Really?!? “Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?”

Architect magazine, “The Magazine of the American Institute of Architects,” just published a column by Aaron Betsky titled “Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?”

Architect magazine has perplexed me again.  (Do any actual architects review this stuff before it gets published?)  

Anyway, here’s a link to the column by Mr. Betsky, and below is the response I posted tonight on the Architect website.  I hope that my comment, and a whole bunch of other similar comments, show up tomorrow.  (So far zero comments show up, but it’s late at night right now.)

“‘CLIENTS care’ is the answer to the question ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’  Sophisticated clients want design professionals who are insured for professional liability.  Design professionals who are not licensed cannot obtain professional liability insurance.

“Governments care, too.  Unsophisticated clients deserve the consumer protection that licensing and regulation by states provides.  A license only demonstrates minimal competence, but that’s so much better for consumers than NO required demonstration of competence, and no regulation of design professionals.  According to a recent report by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, ‘Title protection plays a vital, fundamental role in protecting consumers from unqualified practitioners. The use of certain protected titles and phrases informs consumers that the individual is regulated, has undergone a certain level of scrutiny, and is qualified to practice under state law.’

“Everyone who cares about good buildings ought to care about licensure too.  ‘Design’ of buildings is total design – down to the flashing details inside the walls.  Someone has to figure out (design) those details, and building owners don’t want the guys in the field making up those detail designs as they go.  In fact, building codes for commercial buildings REQUIRE that the construction documents show details of ‘flashing, intersections with dissimilar materials, corners, end details, control joints, intersections at roof, eaves or parapets, means of drainage, water-resistive membrane and details around openings.’ (2009 IBC)  These construction documents are required to be prepared by design professionals who are ‘licensed to practice their respective design profession as defined by the statutory requirements of the professional registration laws of the state or jurisdiction in which the project is to be constructed.’ (also 2009 IBC)

“As I have written before, in my blog, ‘Only with good construction details can architects’ designs be executed the way they have been imagined.  The designer who can’t draw, or even recognize, good construction details that communicate to the constructor how to build his design will not be a good designer of anything but unbuilt work.’  In other words, the drawings might look good, but the constructed building won’t necessarily look like the drawings, unless the designer can draw the construction details for that building.

“So, a licensed design professional is required by law to prepare the construction documents, including details.  It may as well be an architect – there’s no shortage of licensed architects who need work right now.  Good construction details make better buildings.  Details drawn by the same team who produced the schematic design make better buildings.

“Many, many licensed architects already practice architecture as described in the last paragraph of this column by Mr. Betsky.  Many licensed architects produce designs that transform ‘buildings into frames for our daily lives, frameworks for relationships, catalysts for new ways of living, anchors in a world of change, and many other things that… are difficult to define…’

“Debate away about what these other, difficult-to-define things are, but do not discount the core of what it means to practice architecture.  (Program a building based on a client’s needs, schematically design a building, develop the design, prepare construction documents including construction details and specifications, assist the owner in bidding out the project to builders, observe the construction process to determine whether construction is proceeding in accordance with the contract documents.)

“And for people who are looking for ways to describe to the public what architecture is, why not start with the basics that I mentioned in the paragraph above?  It’s what’s most important in the eyes of the public, governments, lawyers, insurers, and CLIENTS.  The basics MUST COME FIRST.  Licensure is a basic requirement for the practice of architecture.  The difficult-to-define qualities of the practice of architecture can come after that.”

“Sunset Review” of Licensure for Architects

Every decade or so, the State of Colorado asks itself if architects should continue to be licensed and regulated.

Oh, yes, they do. 

It’s called a “sunset review.”  They do it for engineers, too.  Can you imagine states not regulating these professions?  It’s already like the Wild West here in Denver sometimes.  Imagine if there were no rules or requirements governing the qualifications of people who design the bridges we drive under, the schools our kids learn in, the buildings we work in, the houses… oh, wait.  That’s right.  There are very few rules governing some of the people who design the houses we live in, and that’s fine.

But there’s a rule proposed that, if adopted, will govern one thing about some of the people who design houses.  And that’s a good thing.

