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Licensed architect?

  • 1.  Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-10-2017 11:40
    I wouldn't normally be the person to do this, but a co-worker and I were discussing this article I found this morning. It references a company in California and specifically calls the two founders "architects". My co-worker looked up the names on the California board of architects and neither person came up as a licensed architect.

    While it's possible they could be architects licensed in other states, it doesn't initially appear they are licensed where they are practicing.

    Here's a link to the article:
    This Company Will Design Your House For Less Than The Price Of Your Phone

    They seem to be offering architectural services related to pre-fab accessory dwellings where their software does the designing for them. It's possible they can perform this level of services without needing to be a licensed architect or at least licensed in the state they practice in. I know in many states, anyone can design a house under a certain square footage.

    I thought I might put this information out there for this group for some feedback. Should the CA board of architects be notified of the use of "architect" in this article for this type of work by people who don't seem to be licensed in CA?


    Brenda Nelson Assoc. AIA
    Intern Architect
    Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, Inc.
    Omaha NE

  • 2.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 18:15

    Last time I checked it was a violation of the California Business and Professions Code for an unlicensed person to practice architecture or to use the term 'architect' or even a term confusingly similar in advertising or promotion of their business.  The Calif. Architects Board should be made aware of this.  Brenda, if you'd prefer not to report this to the CAB I will be happy to. 


    Almost as offensive as their unlicensed practice is their promotion of the idea that the design process can be reduced to an algorithm!  I'd like to believe that this is NOT the future of architecture!!


    Kent Prater

    San Diego


    T. Kent Prater, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP




  • 3.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 18:19
    Same for Texas. The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners will spank you pretty hard for calling yourself an architect if you're not licensed. Regardless of the work you're doing. You can't even call your firm architects unless all of the partners are licensed.

    Lawrence Paschall AIA
    Spotted Dog Architecture
    Dallas TX

  • 4.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-12-2017 17:33

    Generally, stupidity is not a crime and this appears to be a case in which an uneducated journalist is the root of the problem.  If you actually read the article, it is the writer who mischaracterizes them as architects and not the would-be designers (as there is no quotation offered in which they hold themselves out as architects).


    I doubt the reporter faces any jeopardy for their error, but it would be worth seeing if the site on which the article is posted is willing to post a correction and fix the inaccurate statement....perhaps the CA Board could assist with that.


    John Robert Edwards,  AIA, NCARB 

    Associate Principal  I  Studio Leader


    LS3P | Neal Prince Studio

    Best of Houzz Client Satisfaction 2014, 2015 & 2016  I  Best of Houzz Design Portfolio 2013

    110 West North Street, Suite 300, Greenville, SC 29601  |  864.235.0405 (0)  |  864.233.4027 (F)

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  • 5.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-13-2017 09:29


    I am licensed in 7 states as an "Architect". In California, I do residential work but cannot title myself or drawing sheets as "architect".  

     ALLEN E NEYMAN, AIA     O 301-251-1412   C 301-351-7264   




  • 6.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 06-02-2017 13:47

    And this is a valid point Allen is making here: (tangential to this thread, but nonetheless significant): why does the California BOA believe it is like a whole other planet?  While it SAYS it complies with NCARB reciprocity (for Architects licensed in other states), why does it then also mandate that you have to also take their own special giant test (which probably requires about year to prepare for it)?  Most other states recognize and comply with the basic NCARB reciprocity.  I've done this for all of my licenses, since first becoming licensed in FL decades ago (as no doubt many of us here on this blog have).  Why does CA believe its circumstances are so special they're not found anywhere else in the USA (or world), that requires special preparation and testing?  Most of the states where I'm licensed are seismic, some are almost entirely coastal (e.g.: Dade Cy sets high wind standards for building codes), many of them have special environments, and some of them have requirements more demanding than situations in CA.  What CA requires to obtain "reciprocity" seems excessive and to no reasonable purpose and a thinly veiled backhand to the intent behind Countrywide reciprocity as envisioned by NCARB.  That being said, that doesn't change the fact that if con men claim to be licensed somewhere and in reality aren't, they should be reported. 


