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Who moved my cheese? About the structure of associations and intellectual property

Photography montage done by the author: E. Munch’s ‘The Scream’ over the image of the last assembly of the Consejo Superior de Colegios de Arquitectos de España, CSCAE (Spanish Higher Council of Architect’s Associations), last May (photography by D. Carreño)

Photography montage done by the author: E. Munch’s ‘The Scream’ over the image of the last assembly of the Consejo Superior de Colegios de Arquitectos de España, CSCAE (Spanish Higher Council of Architect’s Associations), last May (photography by D. Carreño)

Talking about the structure of our architects’ associations is not exactly in vogue. In fact, if we paid attention to much of the commentary and opinions appearing on social media, it would seem that the best thing to do would be to wind them up altogether and that would be the end of the problem…

Certainly, observing much of the inheritance received in the ways of doing things, it is not odd to feel uncomfortable with the current state of affairs. It is very hard to traverse these years of professional overhaul against the backdrop of all that is missing for us without being able to do any more to bite the bullet. After years working with the CSCAE  (Spanish Council of Architect’s Associations) and the Architects’ Associations in Spain as an insider and from without, I have seen how complicated it is to channel rationale and common sense into acquired inertia and vested interests. And even when this is achieved, it is even more complicated to be able to serenely communicate the reasons behind the decisions or the lack of tangible results. Like all human works, it is subject to our natural limitations.

We should not fool ourselves. It would not be responsible to lead you to think differently. The structure of our out-dated Associations, with their warped fabric and shameful secrets – known and unknown alike – is not very different from that of other institutions such as the university or the public administration. This is no consolation. It is merely a fact. But here, it is the institution that can back the opinion of its professionals and properly interact accordingly with the public administrations concerned. This is how, when the issue of Bologna erupted, the council of associations was a determining factor in getting the schools of architecture out of trouble. This is something that those who are practicing unfair competition through “research projects” should remember. Another example is what is happening  –let us cross our fingers that it doesn’t go awry- with the Public Services Act. Those of us who have worked with the government from outside the CSCAE know how hard it is to get someone to pick up the phone.

So, just out of sheer pragmatism, I understood that, given the current state of affairs, the best way forward is to work to improve the structure we have and make it the best possible. This leads me to wonder whether the current atmosphere of destructive criticism surrounding us on a day-to-day basis helps to improve things, or whether it is becoming a pathology in itself. Life and reality are complex, with endless nuances, far from black or white. This should not lead us to be conformists. Quite the contrary, it should oblige us to be imaginative, letting necessity be the mother of invention. It is very good to identify with what is missing, but we should not leave it at that. This is the responsibility of all of us who shape an opinion and of those who let opinions be shaped for us to go beyond obvious superficialities.

One example of how the council of associations can become truly useful to us all is by overcoming the obstacles to effective enforcement of the Intellectual Property Act in our field. This has yet to be achieved.  Tackling this problem on our own, without the architects’ associations, would be good for nothing other than feeding the social media with commentary. It would have no effective repercussion.

Laws and international treaties –from the Bern Treaty to our Royal Decree 1/1996 of 12 April, to different legislation in other countries- recognises intellectual property inherent to the production of architecture.

However, when it the time comes to apply this, there are no real tools for enforcement. The Act itself limits operating rights when the work becomes part of the public domain or stands on public streets (Whose property is the city or the urban landscape?). Then there is the issue of being able to identify authorship in complex production processes encompassing everything from a sketch to a magazine publication to industrial implementation systems.  Because identifying intellectual property is not viable, moral rights are in actual practice ignored, and this generates a great deal of harm for so many colleagues. The solution entails getting the industry – many industries for that matter – and the administration to agree. As you can see, this is more urgent and necessary than many other debates.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to receive anything, I’d rather do so for making a contribution from within than for not having done anything or for have undone ….

On intellectual property in architecture: link

SpainRD 1/1996, of 12 April.

World_  Bern Treaty

Text translated by Beth Gelb.
Arquitecto desde el año 2000. Miembro de la Asociación de Arquitectos (aA), ha sido vocal de la Junta de Gobierno del COAM y asambleísta en el CSCAE.

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