The current statutes, or laws, indicate that unless someone is a licensed architect, he or she cannot claim to be an architect, and he or she cannot offer to practice “architecture.”1  But when it comes to enforcement of this statute, not much is being done to stop home builders and home designers from offering “architecture” to consumers, even if there’s no licensed architect on their staffs.

Now, State laws do not require that the person who designs a house be a licensed architect.  Actually, there are a lot of building types that the State does not require a licensed architect to design2 (one-, two-, three-, and four-family dwellings, accessory buildings commonly associated with such dwellings, AND garages, industrial buildings, offices, farm buildings, and buildings for the marketing, storage, or processing of farm products, and warehouses, that do not exceed one story in height,exclusive of a one-story basement, and, under applicable building codes, are not designed for occupancy by more than ten persons.)

So, you don’t need to hire a licensed architect to design your new house, or your new garage, or your new small one-story warehouse.

But, some people who are not licensed architects are using the term “architecture” on their websites and in marketing materials.  These unlicensed home designers are not architects, they have not passed the licensing exams, they have not demonstrated that they possess a minimal level of competence, they cannot get professional liability insurance, and they cannot be prohibited from continuing to offer home design services even if they have proven to be incompetent.  They are not regulated.  They are allowed to design homes, but they are not allowed to call themselves architects.  They should not be allowed to use derivatives of the word “architect,” because doing this misleads consumers into believing that they are hiring licensed, regulated professionals, who are subject to scrutiny by regulators who strive to ensure that consumers are protected.

According to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) sunset review report3 that just came out on Monday, “Sunset reviews focus on creating the least restrictive form of regulation consistent with protecting the public.  In formulating recommendations, sunset reviews consider the public’s right to consistent, high quality professional or occupational services and the ability of businesses to exist and thrive in a competitive market, free from unnecessary regulation.”

The report indicates that the practice of architecture is regulated because “there is a potential for catastrophic harm if these practices are performed incompetently. These professionals generally carry an immense amount of  trust in their competency. They all are trustees of the public financial welfare. Moreover, many architects and engineers deal with health-safety issues on a daily basis.”

The DORA report made 14 specific recommendations.  The primary recommendation is that the practice of architecture continue to be regulated by the State.  (This is a good thing, one that seems to go without saying, but which needs to be said every decade or so in Colorado.)

Recommendation number 13 is that the State should “Reinforce consumer protections by protecting derivatives of the word ‘architect.’”  Here’s the text of that recommendation:

“Title protection plays a vital, fundamental role in protecting consumers from unqualified practitioners. The use of certain protected titles and phrases informs consumers that the individual is regulated, has undergone a certain level of scrutiny, and is qualified to practice under state law.

“Some unlicensed/unqualified people skirt the intent and protections of the Architect Act by advertising that they perform ‘architecture’ or ‘architectural design.’ However, the use of these derivative terms sometimes confuses consumers who are procuring design services that are actually being performed under an exemption to the Architect Act. They believe they are hiring an architect because of the use of a derivative term.

“The Engineer Act prohibits the use of the derivative words ‘engineer’, ‘engineered’, or ‘engineering’ in any offer to perform the services to the public unless the person is a licensed professional engineer.

“Following the standard set by the Engineer Act, the General Assembly should extend a comparable scope of protections to the public in the Architect Act. Similarly, limiting the use of derivative terms in advertising to licensed architects will ensure that only qualified individuals represent themselves to consumers as architects.

“The General Assembly should reinforce consumer protections by protecting derivatives of the word ‘architect.’”

One of the recent actions taken by the Colorado State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers, and Professional Land Surveyors has been in the news this year, and is a good example of why these professions should be regulated, and how regulators can protect consumers and the general public.  You may have heard about the Meeker Elementary School, the one-year-old school building in Meeker, Colorado, that was closed because of structural problems that made the school susceptible to structural failure (collapse) in the event of high winds.  The structural engineer who designed the structure for that building (which housed a whole elementary school full of kids for a year) has been disciplined by the Board of Licensure and has had restrictions placed on his license to practice structural engineering.4

Yes, those school building drawings went through the permitting process at the building department.  But the building department’s job isn’t to check all the work of the engineer or architect – the stamp and signature of the design professional means we checked our own work.  The structural engineer is the one responsible for those column and beam calculations (to make sure the roof doesn’t collapse).  The architect is the one responsible for things such as detailing the flashing properly to keep rain out of the building (so that steel structural studs in the wall don’t corrode and fail), and detailing the roof parapet coping properly (so that it doesn’t fly off in high winds), and for detailing and specifying below-grade waterproofing properly (to keep moisture out of below-grade spaces so that mold doesn’t grow in the walls, ruin finishes, and make people sick).

