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.