expertise and undertaking new international projects. Work in the international market offers new opportunities to diversify markets and seek new venues for the talents and experience of the U.S. architect. With the new opportunities come new challenges in the areas of cultural understanding, business practices, technical knowledge, and professional standards. (AIA, 1998, p. 3)
The business environment for architecture is changing worldwide. The expertise of international consultants are being sought all over the world and they in turn seek work in other countries. Rich and poor, developed and developing countries are exchanging benefits from international cooperation. Developing countries are benefiting from the expertise of developed countries while developed countries are finding work opportunities in developing countries. This condition of physical and virtual movement created increasing cultural contact and interaction. It magnified differences and commonalities between cultures and created conditions of fear of cultural homogenization and loss of identity.
This condition is considered by many researchers as a repetitive phenomenon in the history of mankind. Throughout history many civilizations attempted to spread their ways of living and achievements to other cultures either by force or by choice. “The ancient Romans established the first example of global architectural hegemony, spreading their ideas across the empire. Rome didn't completely suppress indigenous architectural practices of the provinces, but Roman classicism nevertheless was the empire's ubiquitous architectural theme, one that is still popular today.” (Lewis, 2002)
In architecture, the impact of globalization is being compared to the impact of the international style of the 1930’s when many architects designed buildings all over the world, i.e. Le Corbusier in India, Kahn in Bangladesh, Foster in Japan, Wright in Japan, Utzon in Australia, etc. “The International Style was based on systematization and standardization, mass production, economies of scale, functional logic and aesthetic composition devoid of both ornament and sentiment. Given a similar functional program, the design of a building in southern Asia could be similar to one in South America. For several decades after World War II, International Style thinking greatly influenced the design of office buildings, schools, hospitals, laboratories and multifamily housing.” (Lewis, 2002)
As for the engineering and architectural professional practice, globalization has created a challenge of interaction and working in other cultures and the exchange of knowledge, materials, systems and expertise. Professional competence is becoming an important issue since all countries are interested in guarantying the competency of engineers working in their countries. Methods of competency evaluation are being developed to insure the quality of engineers working in the country. Continuing engineering education is also an important element to insure that engineers and architects are always up to date regarding the continuously changing knowledge and information in their fields of specializations. The dissemination of information through telecommunication and internet is creating an opportunity for professionals to stay up to date with any advances and developments in all areas of technology, materials, systems, etc.

The Union of International Architects

The UIA established the Professional Practice Commission and approved its program in 1994. The Commission has devoted nine years of intensive study and debate in development of the "UIA Accord on Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice" (UIA Accord, 1999) and nine related Accord policy guidelines. The Accord contains a statement of principles of professionalism and a series of 16 policy issues in a format of definitions and background statements followed by policy statements. These documents were presented to the triennial UIA Congress and Assembly in Beijing, China in July 1999. The Assembly unanimously approved the resolution adopting the documents. This is an historic achievement - it is the first time the profession of architecture has adopted a global standard.
As stated in the accord, the UIA interest in establishing recommended standards of professionalism grows out of the increasing globalization of architectural practice in part because of the influence of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The GATT agreements established the World Trade Organization and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The GATS agreement approaches the progressive liberalization of trade in services through the elimination of restrictions to trade rather than through deregulation. The Council for Trade in Services established by GATS is charged to develop measures relating to qualification requirements and procedures, technical standards, and licensing requirements based on objective and transparent criteria that do not in themselves constitute barriers to trade in services. International standards of relevant international organizations are to be taken into account in judging conformity to this obligation.
While architecture shapes the physical environment, it also creates the cultural heritage of a society and thus cannot be regarded as a simple commercial commodity. Architects are responsible for advocating the fair and sustainable development and the cultural expression of society's habitat in terms of space, forms and historical context. They must also serve the interest of public health, safety, and welfare. (UIA Accord, 1999)
The Accord is an advisory document that is the result of the cooperative endeavor of the international community of architects to objectively establish standards and practices that will best serve community interests, define what is considered best practice for the profession, and express the standards to which the profession aspires.

