“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.

______________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

1.  From the portion of the  Colorado Revised Statutes that govern the practice of architecture: http://www.dora.state.co.us/aes/Statute-ARC.pdf  “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: http://www.dora.state.co.us/aes/Statute-ARC.pdf  “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:

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_19605374?source=pkg

and

http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_20293795/board-lays-out-case-against-meeker-school-engineer?source=pkg

6 thoughts on ““Sunset Review” of Licensure for Architects

  1. Licensed architects should be pleased that you are taking up the battle for them and spreading the word about Colorado regulations affecting the industry.

    Pennsylvania has similar exemptions for housing, where architects are not required. New Jersey exempts housing only when the design and construction are completed by the homeowner. I guess NJ figures if you make a mistake only you suffer. But, if the homeowner entertains guests or eventually sells the home, what protection does the public or future buyer have that the design and construction were completed correctly?

    Protecting the perception of “architect” and its derivative forms is a difficult subject. When promoted by architects, it seems to be self-serving or protectionist. However, since the government chose to regulate the profession, it should be the government’s responsibility to enforce the regulations to the extent necessary so the public has a reasonable expectation when hiring an “architect” as opposed to someone not licensed to practice the profession.

  2. Pingback: Perpetuating a Misconception « Comments From a Spec Writer

  3. See January 2013 issue of Architect Magazine – http://mydigimag.rrd.com/publication/?i=142502

    See editorial on page 20.
    See article “Seven Is Enough” on page 118.

    Some observations about the article.

    In Typical Path Diagram it takes 7 years to get an architectural degree. In ideal track you get an undergraduate dgree in 4 years and a MArch in 3 years??? Do we think there might be a problem with the current cost of higher education so that students have to take longer to get their degrees?

    The ideal tracks show intership during the school summers, none for typical path. I believe many schools currently require summer work internship.

    In Typical Path Diagram it takes over 6 years to achieve 5,600 hours of IDP – that’s 933 hours per year in comparison to a full year of 2,000 work hours. Think something is wrong with how IDP is provided in offices and that might have an effect on the length of typical IDP???

    Note nothing is said in the article about improving the current architecture education programs except adding another degree (MS in Research Practices).

    • When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, right?

      I finally read those pieces. It’s interesting that the 5-year BArch isn’t mentioned.

      My program didn’t require summer internships, but I was lucky to have had 2.

      Last April, the AIA released a press release that included the following: “the AIAS released a survey of almost 600 architect school graduates showing that graduating architecture students carry a much higher amount of undergraduate student debt – $40,000 on average – than the national student loan debt average of $25,000.”

      More school is not the answer.

  4. Pingback: What Do Architects NOT Do? | Comments From a Spec Writer

  5. Reblogged this on DESIGN MATTERS and commented:
    Do you know who is drawing your home / office building? What experience do they have sizing beams, posts, egress paths, and space planning? If an Architect has to go through 5+ years of education and several years as an intern before getting licensed vs someone that “knows design” are they both delivering the same value at the end of the day? I hear all the time that builders are offering design services or they hired a drafter to get the permit set. What skills do those service providers deliver if they have no standards by which to practice design? Great post by Liz on the need for a standard for our public buildings and homes that goes beyond “because that is the way we have always done it.”

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