    Rand Soellner  Architect     ArCH /NCARB /LHI /MA Arch


    .HOME  ARCHITECTS ®            1. 8 2 8 . 2 6 9 . 9 0 4 6  ..


    Home Architect,PLLC NC9266/52666 SC6793 FLAR9264 WA9798 TN105028


  • 7.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 19:16
    Here in California (and in many states) one need not be a licensed architect to design a single family home or up to 4 units so long as it is no more than 2 stories tall.  Thus they need not be architects to have this business designing these small structures.  And if they don't refer to themselves as architects in any of their literature, I don't think they're in any kind of trouble.  In this case it's a news reporter who refers to them as architects; that's not a mistake they've made unless there's evidence (such as a direct quote) they referred to themselves as such.  But it was definitely a question worth asking, and an interesting delivery model as well, so thanks for bringing it up!

    David Arkin AIA
    Arkin Tilt Architects
    Berkeley CA

  • 8.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 19:54
    Sadly this article actually highlights the failure of journalism and the misunderstanding of the word architect rather than a legal breach of the term. The kids who the article is about should ask the author to remove the term architect, as it looks like it was an oversimplification by the writer.

    The two people running this company don't claim to be architects on LinkedIN:

    and they refer to their company as a technology company, not even a design firm:

    If you dig deeper, it's just two recent graduates with little work experience and a dream. I applaud their efforts, and think the idea isn't half bad. BUT... I'm always skeptical of people who say design can be commodified and that they can build things cheaper. I've worked with a few prefab type companies and unless they own the factory and everything is robots, then it's an ugly process with too much finishing in the field. I disbelieve they can do things cheaper, better, or faster.

    Jared Banks AIA
    Shoegnome, LLC
    Seattle, WA

    If you're not following CRAN on Twitter ( ) or Facebook ( ), you should. We post lots of news and interesting stuff pretty much daily.

  • 9.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-13-2017 00:37

    I believe Jared hit the nail on the head. The issue with this article is most likely with the writer and not the two entrepreneurs. As we have all seen, the media has co-opted the word Architect to mean anyone who is involved with creating something, whether it's a sports team, foreign policy, or software. Not surprisingly, I suspect that the general public is beginning to lose their understanding of an Architect as a licensed individual who designs buildings. I've posted this photo before of an LA business that I often drive by… and just roll my eyes :-)


    But I have to commend Cover for looking to technology for an answer to our affordable housing problem. I recently watched an on-line video showing a Russian company using 3D printing to create a 400 s.f. house in 24 hours for $10,000. Both technologies may still need development before becoming readily available housing options, but it took less than 10 years for smart phones to become an indispensable part of our lives.

    Thank you Brenda for sharing the article and starting this discussion.

    John Black AIA
    Lapis Design Partners LLC
    Honolulu HI

  • 10.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 19:55

    Yes. The State of CA and every other State of which I am aware takes this seriously.  Some guy in TX calling himself "Backyard Architects" (who wasn't) is now looking at a $200,000 fine.  The public should be protected from illegal practice, just as a person claiming to be an Engineer, Doctor, Lawyer, or CPA should be truthful or face the consequences.  People & property can be damaged.  That's why we go to college & graduate school, apprentice under watchful other licensed Architects, obtain experience, document that experience, take tests, obtain more experience, then earn a license to practice, then have to take CEUs every year.  It's not just a piece of paper.  Designing a house is ranked as one of the most complicated types of projects an Architect can design.  And while there are exceptions in States allowing some categories of homes to be designed by unlicensed people, claiming to be an Architect and then offering your services to do that will likely be recognized as breaking the law just about anywhere in the USA.  Thanks for catching these rascals in the act.  Report 'em.


    Rand Soellner  Architect     ArCH /NCARB /LHI /MA Arch


    .HOME  ARCHITECTS ®            1. 8 2 8 . 2 6 9 . 9 0 4 6  ..


