“The leading voice of architecture in Canada” 
By: Mudeeha Yousaf

For more than a century, the members of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) have worked to enhance the quality of life through design. From repurposing treasured heritage structures to designing the next generation of energy-saving buildings, to making special places that promote tourism to award-winning buildings in which to learn, heal, work and play.

Established in 1907, the RAIC is the oldest architectural organization in Canada and will celebrate its 110th anniversary in 2017. It became “royal” in 1909 by permission of the Queen. Today, the non-profit group, with headquarters in Ottawa, is recognized nationally as the leading voice for excellence in the built environment.

“It is the glue that binds architects across Canada into a unified voice and a cohesive and informed profession,” says Wayne De Angelis, president of the 12-member board of directors.

Through a wide range of activities, the RAIC champions sustainable construction, demonstrates how intelligent design can improve the places we live and seeks to address important issues of society through responsible architecture. There are currently about 4,900 members, including licensed architects, interns, students, faculty and graduates of Canadian schools of architecture and membership is voluntary.

 “We’re running quite strong right now; we’re building our membership,” says De Angelis, a Vancouver architect previously working in Japan, Montreal and Toronto. He first joined the RAIC as a Carleton University student in 1982.

“Our goal is to increase the number of younger people in our organization, as well as interns who are working their way up to becoming registered,” he says. “They have different ideas, educations and a different way of looking at things.”

Becoming an architect is challenging and students entering architecture school tend to be top students in math, science and art. Education in university is typically six years, followed by at least three years as an intern, plus professional registration exams, and it usually takes 10 to 12 years to become eligible to register.

Canada’s more than 8,000 licensed architects not only design buildings, but also landscapes, lighting, interiors, furnishings and infrastructure. They manage projects, coordinate a design team and work with different consultants. Architects guide clients through the complex regulatory building process of zoning bylaws, building codes, and contractors’ bids.

Architectural services can include site evaluation, construction documentation, feasibility studies, contract administration, planning, specification writing and LEED consulting.

The RAIC was originally founded to create closer ties between provincial groups of architects. Together, they work to influence government policy on causes to do with the profession and the built environment. De Angelis cites the example of green buildings. “Architects have embraced sustainable design and construction,” he says. “The RAIC advocates and works with governments to entrench policy on sustainability. Not all governments, federal or provincial, are using sustainable policies or have them written in their bylaws.”

The RAIC assisted with the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architects (BEFA) Program, which was launched by the federal government in 2012. The program streamlines the licensing of internationally-trained architects. “About four years ago, we applied to the Canadian government and received a grant,” explains De Angelis. “We gathered all the provincial licensing authorities across Canada and for three years we met and together created the BEFA program.”

The RAIC also helped to facilitate a new Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) between Canada and the United States, which came into effect January 2014. It provides for the reciprocal recognition of credentials of architects and mobility of architects and architectural services between the two countries.

As the voice of architects and the profession in Canada, the RAIC lobbies for issues such as a fair and transparent system for selecting and contracting architects and the protection of intellectual property rights. It offers practical support to members such as publishing contracts, documents, and handbooks, and providing opportunities for mentorship and networking.

As part of advocacy, the RAIC engages with the public and other professions in discussing and promoting excellence in the built environment. For example, following Canada Post’s announcement last December that it plans to replace home delivery with community mailboxes, the RAIC issued a statement expressing concern. The statement said that group mailboxes will negatively impact the urban landscape and quality of life of Canadians. It urged careful planning and design to integrate the boxes into neighborhoods and to make them look and function as well as possible.

Recently, the RAIC joined forces with Heritage Canada/The National Trust to protect important aspects of the Bank of Canada building in Ottawa. Considered one of the finest Canadian buildings of the 20th century, the Bank was designed by renowned Canadian architect Arthur Erickson. At its heart lies a public garden-atrium. The Bank plans to remove the garden and close public access to the atrium, as part of a major renovation. The RAIC and Heritage Canada hope to minimize damage to the design.

The RAIC is also developing a policy on First Nations communities, where living conditions often fail to meet basic human rights such as health, well-being and cultural identity. It points to positive examples such as the Quebec Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou, and says that inclusive and participatory community design can have a transformative effect on people’s lives.

To celebrate and support excellence, the RAIC administers a variety of honors, scholarships, bursaries and awards. Each year, the organization bestows dozens of awards, including the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture, the RAIC Awards of Excellence and the RAIC Gold Medal.

While most awards go to Canadian architects, the RAIC also reaches out to international figures. The Aga Khan, leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims, received the Gold Medal last November at a ceremony in Ottawa. The award recognized his extraordinary use of architecture for social and economic development around the world. In his remarks, the Aga Khan said that of all the factors that affect quality of life “not many have more impact than architecture and the buildings in which we spend, at all ages, so many days and nights of our lives.”

The Moriyama RAIC International Prize is a new award that promises to receive wide attention. A major cash prize will be awarded every two years in two categories. The first to a Canadian or international architect for an outstanding built project, and the second will be presented to a non-architect for outstanding contribution to architecture. It is named after its benefactor, Toronto architect Raymond Moriyama, whose major projects include the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, the Saudi Arabian National Museum in Riyadh, and the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

Continuing education is mandatory for licensed architects. Therefore, the RAIC plays a major role in providing courses at its annual conference, online and through international learning opportunities.

This year’s conference, the Festival of Architecture, takes place May 28-31 in Winnipeg, in partnership with the Manitoba Association of Architects. Highlights will include presentations by two internationally renowned architects whose bold buildings are changing skylines in Canada. Antoine Predock, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the designer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, scheduled to open in September.

Bjarke Ingels, a Danish architect, is behind two unusual skyscrapers in Vancouver, and Calgary. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal named him Innovator of the Year for architecture. Predock and Ingels will be named Honorary Fellows, a recognition given by the RAIC to architects (usually non-Canadian) who demonstrate extraordinary achievement during their career.

In the 21st century, the practice of architecture is global. RAIC’s advocacy efforts often reach beyond Canadian borders to the world stage. It does this in part by developing and strengthening ties with sister architectural associations around the world. This year De Angelis will attend the Australian Institute of Architects’ national conference in Perth as well as the International Union of Architects’ conference in Durban, South Africa. Such experiences help the RAIC market Canadian architectural expertise and services abroad.

If you are contemplating a building project, the RAIC can help. It offers practical tools such as guidelines on how to set up a request-for-proposal or determine fees. A document called Starting Building Projects, explains how to organize and plan for a successful project.

For more information, please visit raic.org.