UK CHARTERED ARCHITECT ARTICLES
An Outsider’s Pathway towards Qualifying as ARB/RIBA Architect in the UK
How to acquire, qualify, and register as ARB/RIBA Architect for non-UK/EU degree holders
Are you a non-UK/EU degree qualified architecture professional living in the UK? If you would like to register as an Architect here, then you must qualify the three-part structure defined by the Architects Registration Board (ARB)- Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Important Update on 06.12.2021: ARB and RIBA have the latest update on the routes of qualifying in the UK. Although this article may still be useful for the prescribed examination route, please only follow the official guidance as there are new international routes under discussion that this article will not elaborate on.
ARB (Architects Registration Board) and RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) are the two organisations that you must familiarise yourself with as an architecture professional in the UK. While ARB maintains the register of Architects and regulates the profession, RIBA is the professional body (Charter) of architects in the UK. You can become a member of RIBA under its various membership types even if you are a registered and practising architect outside the UK and EU, through the MEAP membership route. But this does not allow you in any way to practise in the UK as an Architect. The title Architect is protected, and to continue to use it in the UK you must be qualified through one of the routes defined by ARB.
ARB has provided all registration routes and information on their website. ARB’s website is your only Bible for this matter. At the time of writting this article, there were three routes depending on your circumstance. This has now changed.
- UK Qualified Route
- UK with Equivalence Route
- EU Qualified Route
- Prescribed Examination Route
- Overseas Qualified (excluding EU countries)
- EU Qualified not covered by the Interim Agreements
This article will only cover the Prescribed Examination Route intended for an individual who qualified overseas or was awarded an unrecognised (non-RIBA validated) degree. It is very likely that most degrees abroad are not validated by RIBA as there are very many universities worldwide, and very very few associated with RIBA. Before going ahead with the Prescribed Examination route, double-check if the university degree that you hold have made it to the ‘List of Validated Courses’. Being on ‘the List’ can save a lot of money, time, and effort in preparing for the Part 1 and Part 2 Examination.
- If you find your degree in the list, skip the Part 1 & 2 section, and go to the Part 3 section.
- If your degree indeed did not make it to the list (like mine), you must take the Part 1 and Part 2 Prescribed Examination.
How I tackled Part 1, 2, & 3 — My Journey and Recommended Roadmap
I am a registered and qualified architect in India. I completed a 5 years Bachelors degree and worked 5 years in India before moving to the UK. So when I realised I must now repeat this process all over again, I cannot lie I was really put off. What now! Should I take exams, sieve through my lecture notes from 8 years ago, or take a new Part 2 recognised Masters in the UK. A lot went through my mind! My mentor had come from a similar experience to qualify as a Chartered Civil Engineer, which really helped me stay motivated and get past that dismay. Finally, I decided it was time and made that phone call to RIBA, who pointed me in the right direction to ARB. I made that phone call to ARB. Finally, I had gathered all the information, read the instructions on all their websites, and decided that I have to now only make one last phone call to a particular university to enquire about Part 3.
I hit my second roadblock (the first one being me) with that phone call.
My call was received by someone who was having a very bad day, I suppose. Because they said it will take me another two years before I can apply for a Part 3 course, as I must record 24 months of UK experience in my Professional Experience Development Record (PEDR) for my Part 3. They were partly right. One must submit PEDRs covering 24 months of work experience at the final submission to clear Part 3 Exams (I will explain PEDRs in a bit). But they failed to highlight that I could record 12 months of PEDR, and complete Part 1 and 2 while on the course. I had behind me 12 months of UK work experience when I made that phone call. I could have joined the course and recorded my next 12 months qualifying the requirement. As I mentioned, they were having a bad day. I was completely misinformed after this call as they went on to say that no university would accept ‘my unique’ application. I lost my window of application as I was in August when I made this enquiry. The course was supposed to begin in January. My Plan A fell through, and I had no Plan B.
Lost and dumfounded I went back to RIBA, where I met Alastair Blyth and Stephen Brookhouse at the ‘Preparatory course for the ARB prescribed exams’. I would definitely recommend this course to anyone confused and worried about this whole process. The course is definitely an anxiety reliever. And I wished I had only done it sooner.
Enough with the story, more on the actual plan that worked:
- Step 0: Start by recording your PEDR’s immediately. Backdate and complete your PEDR’s for any period you have not recorded yet (although backdating is not recommended). You can pay for a Professional Studies Advisor at certain universities for about £200 a year. I recommend getting a PSA to approve your PEDR sheets even if you have to pay for it.
- Step 1: Take the ‘Preparatory course for the ARB prescribed exams’ provided by RIBA. Highly recommend taking this 3 hr course.
- Step 2: Prepare for Part 1 and 2 Exams. Ready your portfolio. But don’t take the exams just yet.
- Step 3: Start the Part 3 Course with a provider that would allow you to take Part 1 & 2 exams while continuing Part 3. For example; RIBA or the University of Westminster.
