Sometimes I tell people I’m a Renaissance Man. (Since I am female, this statement often momentarily confuses people.1) I mean that I am interested in, am capable of, and dabble in, a wide variety of pursuits.
Many, many architects could have taken career paths other than architecture. Our brains work mathematically, scientifically, and artistically. I am an architect, but while I am doing some of the other things I enjoy (making a gorgeous cake, managing my family’s investments, repairing a threshold in my home, carving a jack-o-lantern), I’m not practicing architecture.
Some practicing architects are builders as well as architects. Some practicing architects are also developers. But while they’re doing general contracting or real estate development, they’re still architects, but they are not practicing architecture. Construction, development, and architecture all require different agreements with clients and different liability insurance policies, even within design-build firms.
A bit over a week ago, I read a blog post that I can’t stop thinking about: “Being a Professional Architect is about much more than just designing nice buildings.” This post is on the blog of Build, LLC, a Seattle company that offers architecture and construction services. It was written to outline “a common code of conduct that all professions should abide by.”
The post was inspired by a community news blog post account of a designer in Seattle who declared bankruptcy and “walked away from more than $10 million in debt…” Ten million dollars doesn’t sound like an amount of debt that a small architecture firm could easily rack up, right?
The community news blog post keeps referring to the “architect,” and mentions that the “architecture firm imploded.” But it appears as if it was a development company that failed, and the guy isn’t actually an architect. (Yes, he designs buildings, but he isn’t a licensed architect.)
I’ve written about protection of the title “Architect” before.2 And I’ve written about a news writer’s obligation to use appropriate titles to refer to different types of design professionals.3 This situation is a good example of why I think the title should be protected – some of the comments on both posts are about this guy giving all architects a bad name.
This shouldn’t be happening; this designer’s actions shouldn’t be giving architects a bad name, because what he was doing that caused problems wasn’t actually the practice of architecture, and he isn’t actually an architect.
Financing the construction of buildings is not part of practicing architecture. Practicing architecture does not include constructing buildings.4 Yes, people who practice architecture sometimes do these things, but they are not doing these things at the same time that they’re practicing architecture. Everyone should be ethical in his or her work, but in practicing different types of work, we have completely different obligations to our clients and to the public.
Some consumers actually have no idea what an architect does. Architects themselves should not muddy this issue further. Practicing architecture as a profession is all about designing buildings. An architect discusses a project’s needs with the client, and based on those criteria and other requirements such as building codes, the architect designs, and prepares construction documents for, the building. The architect observes the construction of the building to verify that the building is being constructed in general conformance with the construction documents.
Mixing up the roles of architect, contractor and developer misleads consumers, and might be giving all architects a bad name.
Architects love being architects. But let’s be clear with clients and with the public that when we’re not actually practicing architecture, we’re not working as architects.
- “Renaissance Woman” doesn’t conjure up images of someone engaged in artistic or intellectual or scientific pursuits… I just think of peaceful women sitting or lying down, posing for paintings.
- Recent posts of mine about protection of the title “Architect”: “’Sunset Review’ of Licensure for Architects”: and “Really?!? ‘Who Cares Who’s a Licensed Architect?’”
- Post of mine about obligation of a journalist to use the correct title: “Perpetuating a Misconception” Note: In February 2013, AIA Colorado sent personalized letters to more than 50 editors and other journalists throughout the state educating them about the title “architect.” I am thrilled. http://www.aiacolorado.org/advocacy/about-architect.aspx
- Colorado law specifically excludes the “performance of the construction of buildings” from the definition of the “practice of architecture.” I suspect that other states do the same.