Daily Prompt: Breaking the Law

“Think about the last time you broke a rule (a big one, not just ripping the tags off your pillows). Were you burned, or did things turn out for the best?”

In the United States, and most developed countries, it is illegal to call yourself an Architect (yes, with a capital A) unless you have been licensed by your state of residence or another state through reciprocity. It is also technically illegal to practice architecture without a license in most states. I say “technically” because most states do not require an Architect’s stamp on all projects, mostly residential, and there’s some other fuzzy language in most statutes that allows you to practice “design” in the realm of “architecture” without being licensed.

All that to say I technically break the law every day just by operating this blog and doing what I do best – architecture. And I’ve talked long about my problems with the licensing process and my distaste for the AIA and other “professional organizations” that do little more than take your money for the honor and privilege of putting “AIA” at the end of your name on your business card. Ugh, give me a break.

Now, in my daily activities, the question of whether or not I get burned or skate through unscathed….well, that’s a question of degrees. You, see I go through great pains to make sure that I do not advertise myself as a licensed architect. It gets into very complicated explanations with potential clients that have no reason to know about the licensing process and the legal hoops and hurdles of gaining “the title”, but nonetheless I do my best. This has led me to a degree of both success and failure. I’ve both lost and won projects because of this. Some of the projects that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on have been incredibly exciting (look for the LA Modern post coming soon) and others were just small design exercises that brought in a decent fee and kept me moving forward. All careers are filled with a mixture of these.

But, the moral of this little tale is that laws are created to ensure a baseline of public safety. But Architects (with a capital A) have fallen into a very unfortunate attitude of elitism that quite frankly makes me sick. I read a study, and posted recently, about the fact that only about 3% of the total residential construction done in this country had an Architect involved on the project, and even fewer of those had the same Architect involved all the way through construction. That to me is a complete failure of not just the profession but the legal system as well.

If Architects want to take a larger piece of that pie they need to realize that the 97% of residential clients out there are in the same kind of income bracket as we are – middle class. And, if most Architects can’t afford to build their own “dream home” while paying an Architect 9-12% of the construction budget, what makes you think the other 97% of clients can?

In this day and age of technology and rapid communication across a wide range of tools and softwares, the laws be damned. Architecture needs to change.

2 thoughts on “Daily Prompt: Breaking the Law

  1. I admire your passion and have always been an advocate for emerging professionals. So even if you disagree with my position, please hear me out. I think we need to have more open, civil discussions about this, but lately all I see are hand-grenades thrown from those on both sides of the issue. It fits into the architects’ “religion and politics” arena of things “not to discuss” in public.

    There are two issues going on here that need to be dealt with separately. One is the issue of a title, the other is the amount of involvement architects have with residential design.

    That aside, I think we can’t throw out the privilege or restriction about the title architect simply because some architects use it to feel elite or to brag. Also, because the ‘system’ whereby we evaluate one’s ability to be licensed is not perfect or current doesn’t mean that we can simply throw out the restriction and allow anyone who designs building to instantly be able to use the title either.

    With respect to residential design and the 3% statistic I have to wonder over the history of the profession of architecture (in the form we know it today), what percentage of houses were designed by architects in the past? When I hear this statistic it often leads one to believe that we used to design a large percentage of houses and somehow that fell drastically to this current 3% figure. I don’t like that small percentage, but I wonder if that is the highest percentage that history has seen? I don’t know to be honest. By calling anyone who designs a house an architect might artificially inflate the 3% figure up to some large number, but that doesn’t change anything about design, quality, public safety or any other important issue. All it does is make numbers fit a position.

    Thanks for posting and keep being passionate on this issue.

    • I also don’t mean to suggest that taking away the title would be of benefit to the profession. Quite the opposite. The problem is, however, the attitude of the profession especially in the residential market. I do see hope on the horizon, though. And I’ve talked about it before. There is a new generation of architects and trained designers (the key here being “training”) that are appealing to a larger audience of clients and are doing some exciting work not just in single family residential work, but also multi-family and even urban development. I’m even seeing a growing number of designers forgoing an architects license for a contractors license, creating design-build firms where they can more tightly control not just the outcome of the work but also cost.

      Ultimately, by “change” I don’t mean a wholesale boot of the current system. But, I think we can all agree that the system is broken or at least incredibly damaged and in need of major repair. The upcoming generation of architects and even unlicensed designers are going to have a major stake in how that repair and reshaping occurs. I’ll be sure to stay as close to the front lines as I can.

      Always appreciate your comments and perspective, Lee!! 🙂

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