Does Your Architecture License Matter?

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Are you on the path to licensure as we speak? Have you already obtained your license? Is that even a goal for you?

In our profession, an Architect’s license is intended to act as the baseline for someone to practice. Just as a Doctor or a Lawyer is held accountable to their actions, so too is the Architect.

But do you personally need to be licensed? And I by no means suggest that you should live above the law and practice your own version of vigilante architecture. I don’t know how far you’d get with that anyway.

Instead, I think about why someone would get licensed today and whether or not those reasons really apply to everyone.



When we each start our journey to become an Architect, I don’t know if any of us can fully appreciate just how much effort it will take to complete such a quest.

Currently, the fastest way possible to become an Architect in the United States is to go to a NAAB-accredited school for 5 years and then work for 3 years under the supervision of a Licensed Architect, while also taking the Architect Registration Exam as you gain experience. That means, at an absolute minimum, it takes 8 years of consistent (and sometimes grueling) effort to become an Architect.

That’s the span between three 5 Olympics! Yes, I did count Summer and Winter. I don’t judge.

Your license can be the validation of this process. It can be the one piece of paper that reminds you of how far you've come and how much you have to offer.

Completing all of the requirements for an Architect’s license can be one of the most satisfying feelings because of the effort, blood, sweat, and tears it took to do so.



It’s generally understood that if you have a license in Architecture, you have a certain level of authority in the profession.

Don't get me wrong, you can still be a bad Architect and have a license, but the license indicates to the rest of the world that you at least have a minimum proficiency in your craft to practice.

It won’t help you if you have bad taste though. You’re on your own for that.

Some indirect benefits of your authority may come in the form of job titles. Now, just because you have a license, it doesn't mean you can waive it around like you're the best thing since sliced bread. There will always be those with more experience than you, licensed or not.

However, being licensed can give you a defined position in most office hierarchies. This has to do with the fact that our profession is a bit confused as to how we should classify our unlicensed peers. Whether it's 'intern' or 'designer' or whatever beforehand, there's no question after you're licensed what people can call you.

Once you have your license, there’s no one to tell you, “Oh. Well you’re not REALLY an Architect then. You don’ t have your license.”

After you get your license, you can kindly tell those people to ... well, you know.



There’s something very odd, but positive, that happens when you get your Architecture license - opportunities for work begin to find you.

As soon as you obtain your license, your ability to stand out against the crowd of other eager designers and creatives becomes realized. You can apply for jobs that you couldn’t before. You can pursue more advanced types of design competitions. You can even become Partner at a firm or start your own!

Even if you’re not actively signing and stamping drawings, having your license becomes the key to entry into many new and exciting endeavors that you could have only dreamnt of without it.




In many firms, only Senior Associates and Principals actually sign and stamp drawing sets, documents, etc.

If you happen to work at a large enough firm, you probably will not be subject to even using your license actively. The fewer Architects who are responsible ultimately for a set of documents, the easier it may be to ultimately protect the firm from damages.

The reason is not just because of limiting the liability. It’s also because of the levels of ‘stake’ that each person has ultimately in the business itself.

People move around in the profession. It happens.

If the company policy limits those who can sign and stamp to just Partners, there is less likely to be an issue of coordinating efforts to defend the firm if the Partners are still there to do so.

If you’re never actually stamping drawings, do you really need to be an ‘Architect?’



Once you're out of school, racing toward your license may not be that important to you.

People have interests and lives outside of studio. Things come up and opportunities arise that may take your career in exciting and unexpected trajectories.

Depending on what field you go into, especially if it’s not architecture, you may find that you don’t even need your license in order to excel. Because the architectural education is so dynamic, you could pursue interests in other fields such as engineering, creative design, filmmaking, etc. None of those necessarily require you to be licensed in architecture.

You could pursue an advanced degree or stumble into academia as a career path. You could travel and see the world. You could go straight into the workforce and love drafting so much that it’s all you ever want to do.



Just because someone says it's the way something has always been done, shouldn't stop you from knowing what's right for your situation.

The mentality that there is only one path in an architecture career is dangerous thinking. It stifles the profession and prevents its reach from growing organically.

There will, of course, always be fundamental concepts that architects must understand, such as space, construction, communication to name a few. However, the basics are the foundation of an Architect’s knowledge, not the finite path for its future.

If you want to run a 500 person firm by 30, good luck.

I mean, you still need to set realistic goals, but you shouldn’t need get your license simply because the previous generation said you should.



Whether or not you pursue your Architecture license is a very personal decision to make in your career. You have to decide ultimately what is most important to you and go all in.

I hope that if you do pursue your license, have obtained one already, or know those who are trying to get theirs now, that you’ll be open-minded to the careers of others and the options you have for your own.

There is no ‘right way’ to do this.



Last week’s Workshop Wednesday, ‘Intro to Networking,’ went really well. Look for February’s sign ups soon.

I have been working like crazy to get the new course, “SketchUp Architecture” completed. I know I’ve mentioned it a few times now, but it’s really almost there! Update on that soon as well!

Michael LaValley