Brief history of the registration of architects in Victoria

A brief history of the registration of architects in Victoria, prepared by Professor Julie Willis of the University of Melbourne.

The registration of architects in the state of Victoria celebrates its centenary in 2023, marking 100 years since the first statutory registration of professional architects in June 1923.

The first formal consideration of registration for architects in Australia was in 1887, when both the Victorian Institute of Architects and the South Australian Institute of Architects began to discuss the matter in their respective jurisdictions. The VIA’s concerns were to lift the standards expected of architects, including the formalisation of architectural education and the requirement of a competence standard to use the title ‘architect’, that would lead to public good (consumer protections), particularly related to health and eradication of disease, through good design.

From 1890, when the first bill was drafted, there were multiple attempts to see registration for architects achieved in Victoria, including a failed reading of the bill in Parliament (1892) and several approaches to the Minister of Public Works. In 1918, a private member’s bill for the registration of architects was introduced in Victoria by AA Billson, whose son, EF Billson, was the first graduate of the Diploma of Architecture at the University of Melbourne in 1915. Billson senior would introduce his bill a further two times (1919 and 1920), without success.

World War I had significantly disrupted the pipeline of articled pupils in architecture, prompting the establishment or revival of formal qualifications in architecture in universities and technical colleges across Australia. In parallel, there was renewed momentum for architectural registration. Despite Billson senior’s lack of success, the Minister for Public Works, the Hon Frank Clarke, introduced a second architects’ registration bill in 1920 (known as Bill No.2) to the Legislative Council, and the 2 bills were considered concurrently in 1920 and 1921, with Bill No.2 finally passed into law in 1922.

The complications of 2 concurrent bills with the same premise meant the debate in Victoria was particularly protracted: in shorter timeframes, firstly NSW (November 1921) and then Western Australia (December 1921), passed legislation giving statutory regulation of architects. Victoria had only managed to protect the title of ‘registered architect’, putting it out of step with NSW, WA, Qld (1928) and then Tasmania (1930). It took until 1939 for the Act in Victoria to be amended to protect the term ‘architect’, and until 1940 for South Australia to finally pass its own registration Act.

The requirements outlined in the 1922 Act were agnostic as to any allegiances or professional memberships and encompassed a wide range of possible education and qualification. Rather like the move from private forms of architectural education (articles) to institutionally-based certification, the set of rules and requirements for registration as set out in the Act allowed practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds to become registered architects. While the registration of architects was often criticised for the protections it gave the profession, paradoxically its independence from the profession’s direct control meant it opened architecture up to those who may have otherwise been excluded by non-government bodies.

In the first tranche of registered architects in Victoria (GG 27 June 1923), of the 33 registered, just 12 were members of the RVIA. Registrants included a significant number of regional architects, from Mildura to Bairnsdale, and a woman architect, Vera Lane (#14), the second female graduate of the University of Melbourne’s Diploma of Architecture. Within the first year of the Architects’ Registration Board of Victoria, nearly 500 architects were registered in Victoria.

Registration numbers of architects remained nearly static for the next 2 decades, dipping to near 400 as the Great Depression took its toll. With the 1939 amendment to the Act, numbers rose in the early 1940s, corresponding with a tightening of the expected qualifications in architecture.

The numbers of registered architects rose steadily over the ensuing decades, softening at time of economic stress and uncertainty, but recovering soon afterwards. From its inception, architectural registration set the standards for qualification and competence of an architect, and considered a valuable distinction by practitioners and the profession as a whole to inspire public trust in professional architects and the services they offer.