“Architect” Magazine Actually Asks “Does Licensure Matter?”

I got my “Architect” magazine in the mail today (you know, “The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects”).  There’s an article called “The Problem with Licensure” or “The 50-Year-Old-Intern” that is all about “… a decline in registered professionals…  And should we care?”


Here’s a link to the article: http://www.architectmagazine.com/architects/the-50-year-old-intern.aspx  It’s about the so-called “philosophical debate” about whether licensure matters.  It matters.  

Without licensure and regulation by the states, the public has nothing reassuring them that people practicing architecture are qualified to do so.  The Colorado Revised Statutes state that the regulatory authority of the Colorado state board of licensure for architects “is necessary to safeguard the life, health, property, and public welfare of the people of this state and to protect them against unauthorized, unqualified, and improper practice of architecture.” 

Without architects’ professional liability insurance, their clients don’t have much recourse in the case of errors and omissions by an architect.  When I obtained my architect’s professional liability insurance in the state of Colorado, the first question my agent asked me was whether I was a registered architect in Colorado.  I told him that I am, and he said, good, because you can’t get insurance without being licensed

This is telling.  The stuff that floats to the top when the lawyers and the insurance companies get involved tells us that licensure matters to the public, licensure matters to the governments, licensure matters to the courts, licensure matters to the insurers, and licensure matters to sophisticated clients.  And it should matter. 

Ron Geren’s recent blog post, “Towards a More Irrelevant Architect” http://specsandcodes.typepad.com/specsandcodes/2011/10/towards-a-more-irrelevant-architect.html touches on this issue when he says:

“In an effort to protect its members, and the profession in general, from undue risk, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) inadvertently reduced the influence of the architect by minimizing the liability to which the architect may be subject.  This shirked risk was quickly snatched up by other members of the construction industry—namely by contractors and members of the growing construction management profession.” – Ron Geren

Risk is often carried by the people who are willing to be grownups, and risk is often shirked by those who are less willing to step up and take responsibility for their own actions (like, well, children).  Remember that whole risk-reward thing?  When architects are willing to take more responsibility for their own actions, they’ll have more freedom, and will earn more respect. 

Architects, we need to protect ourselves.  But we don’t do it by ducking responsibility, and we don’t do it by having the magazine that is the so-called voice of our primary professional organization practically condoning design professionals’ remaining unlicensed. 

First, architects need to have very good agreements.  Don’t sign Owner-Architect agreements that have the potential to screw you over.  

Second, architects need to have very good construction documents.  Don’t issue bad documents.  Have good drawings, have good specs, have coordinated documents.  If you have interns doing most of your drawing production, review carefully before those documents go out with YOUR stamp on them.  

Third, architects need to have very good insurance.  (Oh, yeah, and you need to be LICENSED to get that.) 

Then work hard.  Do your best.  And encourage your employees to follow in your footsteps and get licensed.  Maybe you can’t give them raises for getting licensed, but at least give them verbal encouragement to take their exams, and praise them when they pass all of their exams.  We are in this thing together, and the interns are the future of our profession.  And interns need to be on a path to licensure!!

9 thoughts on ““Architect” Magazine Actually Asks “Does Licensure Matter?”

  1. Thanks Liz. Great content. I had the same response when I read that article. Fact is, as you know, that one can spend many, many years working in a larger firm while doing almost all of the same work that a licensed architect does, and yet not needing a stamp since the Principal-level registered architect is the one who will ultimately sign the drawings.

    I think the larger firm ‘situation’ is the culprit, although others (adademia, cost of exams, lack of serious mentorship, etc,) certainly play a part. It comes down to motivation and personal aspiration. For me as a small firm, and potential employer, licensure is the single most important differentiator when it comes to a young professional. The implicit question being, “Do you really want to be an architect?” or put another way, “Do you have enough passion or drive to complete your formation/education as an Architect?”

    Thanks for your post – as usual quite good!

  2. There are some interesting pieces to the article, but the most interesting is that according to NAAB, less than 30% of full-time faculty in our architecture schools are licensed! We have done this to ourselves by allowing non-architects to teach the next generation of architecture school graduates.

    Adam was correct in pointing to larger firms where licensure is austensibly not needed. I work in such a firm. I worked hard to earn my license, but it did take over 6 years after graduation. By that point, I was married and had 2 children. I tell the young professionals in our office that they should get licensed before they marry and absolutely before they have children.

    The 500 pound elephant that did not seem to appear in the article, though Mr. Scharmen incorrectly pointed to it, is the cost. It is extremely expensive for young people in their 20’s who are trying to get started in their adult lives. NCARB should be ashamed at the fees they charge and firms are not in much of a position to help due to declining work and worse, declining fees. But when Mr. Scharmen says he would rather invest in himself than in the licensure, we have certainly failed as a profession in showing the importance of the license.

    • Excellent points, Marvin. Thank you for commenting.

      It took me 7 years after graduation to earn my license. Of course, when I was a student, I thought I’d have all my IDP hours AND have passed all my exams by 3 years after graduation. (Silly.)

      I don’t think I completed all my IDP hours until 5 years after graduation. And then, of course, I had many distractions from my exams: long hours at work because of deadlines, my wedding, owning a home, being in my 20’s in a fun city with the mountains nearby. This stuff slowed me down, but licensure was always my focus. I have to say, I had very little local peer pressure, but I was a bit behind the curve among my architecture school classmates in obtaining licensure, so the progress of those peers of mine kept me on track.

    • Regarding Marvin’s 500 pound elephant – “It is extremely expensive for young people in their 20′s who are trying to get started in their adult lives. NCARB should be ashamed at the fees they charge…”

      I agree wholeheartedly that the costs that NCARB charges young would-be architects is obscene. But then, I also think that a lot of what NCARB does is not a help to the profession. I’m a little prejudiced, admitedly – I have a four-year degree from an accredited 4/2 program, but I took the same exam as everyone else did, and never took any section twice. I’m registered in two states. Yet, NCARB, in their infinite wisdom, says that I’m not qualified to practice architecture. I have read recently on their site that for a mere $1,500 I can establish a file with them, then I can pay them another $5,000 and submit a dossier for their review, after which they may or may not deem me acceptable to receive a blue cover which is necessary in a lot of states. Yes, this is only my experience, but I believe that it points to a stranglehold that NCARB has over registration boards. What is the bottom-line requirement to protect the life, safety and welfare of the public with our practice of architecture? Apparently it has less to do with competence in years of successful practice (in my case, 30), or the knowledge to pass examinations. It’s having a winning lottery ticket to be able to afford NCARB fees.

  3. I think when the exam moved away from being once a year it became too easy to put off. Who is ever ready for it? Plus we as architects tend to procrastinate how many projects are ever done early? I know also the computer test is incredibly more expensive than when I took it on paper. That is why it is done often one section at a time if taken at all!

  4. As a young architect 3 years out of school, but with only a third of my IDP hours complete I feel that the problem is that NCARB has made entering hours a pain in the rear. They keep changing the format, their website for IDP info is circuitous, and the sixth month rule punishes those that may be great architects, but are not great administrative professionals. I do like that you can now begin testing before completing the IDP hours and I definitely believe that licensing is important to the profession. I also understand that the IDP process is meant to benefit interns so that they can get experience in all facets of the profession. I just wish they could remove the the excessive paperwork and bureaucracy from the IDP process.

  5. Anybody who cares about licensure should thank the author for writing the article. Nobody’s going to read a story that says “Licensure: Still Relevant!” and it’s good to keep people thinking why regulation of the profession is still vital. Or not.

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