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Registered / Licensed Architects

In the United States the term Registered Architect means a Licensed Architect. What is the difference between a licensed architect and a registered architect? There is none. A registered architect is a licensed architect.

A registered architect is a person who has completed the requirements for architectural registration. They hold a valid license by one or more states. Registered Architects have the legal right to call themselves an Architect and operate a business offering Architectural Services. It is illegal for anyone who is not a Registered Architect to call themselves an architect or offer architectural services.

So why do some architects us “RA” or “AIA” credentials?

If someone is a Registered Architect they will have the privilege of placing a suffix after their name of either: RA, AIA, or FAIA. The AIA is the acronym for the American Institute of Architects. You can be a registered architect (RA) without being a member, but as a member the “AIA” suffix supplants the “RA”, as they both apply to registered architect, but the later means they have chose to join this organization. As an AIA member, you have additional training hours required to maintain your membership, and must be held to additional standards of practice per their membership protocol. FAIA is an elevated status given by the AIA as a Fellow of this organization. It is an honor and holds a level of prestige, as they have demonstrated distinguished careers and contributions to architecture.

You can go to the AIA website to see a directory of AIA Architects.

State Architecture License Registration

Architecture Registration is issued by each individual State. I personally am a Registered Architect in Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., Texas and South Carolina, and therefore legally practice any type of architecture in these states.

Architect’s Stamp / Architect Of Record

Architects stamp their drawings in order to file them with local government agencies like the Department Of Buildings or City Planning Department. These drawings are legal documents. The stamp is a symbol that the drawings were produced by a licensed architect or staff working under a licensed architect.

Sometimes the client will want the designs of a specific architect or firm but they are not licensed in a certain jurisdiction. To solve this, two firms or architects create a joint collaboration, working together to bring their expertise to the project with two separate roles: the Design Architect and the Architect of Record. The Design Architect may be international or on a different time zone, and they rely on the Architect of Record for their local expertise. While the Design Architect takes on the project Concept, guiding the aesthetics and the project program, the Architect of Records helps coordinate with consultants, the local authorities and run the project. This creates a system of checks and balances. Ultimately, The Architect of Record is the final entity responsible for the drawings when they provide their stamp for building permits.

“Unlicensed Architects”

Some people call themselves “unlicensed architects.” This is not a thing – Either you have a license and you are an architect or you don’t have a license and you are not an architect, ergo you cannot call yourself an architect – by law.

If someone tells you they are an “unlicensed architect,” please know they have no more legal right to call themselves an architect as a four year old does. Having a degree in architecture falls under the same vein – it makes you an educated person with a degree. Technically, if they work for an architect and do architect-things, they are interns and need to be supervised.

Would you consider hiring an “unlicensed doctor?” or “unlicensed lawyer?”

People do get prosecuted and are subject to fines and prison for doing this, because this goes against one of our most important tenants: to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.  

NCARB and the requirements for licensing have gotten more and more flexible to make licensure more available to minorities and groups that may have had difficulty prior. It still take practical experience, mentorship, study and the will to attain that level of responsibility to become licensed.

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