Licensed architects are expected by the State to do the things mentioned above.  If they don’t do them properly, they may be disciplined.  People such as home designers who are not regulated by the State cannot be required to do these things, and there are no regulatory consequences if they don’t do them; they can keep on doing what they’ve been doing.  Ok, fine, but unlicensed people offering home design services must not be allowed to imply that they are architects.

The recommendation by DORA to “Reinforce consumer protections by protecting derivatives of the word ‘architect’” is a good recommendation, one that the legislature should positively act on when the recommendation officially comes before them in 2013.



1.  From the portion of the  Colorado Revised Statutes that govern the practice of architecture:  “12-25-305. Unauthorized practice – penalties – enforcement.  (1) Any person who practices or offers or attempts to practice architecture without an active license issued under this article commits a class 2 misdemeanor…”

2.  From the portion of the  Colorado Revised Statutes that govern the practice of architecture:  “12-25-303. Exemptions. (1) Nothing in this part 3 shall prevent any person, firm, corporation, or association from preparing plans and specifications for, designing, planning, or administering the construction contracts for construction, alterations, remodeling, additions to, or repair of, any of the following: (a) One-, two-, three-, and four-family dwellings, including accessory buildings commonly associated with such dwellings; (b) Garages, industrial buildings, offices, farm buildings, and buildings for the marketing, storage, or processing of farm products, and warehouses, that do not exceed one story in height, exclusive of a one-story basement, and, under applicable building codes, are not designed for occupancy by more than ten persons; …”

3.  For the entire October 15, 2012 report, “2012 Sunset Review: State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers, and Professional Land Surveyors” go to the Department of Regulatory Agencies Website.  It’s the 3rd report listed.

4. Articles on Meeker Elementary from the Denver Post:


Masonry: Something New Every Day

Masonry.  It’s an ancient form of building material, but there’s an awful lot to learn about it.

One thing that’s important to remember is that masonry (including brick, CMU, stone, and mortar) is porous and absorptive.

Masonry walls that are under construction should be protected from rain and snow (at the tops, and at window openings), so that the masonry wall doesn’t absorb too much water.  If saturated masonry is not allowed to dry out before being closed in, moisture-related problems, such as exterior efflorescence, or even interior moisture problems, may occur.

Here’s my latest post about this, and how building codes address this issue, in the brand new Denver Chapter CSI Blog: “Protection of Unfinished Masonry Walls.”




Cool Pictures of Old Buildings

There’s a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Phoenix that’s at risk of being demolished in a couple of months.  Here’s the New York Times article about it.  After Mike Brady, Frank Lloyd Wright is the most famous American architect ever,1 so how is this happening?  How is it possible that cool buildings designed by famous architects can get knocked down?  The answer is that sometimes the people who want to save them just get there too late.

But this post isn’t about “The Brady Bunch,” Frank Lloyd Wright, or mid-century modern homes.  It’s about Denver and its heritage.  Right here in Denver, buildings by less famous architects, buildings that are integral parts of their neighborhoods, buildings that are important parts of the city’s history, are at risk.

Once in a while, a century-old masonry building, that, with careful maintenance, would still be around for another 100 years, gets razed to make way for new construction.  Most of the new construction in Denver is unlikely to last as long as 50 years.  This type of replacement is not sustainable, this is not green, this is not good for Denver’s urban fabric and its urban dwellers.  People need to become aware of these buildings early, before they become at risk of destruction.  Sure, there are property rights issues that arise sometimes, but if we start talking about rights, we cannot ignore the property rights of the surrounding property owners, and the rights of the citizens to these parts of their heritage.

On to the cool pictures of the old buildings – or the links to them, anyway…

Two really special buildings that I’ve been in recently, the Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion and the Wilbur S. Raymond House, have been preserved and restored, and are currently the homes to a couple of bed and breakfasts.