- Step 4: Take the Individual portfolio reviews for the ARB prescribed exams offered by RIBA
- Step 5: Take the Prescribed Examination for Part 1, and then Part 2 towards the end of the Part 3 course, or even after the Part 3 Course. You have 24 months before part 3 results become invalid. If you fail to complete 1& 2 within this time, you will have to resit the Part 3 course to register.
- Step 6: Finish your Part 3 course
- Step 7: Take all results and go to ARB to register as an Architect!
Part 1 and Part 2 ARB Prescribed Examinations
Although these are referred to as examinations, these aren’t written exams. It is more like a Portfolio review and panel interview. You are validating your degree through your portfolio. For detailed information check here.
Even though the Parts are numbered 1, 2 and 3, you have the option to complete 3 before 1 & 2 in a non-UK qualified route (only). In fact, when I took the preparatory course, I found out that some students there had previously completed their Part 3 and are now preparing for Part 1 & 2. However, you cannot take Part 2 Prescribed Examination before Part 1.
- Take the preparatory course offered by RIBA. It will tell you everything you need to know.
- Make sure you meet all eligibility criteria on the ARB’s website.
- ‘ARB Criteria at Parts 1, 2 and 3' document is your Bible for Prescribed Examinations. You must fulfil all General Criteria (GC), and each and every sub-criteria. Read this document thoroughly.
- Prepare your portfolio to meet the eligibility criteria for Part 2 even when taking the Part 1 exam. I am referring to the Graduate Attributes for Part 2 in this document. This way after your Part 1 exam you can get some feedback to revise your work for Part 2.
- It is recommended to present your academic works where you can establish quite easily that you are the owner of the presented work. If you are adding group work, you must highlight your contribution. You must not fill your portfolio with many group works.
- Don’t submit a hard bounded single book portfolio. These interviews are time-limited and there are usually three reviewers. Having a collection that is signposted using large sticky notes, on what GC criteria each document meets, is highly recommended according to the Preparatory Course. The collection can include sketchbooks, concept drawings, articles as well. Like I repeated many times already, TAKE THE PREPARATORY COURSE.
- Prepare for the interview. If the reviewers are doubtful that you have met all the criteria (GC) they will attempt to clarify this by asking you some questions. You must be able to answer the questions they may have on your project.
- Earlier, I recommended taking the Part 1&2 exam after or while pursuing the Part 3 course. This is because if you haven’t studied in the UK, it may become difficult to establish how you have covered some of the Graduate Criteria’s around English law, professional practice, practice management, and so on. These will be covered by modules in the Part 3 Course and you can submit it as evidence against those GC’s.
You can take the Part 3 course as a 12-month program delivered over evening classes at most architecture schools, or as intensive multiple 4-day sprints, and some distant learning. Check RIBA Part 3 course for options on the latter.
Part 3 is assessed in various ways depending on the program you have chosen. They include open-book exams, oral exams, written exams, CV appraisal, submitted PEDR’s, interviews, case study reports, self-evaluations, practice problems examination answers, and so on.
The commonalities in all courses I would say would be the following:
- Case Study Project & Report
- PEDR log sheets
- Some form of Exam — written, open book, oral
- CV appraisal
Important to note here is the Case Study project and PEDR log sheets. These are the two items that you must bring to the course. There is no workaround for it. You need a case study project that you are either part of or have access to, or can shadow. This project must have been on site for ideally at least 3 months. It must be a building project — not a bridge or landscape project. It could however be a building demolition, interior design, or even be situated outside the UK but within a practice/company (construction) in the UK.
For signing PEDRs, your Employment Mentor at the practice/office should ideally be an Architect. But a construction industry professional can also qualify as your EM. Read PEDR guidance here.
The course that I am currently undertaking is the Architecture Post-Graduate Diploma In Professional Practice at the University of Westminster. Find course specifications here. It has four modules:
- English Law, Regulations, Construction contracts and procurement: 100% written ‘Open Book’ Examination
- Architectural Practice Management: 100% written ‘Open Book’ Examination
- Professional Case Study: 70% Coursework, 30% oral examination
- Professional Experience and Development: 50% Coursework; 50% Oral
Read the Part 3 Handbook, 4th Edition by Stephen Brookhouse for detailed information.
I hope to have taken away a bit of your worry with this article. If you have any questions, please drop a comment. An important disclaimer — Please always only follow the latest documentation provided on ARB’s website. This article is not in any sorts an official guide.
Passing My ARB Part 1 & 2 Prescribed Examination
Pathway to Qualify as an ARB/RIBA Chartered Architect in the UK as an Overseas Degree Holder
RIBA Part 3: The ‘Case Study Project’
What makes an ideal case study project, and how mine was anything but that.
RIBA Part 3: PEDR Sheets and How I Prepared Them
24-month record of PEDRs are a compulsory requirement to gain Chartered Architect status in the UK
- Part 3 Handbook, 4th Edition by Stephen Brookhouse
Reference for Step 3 above. Screengrab from RIBA Part 3 Course 2021 Prospectus. Notice the last point on Eligibility for applying to their Part 3 course.