I’m an Architect…No, you’re not.

It used to bug me watching recent graduates introduce themselves as architects in social situations. “I’m an architect.” No, you’re not. Stop it.
In my youthful energy, I saw that act as a disrespect to our profession and to the dedication, commitment and knowledge it takes to become an Architect. And yeah I got pretty worked up about it.
“It’s just easier,” they would say. “Try explaining to someone what you do for a living as an Architectural Intern and you might as well offer to read Gone with the Wind.”

  • -What do you do?
  • -I’m an Architectural Intern.
  • -Oh so when do you go back to school?
  • -I’m actually done with school. Architectural Intern is my title because I’m not a licensed Architect yet.
  • -Oh, so are you paid?
  • -Yes. But don’t ask me to buy the next round.

But when you say “I’m an architect,” it is returned with the “Ouuus” and “Aaaas” of such a lionized career. End of story.

It’s a convincing argument when you get in that situation. In most social situation you don’t want to explain the intra-workings of the architectural licensure process to a near stranger. I’ll admit it … I eventually gave in too.

There was a case here in Colorado from 2005-2006 that made national news regarding this very issue. An architecture school graduate eventually runs for Aspen City Council. He refers to himself as an architect in a political debate but also makes the distinction that he was not a licensed Architect nor was he practicing architecture. Well, legal action was taken against him, but in the end he won because he referred to himself as an architect in a noncommercial context. Click here for a very thorough report of this story.

But when does convenience become deluding?
I’m sure a good percentage of us have worked at small firms where the lead designer and front man for the operation was not licensed. These guys have their hand in everything as the principal of an architecture firm and I’ve personally seen that by having that position, it leads the general public (and their clients) to assume that they are indeed an Architect.  But depending upon state laws and type of project, these guys still need an Architect on staff or under contract to get the drawings stamped and approved.
I got to wonder, does this somehow depreciate the value of our license within the public realm?

I ask this as it relates to the building industry.  Outside the industry, there’s a coolness factor with having ‘architect’ in your title. Just look at IT folks calling themselves ‘Software Architects.’ Similar to the sideways respect given to Medical Doctors by a lawn care company, ‘Lawn Doctor.’

We could discuss this issue till the cows come home. But what’s really important? Having grown-up a little bit, I’ve realized chastising social intros may not be the best use of energy. But in my opinion, keeping an eye open for inaccurate intros in a commercial context is just another way of protecting the  health, safety and welfare of the public.

6 thoughts on “I’m an Architect…No, you’re not.

  1. Some people have told me to use the title “Architectural Designer” or “Architect-in training” that usually bypasses the followup of “when do you graduate” or as you said, Meg, “when do you go back to school?”

    It was mostly because of the story you pointed out and the national attention it received that I made sure to not call myself an Architect until I get registered, which at least is still a goal for me.

  2. I introduce myself as a ‘Professional Intern’, and then quickly offer the comparison of a doctor going through residency. It’s a tough thing though. Sometimes I cannot WAIT until next year when I can just say ‘Architect’ with no twinge of guilt.

  3. Yep, you’re finally there, congratulations! I’ll have to try that ‘Professional Intern’ with the comparison, that seems like it may work better and be clearer to most of the public.

  4. I would prefer that ALL computer software designers that refer to themselves as Architects to Stop IT! The correct term for their job would be Software Wizard.

  5. I think you should start this article with the definition of the word, Architect. I appreciate your post, but firmly disagree. You’re basically saying if you don’t get your license you’re not an architect, period. What about the guys in my office that have worked over 40 years on building design and detailing but don’t have their license? You’re saying they are, “not allowed to be architects.” The license is not about the ability to call yourself a title. It is about liability. Period. I actually know more non-licensed architects than licensed, but by your definition, none of them are truly architects. Why get your license if you’re not going to assume any liability and open your own office?

    I enjoyed reading your article.

  6. Thanks Josh for your thoughts.
    I am not at all claiming your coworkers with 40 plus years of experience are not allowed to be architects. Their knowledge and experience should be revered.
    What I’m saying is that it’s false advertising for non-licensed architectural designers to refer to themselves as architects in a commercial setting where they might win work.

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