Here’s a great old photo of Denver’s Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion, taken in 1892.  It looks almost too fantastic to be real.  The building has since lost some of that magnificent chimney, and many of the finials, but it’s still breathtakingly beautiful – here’s a recent photo (scroll down after the page opens).  The Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion has just started to operate as a bed and breakfast, the Patterson Inn.

Sadly, much of the original neighborhood fabric around the Croke-Patterson-Campbell Mansion has been lost.  But the Wilbur S. Raymond House is very much a part of a historic Denver neighborhood, the Wyman Historic District.  Here’s an old photo of the Raymond House.  It’s been the Castle Marne Bed and Breakfast since 1989.  This is my favorite image of the more recent images I’ve found online.  Here’s a good image showing its famous roses.

The neighborhood fabric and the Wilbur S. Raymond House enhance and enrich each other.  Cities aren’t made up of scattered signature buildings, and historic preservation shouldn’t be approached in that manner, either.  Cities are composed of neighborhoods, which are composed of buildings of varying significance.  We need to protect special buildings, but we need to go a step further and also protect the individual historic buildings that may not be as prominent, but without which, historic neighborhoods would not be complete.  Obviously, important buildings are at risk (such as that Frank Lloyd Wright house in Phoenix).  But neighborhood fabric buildings may be even more at risk.

Historic buildings are irreplaceable, whether they’re outstanding, or more “background” buildings.  As an architect and architectural specifications writer, and the owner of an old house, I’m intimately familiar with the differences between the construction practices of today and the construction practices of a century ago.  Buildings are not built the way they used to be.  In other words, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”  (“They” could, but “they” don’t.)  Old masonry buildings are more durable, they can take much more neglect and mistreatment, than new buildings (even new buildings with brick on the outside).  It’s because of building science – a topic for another post.

Architects, engineers, and constructors cannot make up for occupant behavior in most new construction, but old buildings, with plaster finishes, hardwood floors, and multi-wythe loadbearing masonry exterior walls, can take some abuse and neglect from occupants, and will continue to be able to withstand use.  Old buildings can often be adapted to new uses, whereas buildings built in the last 50 years are usually difficult to use for purposes other than their original uses.  Multi-wythe masonry walls and plaster finishes are more forgiving of moisture intrusion than buildings built with newer methods of brick veneer on exterior framing, and gypsum board finishes.

People used to build with multi-wythe masonry and plaster because they didn’t have other good options.  Today, we have less-expensive (and less-durable) options, which have made multi-wythe masonry and plaster much more expensive options.  If you want a durable building, in the long run, it’s probably a better value to use what you already have… and preserve an old building.

I encourage people who are interested in helping to preserve our built heritage to get involved with local preservation groups.  If you live in Greater Capitol Hill in Denver, as I do, your local preservation group is the CHUN (Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods) Historic Preservation Committee.  (If you don’t know what your group is, but want to get involved, leave a comment on this post and I’ll help you find your group.)



  1. I have to thank Jules Dingle for the Mike Brady comment.  Sophomore year in college, Jules said that Mike Brady is the most famous American architect.  Obviously, that comment still cracks me up today.

For further reading:

  1. In 1967, the City of Denver, in the Landmark Preservation Ordinance in the Municipal Code, declared that “the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of structures and districts of historical, architectural or geographic significance, located within the city or its mountain parks, is a public necessity, and is required in the interest of the prosperity, civic pride and general welfare of the people.”  And that “the economic, cultural and aesthetic standing of this city cannot be maintained or enhanced by disregarding the historical, architectural and geographic heritage of the city and by ignoring the destruction or defacement of such cultural assets.”
  2. Denver’s ordinance followed the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, in which the U.S. decided that“the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic, and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans,” and that “although the major burdens of historic preservation have been borne and major efforts initiated by private agencies and individuals, and both should continue to play a vital role, it is nevertheless necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to accelerate its historic preservation programs and activities, to give maximum encouragement to agencies and individuals undertaking preservation by private means, and to assist State and local governments and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States to expand and accelerate their historic preservation programs and activities.”