    Home Architect,PLLC NC9266/52666 SC6793 FLAR9264 WA9798 TN105028


  • 11.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 20:21
    One cannot use the word architect, architectural design, or any other derivative unless they are a registered architect. Period.  Even interns.  If these two are registered in other states and are practicing in CA then they have to be licensed there.  Call the CA board now.

    John Knight
    John Knight Architecture
    Atlanta GA

  • 12.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-12-2017 11:34
    A few thoughts on this thread. I'm not an attorney, so my opinions are merely my take on the laws and regulations as a practicing architect with both a design practice and an expert witness practice in New Jersey for 26 years. Please take my comments as such. I'm sure the regulations are different in your particular state.

    Being allowed to design certain buildings does not allow the use of the title "architect" in most, if not all, states. I can design a home in Washington, for instance, but I cannot call myself an architect.

    AIANJ is dealing with the North Carolina Supreme Court decision regarding the Board of Dentistry regarding the overlap in teeth whitening and dentistry. The found in favor of the teeth whiteners saying that the practice did not constitute the practice of dentistry, further stating that because their Board is comprised entirely of dentists with no independent government oversight, they may not have the consumer's best interests in mind. This decision has many boards across the country putting on hold any action against non-licensed practitioners even if they are clearly in violation of the state regulations governing the practice of architecture. So, they will only take action against licensed architects, not unlicensed designers practicing architecture. They say that non-licensees are not controlled by the Board, but rather the Attorney General's office (who would only take action in cases where life and limb is at risk). Not to mention that fines, when they were still being levied, were just a small cost of doing business, and often reduced upon appeal by the person violating the regulations.

    The first question for the State Board of Architects, then, is "what exactly are you doing with all the complaints that are being filed against those practicing architecture without a license?" The second question is, "If the State Board of Architects' primary purpose is to protect the consumer from incompetent practitioners, how is that accomplished if you only censure those who have proven their competency through education, examination, and experience (licensed architects)?" Among other topics, the State Government Network will be taking up the issue of unlicensed practice and practice overlap (with interior designers) at our annual meeting in June.

    Holding a license to practice is about protecting the consumer, not protecting the profession. (I've told colleagues n several occasions that the only thing a license grants you as a license holder is the right to be sued.) As an expert witness for the past 26 years, the first thing I do when I am handed a case with another design practitioner is to check to see if they are licensed, i.e., legally able to take responsibility for the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

    New Jersey's regulations are among the strictest in that regard. With few exceptions, if a building is designed or altered for human habitation, it must be designed by an architect. That includes single family residences. Exceptions include single family home owners who will occupy the home, personally prepare their own drawings (to the level expected of a licensed architect, although that is never tested), AND will act as the general contractor for the project. There are implications for the Consumer Fraud Act, liability coverage if the owner sells the home, etc.

    Another exception allows registered home improvement and new home builder contractors to provide "preliminary designs" for single family homes for the purpose of scoping the project, developing a budget, and selling the job. At the point where drawings are meant to support a permit application, they drawings must be prepared by an architect. This usually ends up with the contractor asking the home owner to lie on the permit application, under penalty of perjury and a $10,000 fine, saying they drew the plans themselves, and unwittingly becoming teh "General Contractor" even if they hire another general contractor to perform the work (as a subcontractor). They give up their rights under the Consumer Fraud Act in doing so.

    Another exception allows "stock plans" to be used for single family homes, but the drawings must be reviewed by a NJ licensee and adapted for site specific conditions. The NJ licensee becomes the architect for the project and assumes all responsibility for the content of the drawings. I believe the regulations would allow a Joint Venture partnership as well, in which case, a Certificate of Authorization to operate under a "fictitious name" may be needed.

    Design-Build regulations, and engineers and other "closely allied professionals" hiring architects as sub-consultants, serve to muddy the waters even further, to the point that I would venture to say most licensed architects don't even understand, or don't even both to check, what is allowed. Architects are exempt from Consumer Fraud Act treble damages, but not if the violate the regulations, which might be as simple as neglecting to put two paragraphs of statutory language in their contracts and making sure those they work for include similar language in their contracts with the Owner, then they may be sued under the Consumer Fraud Act.

