Who Is Really an Architect?


from linked/pulse Phil Bernstein

Society regulates professionals to provide the public with necessary expertise and protect them from fraud. Highly trained and certified individuals with such skills—doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, and architects—provide important services, and they are licensed to make sure they have the credentials to do these specialized jobs.

Studying a topic related to a professional discipline, or even having lots of experience with it, is not the same thing—nor should it be. Studying physiology in college no more makes you a doctor than being a legal studies major makes you a lawyer. You’re simply not prepared to do the job nor protect the public’s interests and safety with just that training.

It’s a social compact: Do all the hard work in school, get the necessary experience, pass a tough examination, and society grants you the status to not only call yourself a professional architect, lawyer, or doctor, but do the things those folks are allowed to do.

In the case of architects, those things include signing and sealing drawings—a signal that a trained professional takes responsibility for the building—something local regulators like building officials and inspectors have neither the capacity nor expertise to assure. In fact, in a survey by NCARB, 95 percent of U.S. building officials agreed that “a registered architect or engineer is essential on any ‘substantial’ building project.”

In a recent lawsuit, unlicensed designer Yianni Skordas was sued for defrauding his clients by telling them he was an architect, and blowing the $8M project. The New York court denied his “I’m not a real, professional architect” defense and found him negligent.

Lawyers and doctors largely consider this a resolved issue. Architects seem less settled. Even though NCARB’s practice regulations for architecture are national, and everyone takes the same test, there is still lingering doubt about the importance and validity of licensure. In 2013, a debate flared on the American Institute of Architects’ LinkedIn post called “Misrepresenting Oneself as an Architect on LinkedIn,” where various factions argued about the necessity of licensure and who can call themselves an architect in public.

I largely consider this a dangerous circular firing squad, and here’s why.

The Reality of Accountability. The most important reason society has empowered highly qualified professionals is accountability. If you’re an architect, doctor, or lawyer, you must take personal responsibility for your actions and their results.

Mr. Skordas’ suit notwithstanding, the stakes can be high. Remember the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in Kansas City? In 1981, 114 people were killed during a tea dance in the hotel’s atrium when several suspended walkways collapsed because of design flaws and miscommunication between the design and construction firms. After investigations and lawsuits, several principal engineers were held responsible; they lost their licenses, and their firms went bankrupt.


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