Architecture professionals need to raise their game – or face permanent relegation in the project team
When I joined the industry in the 1970s, the architect led the building team. They led the industry, too. Whenever it had to present a united front to government, it did so through something called the Group of Eight, over which the RIBA exercised an iron grip.

The president of the RIBA automatically headed any industry delegation. When called in to see Margaret Thatcher in 1982, Owen Luder, then RIBA president, complained that she only spoke once in an hour-long meeting, but this utterance lasted 59 minutes. In 1986, the RIBA reluctantly handed over control to the civil engineers and it imploded within a year.

Twenty years on, architects no longer lead either the building team or the industry. Today, there isn't an architect in any capacity on the strategic forum.

The Construction Industry Council, the successor to G8, has had just one architect chairman in 15 years.

Architects should be an endangered species. They are hugely over-regulated and grossly underpaid, and yet this has never acted as an obstacle to their recruitment. Instead of worrying about attracting future generations of architects (as we are doing for engineers and construction managers) we continue to receive a steady flow of applicants.

An architect undergoes a seven-year route to qualification and pays a sum of money every year for life for the right to use the title. He or she then competes for business with people who have no need to be registered or qualified. This is no slur on building surveyors, architectural technologists et al, who are well enough qualified to provide a service for clients, but it does seem odd that architects need to pay for the privilege of having a police force to keep themselves in order.

The government is rightly seeking to get a better deal from the UK construction industry through better integration of supply teams, but it is this government that continues to prevent strategic integration by driving a wedge between design and construction. As an industry, construction is sponsored by the DTI and architecture by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the government complains that the industry is fragmented.

Despite all this, architects are still at the forefront of the industry but in new ways. The key to this has been diversification of the profession, allied to its continuing appeal to new recruits.

Twenty years ago, by and large, architects were building designers. The private sector dominated but there were significant architectural influences in the public sector in both national and local government. Architects were forbidden by their own Code of Conduct to be directors of contractors (so much for integrated supply teams). All this has changed and this freedom for the profession to diversify has spread quickly: there are architects on the boards of major contractors and many act as expert clients, both in the public and private sectors. I frequently meet architects who don't practice architecture.

Intake into the built environment's degree courses has reduced by 50% over the past six years, yet the architectural education has suffered only a 2% drop. The attractiveness of an architectural education has led some commentators to suggest that broadening its base could help the industry overcome its recruitment problems – attract them into architecture and then allow them to diversify into engineering and management.

The CIC survey of professional services, published in January 2003, showed that engineers and surveyors had embraced multidisciplinary organisation much more effectively than architects. So, at a large project level, we have more and more contractors, engineers and surveyors providing architecture. However, at another level, the survey showed clearly that architects have a much greater integrated mix of skills than other single discipline consultancies.

All this means that architects who wish to practice in the old ways will be sidelined. Whether we like it or not, the future lies in architecture provided through integrated teams or as design subcontractors. Many architects complain about being sidelined but most have met this challenge with a flexible response and are embracing change.

Architecture is no longer the tallest ivory tower. Pure design practices may be sidelined, but architects are infiltrating every sector of the built environment. They are no longer automatically captains, but they are many of the best players.

Architects in crisis