Everything architects always wanted to know about legal requirements of data management but were afraid to ask

Quite often I am addressed by architects the question “What are the benefit for us of dealing with data management?”. I think the first and unsatisfactory answer should be “The very Architects professional development and a stronger legal management for their products.”, but I usually try to go into the details of what data management actually is within architectural practices – that is explaining its coincidence with digital design workflows and not just post-hoc archival procedures.

But getting back to my first and always repressed answer, I would like to delve here for a moment into the legal aspects of data management within architectural practices.

Stringent legal requirements for architects data management are likely to be in place in European Countries by the end of the next five years, but at the moment there is evidence that statutory project documentation is mainly adapted to be printed and kept in paper archives by architectural practices (Lancia 2011) . Nevertheless, the request for producing and depositing authoritative digital data is an emerging phenomenon across many international Building Control authorities and Public Investors that are urging architectural practices to implement consistent data management procedures.

For example, in Netherlands, since November 2011, the Rgd BIM Norm obliges design contractors involved in public building projects to produce and deliver their products in Building Information Modelling formats following the policies of the Rgd BIM standard (Van Rillaer et al. 2012) . In the same year, the United Kingdom Cabinet Office announced in the Government's new Construction Strategy that will require on all public works BIM documentation by 2016 (Cabinet Office 2011).

Further, where workflows are entirely digital, the commercial liability of architects extends these requirements for the consistent management of digital data, introducing the need for relatively long periods of reliable data retention. Such as for example, in United Kingdom, the architects' professional liability period amounts to 12 years (Speaight and Stone 2005) and the Construction Industry Council recommended in 2003 a retention period for key project documents of at least 17-20 years (Neilson 2009).

Borrowing from the definition of Digital Curation by Neil Beagrie as “the actions needed to maintain digital research data and other digital materials over their entire life-cycle and over time” (Beagrie 2008) and combining these data management requirements, it is evident that architects are being progressively given digital curation responsibilities over their digital data.

On the other, the legal management of architectural digital products includes the persistent management of the Architect's intellectual rights too.

Since 2001, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of the United Kingdom in its Creative Industries Mapping Document included architects within the professions “which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.” (DCMS 2001, 5). This definition, like others international recognitions of the role of the intellectual property (IP)exploitation in the creative industries, has suggested and endorsed a cultural shift in the Architect professional role, traditionally dependent for his service accomplishment on the actual construction of his/her Design. Subsequently, both the affirmation of the digital cultural market and the integration of digital design techniques with manufacturing facilities have further contributed emphasising the exchange of finance for rights in intellectual property as the key aspect of architects commercial activity. This renewed role of the architect has been valued also by numerous policies that have promoted internationally urban regeneration initiatives through the financial and physical support to creative industries (Evans 2009).

From this standpoint, the professional services expected from architects demand from them the necessary competences to legally and persistently manage the intellectual property rights (IPR) associated to their digital design products, in particular to integrate consistent IPR management in the very workflows of the digital design processes.

Maybe, shall I start answering to professionals questions as I always wanted?

  • Beagrie, N. 2008. “Digital Curation for Science, Digital Libraries, and Individuals.” International Journal of Digital Curation 1 (1): 3–16.
  • Cabinet Office. 2011. Government Construction Strategy. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Government-Construction-Strategy_0.pdf.
  • DCMS. 2001. Creative Industries Mapping Document. London: Department for Culture, Media and Sport. http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/part1-foreword2001.pdf.
  • Evans, G. 2009. “Creative Cities, Creative Spaces and Urban Policy.” Urban Studies 46 (5-6) (May 1): 1003–1040. doi:10.1177/0042098009103853.
  • Lancia, Ruggero. 2011. First Step Award Final Report - Project DIDECU (Digital Design Curation). Glasgow: University of Glasgow.
  • Neilson, Colin. 2009. Digital Curation Approaches for ArchitectureCase Study 6. SCARP. University of Bath: Digital Curation Centre. http://www.dcc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/scarp/SCARP_Architecture.pdf.
  • Van Rillaer, D., J. Burger, R. Ploegmakers, and V. Mitossi. 2012. Rgd BIM Standard. Rijksgebouwendienst.
  • Speaight, Anthony, and Gregory Stone. 2005. Architects Legal Handbook. The Law for Architects. Oxford, Cambridge, Mass: Architectural Press.

POSTED BY Ruggero Lancia