    David Del Vecchio AIA
    David Del Vecchio, Architect, LLC
    Cranford NJ

  • 13.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 21:31
    Hi Brenda
    I'm a believer in the notion that architects themselves should be keeping an eye out for unlicensed practice, so first a thanks for your sharp eyes and post!

    Over the years I've done my share of pursuing instances of unlicensed practice, including filing complaints with the California Architects Board.  In this particular case, I took a look based on your post - but didn't find on the website any reference to 'architects' or even 'architecture'.  The fact a journalist mis-characterized the principals while no doubt misleading to the public, is really a mistake by the writer, and one that is far too common.  In my experiences contacting a writer directly does not seem to have much if any of an impact; and these kinds of mistakes are as often as not presumed to be an 'innocent misunderstanding' of the law.

    I did notice that Cover.Build is looking to hire a licensed architect, so perhaps they are already aware that it would be best to have the skills, experience and credentials of an architect in house.

    If I missed something  more literally 'illegal', let me know and I will forward to the appropriate authorities!

    Michael Malinowski FAIA
    Sacramento CA

  • 14.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-11-2017 22:20
    I've been following/researching prefabricated housing for over 35 years. I designed and built a 640 sq.ft. shipping container house for a good hearted client who thought this would be the answer to affordable wasn't. There are companies out there doing some great things in this market but I don't see anyone who has cracked the code in terms of popular acceptance (think McDonalds) and cost. We need a disruptor, architect or not, and maybe these guys can pull it off!

    Vincent Oles AIA
    Vincent Oles Architect AIA, llc.
    Salt Lake City UT

  • 15.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-14-2017 13:45
    Thank you for the general discussion on this topic. It's been very enlightening.

    I, just now, sent off an email to the author of this particular article, doing my best to articulate what differentiates licensed architects from the pack and asking her to print a correction. I also took it one step further and noted that she has great power with her writing and asked her to consider researching and writing articles on all players within the design/construction profession from engineers to building officials and contractors.

    I'm hopeful she may take up this challenge, but I also know it's possible that my email may end up in a junk box and discarded or read and then dismissed as someone with an axe to grind.

    I've recently been thinking about contacting journalists in newspapers and magazines and encouraging them to do a series on the qualifications of many professions, from plumbers to dentists (and of course architects). I thought if contacted now, it could be encouraged due to the general timing of many seniors graduating and seeking out new careers. We already know there's a shortage of skilled/trained laborers in the country, why not highlight what it takes for those careers as well as architecture?

    If I should hear anything more from this author, I will share with the forum. Thanks for the assistance and great discussion.

    Brenda Nelson Assoc. AIA
    Intern Architect
    Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, Inc.
    Omaha NE

  • 16.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-17-2017 17:43
    Thank you, Brenda, for highlighting this issue, being a catalyst for discussion and for taking positive action in response.

    Daniel Alter, AIA

  • 17.  RE: Licensed architect?

    Posted 04-17-2017 18:04
    Brenda - I applaud your efforts!  However, the AIA ("voice of the Profession") ought to be informing the public and media as to whom is qualified to be called Architect - and the benefits of hiring a licensed design professional. Where I practice, Des Moines, Iowa, the public's perception of "Architect" is anyone who can draw "Blue Prints".  In the residential sector here, unlicensed designers out number licensed architects about 4 to 1.   While most of the unlicensed designers do not hold themselves out to be architects, the public does not know the difference!  When I try to point out to my friends that the CAD designer at the lumberyard is NOT and architect, they just shrug it off!  They think of an architect's license as some type of optional certification!  And, finally, those who know the difference often perceive architects as being unnecessarily expensive!

    I appreciate that CRAN is making in roads in informing the public as to the benefits of hiring a licensed architect.  However, so long as the AIA continues to celebrate avant-garde architecture and the iconic hero designer the public will likely continue to run from licensed architects to the nearest builder! 

    Edward J. Shannon, Architect