Canberra's construction industry has been operating without architects in key areas.

Canberra's construction industry has been operating without architects in key areas. Photo: Virginia Star

Canberra's construction industry has operated for at least a decade without architects in key areas such as multi-unit residential projects.

An ACT government-issued discussion paper on the problem warns the territory risks becoming a ''lowest common denominator'' jurisdiction, attracting design practitioners looking to dodge higher standards elsewhere.

ACT Owners Corporation Network chairman Gary Petherbridge said developers often pay highly regarded architects to sell unit projects off the plan, then discard them.

''To save costs and increase their profit, they use cheaper alternative designers during the detail documentation phase and often the detail documentation necessary for a quality result does not exist, nor are quality professionals used in the building supervision phase,'' Mr Petherbridge said.

Architect Dave Clarke said regulations allow developers to get work through planning and certification without the use of proper architectural plans.

Mr Clarke, who heads the ACT Architects Institute's building review panel, fears the discussion paper misses this point, and could instead lead to more regulations for architects.

''We don't want to be everyone's bunny in the spotlight about this issue, when it is very much more complicated than that,'' he said.

Environment and Sustainable development Minister Simon Corbell said lack of accountability in design and certification came to light in the Building Quality in the ACT and Getting Home Safely reports.

''The quality of work undertaken by construction design practitioners such as architects, construction engineers, building designers and other related practitioners can directly affect the quality and standard of the building process,'' Mr Corbell said.

Mr Clarke said problems arose when documents needed for planning approval were drawn up by unqualified people, instead of an architect, who would do detailed construction drawings, showing for example how roof and gutter systems worked and how balconies drained.

''So you have this salami slicing the process of what was traditionally architectural design, right through to construction,'' Mr Clarke said.

''That means you have subcontractors, and often their apprentices or hired labour, making detailed decisions about design at the coalface of the building project.''

Engineers Australia Canberra division president Andrew Montgomery said cost-cutting started with poor documentation, and water-proofing was a common problem.

''The builder during construction should be doing certification, but what ACTPLA's inspectors are finding is a builder might want to save $18,000, but when a defect has come to light it has cost that builder $300,000 to rectify it.

''If all professions were brought into play, then there's a chance of reducing those costs,'' Mr Montgomery said.

Mr Clarke said as a profession, ACT architects believed they were regulating themselves extremely well.

''The idea of an additional layer of regulation or licensing imposed by government would be, as far as I know completely, unique to state governments across the board.

''We don't believe it's necessary, but are very keen to participate in the process and will be looking at the discussion paper in great detail and making a submission.''

Comments close on February 28.