The European Community

In August 1985, for the first time, a group of countries came together to set down the fundamental knowledge and abilities of an architect (Directive 85/384/EEC of the Commission of the European Communities, 1985). These include: ability to create architectural designs that satisfy both aesthetic and technical requirements, and which aim to be environmentally sustainable; adequate knowledge of the history and theories of architecture and related arts, technologies, and human sciences; knowledge of the fine arts as an influence on the quality of architectural design; adequate knowledge of urban design, planning, and the skills involved in the planning process; understanding of the relationship between people and buildings and between buildings and their environments, and of the need to relate buildings and the spaces between them to human needs and scale; an adequate knowledge of the means of achieving environmentally sustainable design; understanding of the profession of architecture and the role of architects in society, in particular in preparing briefs that account for social factors; understanding of the methods of investigation and preparation of the brief for a design project; understanding of the structural design, construction, and engineering problems associated with building design; adequate knowledge of physical problems and technologies and of the function of buildings so as to provide them with internal conditions of comfort and protection against climate; necessary design skills to meet building users’ requirements within the constraints imposed by cost factors and building regulations; adequate knowledge of the industries, organizations, regulations, and procedures involved in translating design concepts into buildings and integrating plans into overall planning; and adequate knowledge of project financing, project management, and cost control.

The American Institute of Architects

The American Institute of Architects International Committee Professional Interest Area identified the following information as “the basic information required for an architect to enter into an agreement to provide services abroad: (AIA, 1998, p. 3)
1.            General: Political/Social, Geographic, Infrastructure, Economic/Business.
2.            Cultural: Cultural Assumptions, Social and Business Customs, Establishment of Business Relationships, Cultural Aspects of Business and Legal Issues
3.            General Business: Legal System, General Business Regulations, Taxes
4.            Architectural Practice: Professional Practice, Standard of Care, Copyright, Methodologies, Procedures, and Processes, Scope of Architectural Services, Owner/Architect Contract Issues, Permit Processes
5.            Construction: Methodologies, Procedures, and Processes, Code Enforcement.

The Case of Kuwait

Architectural Professional Practice in Kuwait

Professional practice of architecture in Kuwait is a recent phenomenon that is a reflection of the development of architecture in the country. Kuwait is located on the northern corner of the Gulf and occupies an area of 17,818 square kilometers. It was a vernacular settlement overlooking the Arabian Gulf and composed of courtyard houses built using mud brick along narrow alleys. The city was surrounded by protective walls with several gates. The discovery of oil during the 20th century and the rapid modernization produced by its wealth attracted global economic trends towards it. Kuwait went through a rapid process of modernization and cultural change started by its first planning in 1950.
After the discovery of oil in economic quantities during the 1930s and its exportation during the 1940s and the immediate wealth generated by its sales, the rulers of the country appointed the British firm, Monoprio, Spencely and Macfarlene in 1950 to propose a plan for the development of the city of Kuwait. There were not many native architects nor workers to handle this massive amount of work. Many architects and construction workers were brought from different parts of the world. They were asked to design and construct all new buildings and projects needed at that time.
The fact that most of the public buildings in Kuwait were designed by foreign architects and firms was a result of absence of qualified local architects and firms that could handle projects of this size. With the emergence of Kuwaiti architects, educated mainly in Western cultures and the USA, and the establishment of the Department of Architecture at Kuwait University and the graduation of its first group of students in 2002, the landscape of the practice of architecture in Kuwait is expected to change dramatically.

The Professional Engineer Classification System

Kuwait Society of Engineers is the only formal association representing engineers and architects in Kuwait. It was established in 20 November, 1962. In 1996 the Kuwait Society of Engineers initiated the process of developing a formal evaluation process for engineers and architects wishing to practice the profession in the country. The goals were, first, to identify the engineers based on professional experience and competence and, second, to upgrade the engineering profession by encouraging engineers to obtain professional license through continuing learning and research. (Al-Jassar, 2000) This process is of great importance especially that more than 2/3 of the engineers in Kuwait are coming from foreign countries. See Figure 1 for comparison between number of Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti engineers currently practicing engineering in Kuwait.

