What is an architect?

So what’s the difference between a licensed architect and an architect that doesn’t have a license?  In the world of architecture that’s a trick question – there is no such thing as an architect without a license.  The term “architect” (again, in the world of architecture) refers only to a person who has fulfilled all of the requirements to become a licensed architect.  If you’re anyone who has yet to attain that precious state-issued license then it’s forbidden for you to use the title “architect”.

Architect magazine has a great article concerning this very topic.  So if someone uses the term “architect” and does not hold a license within that state he or she is claiming to be an architect, then is that person breaking the law?  Yes, in the world of architecture – no, if you’re in the world of Information Technology.  Type in the term “architect” for any job search engine and over ninety percent of the jobs that come up relate to the IT world.  So if these computer geeks (and I use that term in the highest regard since I consider myself an architecture geek) are not breaking the law then why would someone running a business designing backyards be sued for using “architect”?

Apparently if you’re even remotely involved with the design or construction of anything relating to the built environment (such as buildings, sheds, birdhouses, setting up an umbrella) you are not allowed to use the term “architect”.  And of course since these licenses are issued by states a person who is licensed architect in Florida is not considered a licensed architect in California until he or she obtains a license from California.

Another misconception about architects is whether or not they are a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  Most likely the only architect-related advertisement a person may see is one from the AIA touting how the only good architect is an AIA architect.  The AIA is a club that a person can buy into – it’s as simple as that.  Having a membership with the AIA does not mean that person is an architect.  A license is what a person earns after completing years of schooling, more years of apprenticeship, and a series of exams; a membership is what you buy when you open your checkbook.  I don’t mean to come across like I’m harping on the AIA, but there are people who prefer to buy into as many professional groups as they can to camouflage the fact that they don’t have a license.

This attention towards who is using the term “architect” is a double-edged sword.  I’ve worked with people who have incredible insight into the design and construction of buildings, but they don’t have a license.  I’ve also worked with people who use the title “architect” to impress people despite the fact that don’t have a license.  Going after people misrepresenting themselves as architects is an effort to protect the health and well-being of the general population.  But of course if anyone could refer to himself as an architect then why would anyone go through five or six years of college, five or so years with low pay working as an “intern” (the official term used for anyone in the process of obtaining a license – which in my humble opinion is degrading and humiliating), and pay over $1,000 for the Architectural Registration Exams?

So does someone who designs patios and determines the location of a water feature deserve to be sued for using the term “architect”?  If he uses the term “architect” and does not have a license, then yes, only because it’s the law.  Is it a law that needs to be revised?  Yes, and not only because some guy in Texas wants to improve his credentials by implying that he has the same design ability as a trained professional, but rather because the people who pursue the profession of architecture deserve more respect than the title “intern”.  From the outside the architectural profession may appear as greedy and arrogant for wanting a monopoly on the term “architect”, but speaking from experience the world of architecture should be more concerned with the issues degrading the profession from within rather than fining someone who sets up some patio furniture and calls it architecture.


4 thoughts on “What is an architect?

  1. Lulu Brown

    Well done! I’ve linked to this over at my blog. I’ve long thought that “intern” is a dreadful and condescending thing to call someone with six years of education. really? We can’t come up with anything better? I don’t buy it.

  2. harrisonburg architect

    I agree. I am an architect in Virginia and it took an incredible amount of time, money, and work to achieve this level. I am amazed that we allow the term architect to be used by so many other industries that we work so hard to achieve. The term architect used to mean master builder. We have given so much of our expertise and control over to specializations. We have allowed the AIA to teach the public that only AIA members are qualified architects. It is time for us to take back our industry.

  3. architect

    Great explanation of what an architect is, except for one statement about AIA. AIA is a professional organization made up of various people involved in the design & building industry. There are several types of membership levels within the organization, such as professional membership, associate membership, student membership, etc. The appellation “AIA” can only be used after your name by a US licensed architect. If you are an architectural graduate and in the process of being licensed or working at an architectural firm without a license, then you are an associate member. Your business card would then read John Doe, Associate AIA. If you are a licensed architect, then your business card would read, John Doe, AIA. In short, if you have the title AIA after your name, it means that you are a licensed architect. So, it would be redundant to put AIA and Architect after your name. Not all licensed architect need to join AIA, in which case you could simply say John Doe, Architect or John Doe, Registered Architect. There is no special exam that you need to take to join AIA. It does have some membership benefits and prestiege that are associated with the organization which you pay dearly with a quite high annual membership due (especially for a professional membership). It is illegal in most jurisdictions to use the term “architect” since it is a legal term meaning that you are licensed unless you are licensed within a US jurisdiction. Each state or jurisdiction governs and regulates the license procedures and requirements (ARE being the common denominator).


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