One of my acquaintances, a qualified and licensed architect of inter­national renown, has worked in partnership with a registered Korean architect, completing the design for a competition project that they won in Korea. After terminating the partnership, however, he can no longer present the project as an independent, nor claim his own work, and the only reason for this is because he is not licensed. He obviously feels frustrated by the situation. While this seems incredi­bly unjust, we must also acknowledge the other side of this dilem­ma; there are some cases where a completed project is presented to the world as the work of an advisor or guest architect, Invited under an instructive capacity, to work on a specific project, they merely hone the realization of a final result. Such a scenario tends to lead to fingers being pointed, as the collaborators fight over who has the ultimate claim to the final result. A joke often reiterated in the archi­tectural field has become the default response, glibly declaring "It was I who did it." Heard all too often in a more serious context, how­ever, a number of people in any given design firm, from the CEO, to the manager in charge, to the employees participating in the project, and even the contractors, spit out, "It was I who did that project."
In 2005, I won a contest to delineate the master plan and design for a lecture building to be built in the Busan University of Foreign Studies. The school's committee changed its mind, however and asked the Japanese firm Nikken to complete a different concept design. I joined the phase of technical design as a local architect. Official media documents mention the other local technical design companies, my company, and Nikken as the joint designers of the project. This means I can neither claim the copyright of the design, nor openly say that I designed the building. That is because the tech­nical design focuses more on engineered aspects of the building, and ostensibly I did not engage in the concept design or design of detail in the project. In that sense, therefore, when can an architect ever say, "It was I who did it" about a project? In my opinion, it should be limited to the cases where an architect engages in the design pro­cedure for an architectural plan, extending to the elevation and sec­tion, and where the building is completed as the architect had origi­nally envisaged, through the detail of the concept design, technical design and supervision of construction.
One thing of which we must be aware is the ambiguity in who owns the copyright of a joint work. For instance, in a partnership or in a consortium, we need to look at how we - both the architects and the media - verify and certify such claims to intellectual property. When a concept and a motif is decided during a group project discussion, the result of which is a series of sketches and detailed plans based upon these initial musings, who is the legal copyright holder and who is considered to be the author? When an individual or an agency is involved in a project, we should recognize it as a joint project wrought from the efforts of all participants. The extent of individual involve­ment in a project may depend on the egalitarian ethics and fair-play of the participants. Of course, professional integrity is founded with­in an even-handed acknowledgment of the consensus, reached between the participants. Unfortunately, this is not often the case, often witnessing projects that are presented without any such ethical consideration or consensus having been reached. Furthermore, our forgetfulness can make lightning strike twice, precipitin the repetition of mistakes.
As the study of architecture at Korean institutions has changed to a course structure of five years, a great deal of Professorships has been created within the architectural departments of universi­ties. Many renowned architects join the ranks of academia, simulta­neously teaching and practicing in the field. Since professors are not allowed to be sole architectural project managers in Korea, they have to collaborate with other architects. The problem of such a sys­tem, then, lies in the question of copyright - whose work is it? Research papers can be an important tool in determining author­ship, revealing the professor's involvement. The same is not the case with an architectural project.
No one would argue that the basic architectural process comprises the concept design, detail design, and technical design. Let's assume that an architect attains a project and enlists a professor to be involved in the project. The professor conceives of a concept through a few initial sketches, based on which the design is devel­oped. The technical design is then completed through the advice of the professor, and the construction is completed. In this case, it is hard to say whether it is the work of the professor or of the architect. Or, alternatively, is it better considered as a joint project?
The issue of intellectual property is even more serious when it comes to a competition. It is hard to prove the extent of involvement of a professor in the preparation for a contest. If the professor came up with the key idea of the winning project, whose work should we say it is? Custom dictates that a professor can claim to be an exclu­sive architect only when he runs his own office and the designs are completed independently. It is classified as a joint project - between an architect and a professor - when an architecture firm covers the costs of the winning project. Even if the professor led the entire design procedure, it is only architect who may sign off the project. Nevertheless, those in the field of architecture need to form a con­sensus regarding the copyright issue, discussing every potential qualm and query so that no one can be further harmed by current ambiguity.
Recently, I myself encountered a matter involving copyright, on the completion of Chungdo Children's Library, built in collaboration with another professor. In spite of my status as lead architect, from the inception of the project, I was not given a credit as a designer when the completed project was revealed. To prevent such fraught instances from occurring, should there be a specific contract or an agreement made in advance concerning the scope of involvement in a joint project? Do we have to confirm copyright ownership based upon such legal jargon? If we want to resolve a copyright dispute within legal boundaries, such a document will no doubt play a critical role.
However, if architects - the profession that invokes a social respon­sibility have to rely on such documents to decide and verify intel­lectual property, the future of architecture seems all too bathetic. It is often said that, in order to claim copyright, one should have had the spark of initiative in a project. What does it mean, though, to "have the initiative" in an architectural project? Which one is superi­or the contractual right or the initiative taken in the course of a proj­ect? Actually, no one should be ignored, not the licensed architect, the project manager, the authorized agent who legally holds the con­tractual right, nor the architectural designer. These are roles and positions of accountability that cannot be taken lightly. The copy­right of a joint project should not concentrate around one person, nor turn into the exclusive work of single ego.
A joint project usually requires an architect, a professor, a chartered architect, or an architectural designer, to put a great deal of time and effort in the project, through the continual engagement with the design decision and the creative process. Given this, does it in fact become impossible to determine the issue of copyright in a way that satisfies all concerned parties? When it comes to the issue of intel­lectual property in the realm of architecture, we have relied only on the old established norms, without putting in place a rationale or acknowledged standard. We are now faced with the task of engaging in serious and continued discussions, in order to achieve a workable consensus.
Oh, Sinwook holds a masters and Ph.D. in Architecture from Donga University. He is currently a Chief Architect of the Architectural Firm Raum. and also holds the position of Adjunct Professor in Architecture Department of Donga University. He has won contests for the design of the Master Plan for Busan University of Foreign Studies and Geojae Comprehensive Welfare Center. He has also participated in Cheongdo Kids Library Project. His major works include Chiranjae, Anjoo's house, Boi de Ville, Busan Baptist Church's Vision Center and SI Project.
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