The standards for the professional engineer in the field of architecture was based on the “Recommended Guidelines for the UIA Accord: On Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice, Policy on Registration/Licensing/Certification of the Practice of Architecture” (UIA Accord, 1999, p. 2) which states that:
Registration/licensing/certification is the official legal recognition of an individual's qualification allowing her or him to practice as an independent architect, associated with regulations preventing unqualified persons from performing certain functions. Given the public interest in a high-quality, sustainable built environment and the dangers and consequences associated with the construction industry, it is important that architectural services are provided by properly qualified professionals in order to provide adequate protection for the public.
The Regulations for the Classification of Engineers was adopted by Kuwait Society of Engineers in June 2002 (KSE, 2002, pp. 5-6). It classifies the engineers as follows:
1.            An Engineer: is a candidate holding a Bachelor in Engineering or architecture from a recognized university. .
2.            A Professional Engineer is a candidate that passes the required examinations and satisfies one of the following requirements:
a.            Four years of documented practical experience after graduation.
b.      A Masters or Doctoral degree in Engineering followed by at least one year of documented professional experience.
3.      A Consultant Engineer is a candidate that passes an interview with the special committee and satisfies one of the following criteria:
a.      A Professional Engineer with fifteen years of documented professional experience after graduation.
b.      A Professional Engineer holding a Masters degree in Engineering and ten years of documented professional experience after the degree.
c.      A Professional Engineer holding a Doctoral degree in Engineering and five years of documented professional experience after the degree.
During the preparation of the Professional Engineer classification requirements it was suggested by the author that continuing education should be considered a required component along with experience and examination to complete the 3E’s approach but the suggestion was not adopted by the committee at that time.
The Professional Engineer Examination in the field of Architecture
The establishment of Professional Examination in the field of Architecture in Kuwait was a major step towards evaluating the competency of architects practicing in the country. The exam is similar in format and content to the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) offered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) in the USA. The first part currently offered is composed of the following sections: 1) pre-design and programming, 2) professional practice and ethics, 3) general structure and lateral force, 4) materials and building systems, 5) construction documents and services, 6) local building regulations, and 7) practical experience.
The format of the first part questions is multiple choice questions. Besides text books and references, the questions are compiled from several sources including: governmental agencies, academic institutions, private offices, and practicing architects. A second part will be offered in the future and will include other sections related to design problems such as: building and space planning, site analysis and planning, and building technology.
In order to prepare the candidates for the examination, Kuwait Society of Engineers in association with the Office of Consultations and Career Development of the College of Engineering and Petroleum at Kuwait University offer a continuing education course that introduces the candidate to the purpose and nature of the exam and covers important topics related to the situation of Kuwait.

A Model for Objective Evaluation of Competence for Architects

The model proposed by this paper recognizes that the basic elements of architectural competency are: Education, Experience, and Examination. It emphasizes the need to understand global and local requirements for evaluating competency of architects to work in other cultures. Global Requirements include; the ability to work and communicate effectively with professionals in different parts of the world and understand global trends and conditions that affect the professional practice. Awareness of global advances in science and technology in different parts of the world is a basic requirement. Local Requirements include; the ability to interact and cooperate locally with other architects consultants, understand specific local culture and social requirements, and the application of local building codes and regulations. Figure 2 illustrates the model proposed by his paper.
Continuing education has an important role in enabling professionals to be up to date regarding recent advances in architectural research, construction technology, leadership and management skills; new technical skills; design methods, and materials. Through different types of continuing education in architecture; conferences, workshops, symposia, short courses, public lectures, enrichment programs, and noteworthy events, professional should be able to acquire important knowledge and expertise in both local and global issues. 


Globalization pauses new challenges to the architectural profession. It facilitates architectural professional practice to cross national borders and countries. Architectural education should recognize this challenge and develop its curriculum to educate architects to work globally. Global and local requirements should be realized in courses and curriculum development. An international board for accreditation of architectural programs should be established to ensure the quality of education of architectural programs. An international architectural competency examination should be established with two main components: first, international competency component and, second, a local competency component. Continuing education has an important role in developing the breadth and depth of the body of knowledge that the profession depends on. Information and communication technology is instrumental in achieving this goal. This paper proposed a model for developing a competency in the architecture profession. The model recognizes the basic elements of architecture competency; education, experience, and examination and put emphasis on continuing education as an instrumental tool to realize global and local requirements.


  1)   American Institute of Architects (1998) International Practice Checklist, Second Edition 1998, International Committee Professional Interest Area, The American Institute of Architects, Washington, DC.
  2)   Al-Jassar, A. and Al-Dakhel, A. (2000) The Development of a Classification System for the Gulf Professional Engineer, The 5th Gulf Engineers Convention. Oman. 18-20 February, 2000.
  3)   Commission of the European Communities (1985) Directive 85/384/EEC of the Commission of the European Communities.
  4)   Kuwait Society of Engineers (2002) Engineers Classification System in Gulf Countries: The State of Kuwait. Approved by the Administrative Council of KSE meeting 8/2002, 3/6/2002.
  5)   Lewis, R. (2002) Will Forces of Globalization Overwhelm Traditional Local Architecture?, Washington Post, November 2, 2002.
  6)   Madison, G. (1998) Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities. Globalization Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition, Working Papers 98/1, McMaster University.
  7)   Union of International Architects (1999) Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice Accord. Adopted June, 1999.