identity issues

Even if lobbying efforts have produced regulatory ennui, Nevada is one state that licenses both designers and architects, apparently without rancor from either camp. According to Stacey D. Hatfield, public information officer at the Nevada State Board of Architecture, Interior Design, and Residential Design, the 1975 law licensing residential designers was meant to be temporary; they were expected to go on to become architects. But many didn’t, and building officials around the state requested that the law become permanent. “They liked having the standards,” Hatfield says, adding that applicants are required to have five years of combined education (not necessarily an architecture degree) and experience, and the exam is based on the residential portions of the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE).

“As far as I know, there hasn’t been any resentment or clash of ideologies with regard to non-architects having licenses,” says Randy Lavigne, Hon. AIA, executive director of AIA Nevada and Las Vegas. “We think it’s a benefit that they’re under the same licensing board as architects.”

Holding designers to a national standard might help protect homeowners and communities from hacks. But if the goal is to preserve a larger slice of the market for architects, it would have no significant impact, assuming the average residential designer could pass some form of a certification test, argues Dale Mulfinger, FAIA, principal of Minneapolis-based SALA Architects. Plus, “it’s hard to imagine getting that through all the state legislatures in today’s anti-regulation climate.”

For that reason, Clark D. Manus, FAIA, current president of The American Institute of Architects (AIA), thinks it’s unrealistic to expect that architects will design all residential buildings, although the AIA maintains that the public is best served when architects design all structures humans inhabit. “Architects are responsible for health, safety, and welfare, irrespective of the scale of the project—that’s the primary thing,” he says. “Second, it’s really about design thinking and the ability to look at problems in a unique way.”

Licensing residential designers separately would have no value, Manus says, because if there’s an equivalency, how does the public evaluate the difference? “There’s enough bureaucratic red tape about licensure,” he says. Furthermore, states establish a continuing education level for architects. California, for example, emphasizes accessibility. How would you uphold that with a different licensing standard?

It also wouldn’t solve the profession’s deeper dilemma—separate but intertwined—of architecture-school graduates who lose steam in going for their licenses. At the head of a large firm where young associates perform the same work as residential architects but often lack the title to go with it, Mulfinger sees utility in creating specializations for licensed architects, similar to the medical field, which could shorten the intern development process (IDP). Licensing also could be streamlined by blending academic exams with portions of the ARE.

“When you finish law school, it’s presumed you’ll take the bar immediately upon graduation because you can’t practice or get a job without it,” Mulfinger says. “In our profession, everyone gets used along the way to registration; they don’t need to have this credential to be productive. We diminish our value by not finding a structural way for the registration process to be more logical and normative.”

Architecture schools should step up and help speed the IDP, Malecha agrees. For example, at a time when firms have fewer projects under construction, why not develop an online construction administration course for interns? Out of the 5,600 supervisory hours required, 1,880 can be chosen from any category, Malecha explains, so if they can’t get onto a construction site, they can take an online course. “I think schools have to jump into this fray somehow, even though with budget cuts it’s tough to focus on doing innovative things,” he says.