Clearly we need a better definition and/or unified laws regarding the term architect. Clarity will help explain and define our value as architects. It will also benefit our unlicensed brethren and all the architects practicing in locations where they aren’t licensed—whether that means a different state, province, or country. While we are all working to fix this issue, here’s some more to think about:
The Cocktail Party Rule: If you’re a licensed architect somewhere in the world, when someone asks what you do, tell them you’re an architect. You earned it. If the conversation turns more serious and business-like, be upfront about where you are licensed. There’s no shame in that. If you are applying for a job, say you are licensed, but also say where. If you are interviewed in a magazine, don’t hide the truth. Being clear that you’re licensed only in Texas or Minnesota or Italy or South Africa helps our profession. It is a teaching moment for whomever your audience is, whether students, prospective clients, TV news anchors, other AEC professionals, relatives, friends…
Frustratingly, the who gets to call themselves an architect discussion isn’t black and white. Once upon a time your business card, the sign outside your door, and your listing in the yellow pages was all that mattered. Now the Internet complicates everything, opening up great possibilities and perhaps greater dangers. Something as simple as the description on your Twitter account can be perceived as advertising to every corner of the globe. Maybe.
My website talks about me being an architect. I make reference to where I’m licensed. I do my best not to hide that. Many local laws make soliciting work in a state (or jurisdiction) where you are not licensed a no-no. But if someone comes to my website (or sees some work on houzz or where ever) and says “I want you as my architect. Oh I live in Utah.” I…um…did I just do something wrong? Is this a tricky gray area? I wasn’t advertising myself as an architect in a particular state but it’s easy to find me on the Internet. My current situation is a perfect example of this murkiness. I am licensed in Minnesota.** Not the state I temporarily live in which is Massachusetts, and not the state I will temporarily live in next (Washington). In a year or two when my wife and I settle down I’ll get licensed in the state we finally pick. I’m not expecting to have clients in most of the locations I live in over the next few years, so why bother. For now. In fact for the next year or so, practicing architecture in the traditional sense isn’t even a priority for me. But if someone finds me on the Internet, or meets me in person, or is recommended to me by a friend, I’ll be happy to deal with all the paperwork to design and build wherever I am temporarily living but not licensed in. I’ll jump through the required hoops to get them as a client. I will be up front about where I am licensed and then get reciprocity if I need it.
How different is that from someone in the same spot but not licensed in any state?
An Eye is Upon You
When you do a web search for “architect + your town” the search algorithms might point you to an unlicensed home designer, even if they don’t say architect on their site. Search engine magic is smart enough to understand what you are looking for, and “know” that an unlicensed home designer more than meets your search criteria. Does that make Google, Microsoft, etc. complicit in misrepresenting someone as an architect? Does that matter? When you search for an architect, but you find a competent unlicensed home designer, who cares? Probably no one; but it does point to a larger issue you should care about.
We live an insanely open world. Big Brother is everywhere. What you say in private really isn’t private. Digital panopticon is going to be the phrase of the year for 2014 or 2015. Your Facebook friend list has a narc or some other goodie-two shoes in it, someone ready to mention your less than perfect deeds to someone else. In times past you called yourself an architect at a party or on your sign and no one bothered to check. Who’s going to call the local board? Who’s going to spend the time? No longer. Pretty much every license board in the United States (all that I’ve looked for) are online, right there for you to search. Most countries have their lists online too. I’ve checked a few.
The probability of being caught is so high. Yet people still lie and pretend they won’t be found out. Here’s a game. It’s a perverse version of Russian Roulette. Go to LinkedIn. Pick a random acquaintance who does architecture, someone who uses that coveted term “architect” in a job description or company they own. Start looking them up in the places they seem likely to be licensed in (the state their business is based in, the state they live in, the state or country they went to school in). It’s a dangerous game. Because what do you do when you find out someone you thought was licensed wasn’t? Someone who has based their business on something that is potentially very expensive to deal with from a legal standpoint? Do nothing? Alert the authorities? Tell them as a friend? But it’s LinkedIN; you’re not really friends. Just strangers with common interests. Like practicing architecture.
In the digital age nothing is hidden.
After meeting someone new, do you research them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or some other social media site? I do. Odds are, if you’ve contacted me, I’ve researched you before I responded. And if I’ve contacted you, you better believe I’ve already done my research. I expect you to do the same. And I definitely assume that all my prospective clients are just as Internet savvy. We live in that world now. There is no going back. Because the only thing worse than finding weird stuff about someone online (or catching them in a lie), is finding nothing about a person online. That just says that person doesn’t really care.
Are you not licensed anywhere? Then you don’t get to call yourself an architect. Sorry. Still want to call yourself an Architect? The solution is pretty straightforward. Are you licensed in a different location than you are working in? Want to share your thoughts as a guest blogger? E-mail me! Subscribe to my blog to read more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feed. And now you can join the LinkedIN group too.
**I was a licensed architect in Minnesota from 2009 to 2016, but in 2016 decided to drop my Minnesota license since I live in and am now licensed in Washington State.