Cayman’s architects are likely to gain their own professional society this autumn as one of the island’s leading designers moves to establish the Cayman Institute of Architects, creating a formal register and regularizing industry standards.
Burns Conolly, founder of the Burns Conolly Group, said the new institute was a counterpart to professional societies elsewhere, and would improve local standards and safety.
“For example, you have the American Institute of Architects, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Each country has a registration and certain criteria,” he said, pointing to rigorous professional requirements by the Washington, D.C.-based group.
“You need a five-year professional degree, three years of apprenticeship and then you take a massive exam. At the end of all that, you can become a ‘registered architect’,” he said.
While qualifications for the Cayman Institute of Architects may not be quite as rigorous as the Americans’, it will still require certain professional standards, possibly extending to a five-year degree. “The point is,” Mr. Conolly said, “to get a recognized registration on the island.”
Under current regulations, anyone may design any structure. Nothing stops an amateur from submitting plans for a 10-story building. Unlike plumbers, electricians or even general contractors, architects do not need a license in Cayman, and do not need to demonstrate professional qualifications.
However, Mr. Conolly points out, “architecture is not about pretty buildings, but it’s about safety. We have been trying for years with architects and engineers and surveyors, but every time we have tried to get registrations, someone has said ‘no’.”
What has changed is that the Department of Planning is on the point of changing Cayman’s building codes, moving from the outdated Southern Standard Building Code to a modernized International Building Code, unifying three sets of “legacy” rules applied to three different areas of the US – from the East Coast to parts of the Midwest; from the West Coast to the balance of the Midwest; and across the Southeast.
The change, scheduled for February, and possibly accompanied by revitalization of the long-dormant Builder’s Law, “is the perfect time,” Mr. Conolly says, moving unqualified designers, unlikely to know the new codes, out of the system.
For years, local “architects’ without formal training, have designed smaller and simpler structures such as single-story homes for families and friends, creating new entrances, doing modifications, largely without problems.
But, said Mr. Conolly, Cayman has only a dozen architects actually registered anywhere, and only five of those were “indigenous” Caymanians.
“I have a list of 40 architects, and some of them are very good on smaller buildings,” he said, but because many of the larger projects in Cayman are designed overseas, smaller local firms perennially guard against the larger ones, being quick to accuse them of trying to “steal” their work.
Disputing the charge, Mr. Conolly nonetheless points out that “If we were involved in these larger [projects], we wouldn’t have to steal the little houses and buildings,” explaining his efforts to create the Cayman Institute of Architects.
“We have a solution,” he said, that will include local – and less qualified – practitioners.
“It’s reasonable for one time to ‘grandfather in’ the guys that are making their living and are capable. Then we have the professional architects, and the others can become professionals if they get qualified and go through the processes.”
Nothing in the new institute will challenge the older Cayman Society of Architects Surveyors and Engineers, a professional grouping formed some years ago.
“CASE will continue to operate,” Mr. Conolly, past president of the organization, said, “and most architects will probably remain members of CASE, be members of both.”
Nonprofit and collecting modest annual dues, the Cayman Institute of Architects is likely to be established this autumn and will, he said, offer “qualified and registered [architects] and you know exactly what you are getting. Probably 80 percent or 90 percent of the time, you don’t need a professional architect; you just need a drawing,” but, finally, Cayman will have its own professional roster.