I am notnow, and never have been, an architect. Why not? I went to architecture school and have spent my entire career in the field. But I have never worked at a firm, designed a building, supervised the construction of one, taken the ARE, or obtained state registration. In brief, I am as familiar with architecture as they come, but I have no legal ground to call myself an architect.
Despite my great respect for the terms and conditions that dictate who is and isn’t an architect, I was startled by the volume of letters we received objecting to a specific application of the title in our April 2009 Salary Survey. We broke down the survey according to different career stages, including “Architect (Licensed)” and “Architect (Unlicensed)”—a minor detail, perhaps, but a big no-no for many of our readers.
“If a person is not licensed they are not an Architect, and I am offended that you would even provide them a category in your magazine,” wrote Jennifer Showalter, Architect. Not all of our correspondents took the matter personally, but all of them made the same, absolutely fair point: In many states, you can’t call yourself an architect unless you’ve passed the exam and hold a state license. (Never mind that web designers and others have adopted the term wholesale.) The topic sparked a heated debate among members of our LinkedIn group; more than 100 comments flew back and forth.
It’s a matter of public record when, why, and where someone can call themselves an architect. What’s unclear is the proper term for those who have graduated from architecture school, work at an architecture firm, and aren’t yet licensed. There’s no common denominator for people in that situation—a group ranging in circumstance from recent graduates to firm principals. The architects who wrote to defend the exclusivity of their hard-earned titles applied a variety of different ones to their unlicensed counterparts: designer, intern, architect-in-training. Nobody used the term whippersnapper, but it wouldn’t have surprised me.
According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards website, the proper term is intern: “In the architecture profession, an ‘intern’ is any person who by means of their education or experience has qualified to enter the IDP [Intern Development Program].” But “intern” hasn’t stuck the way “resident physician” has in medicine, and for good reason: To the world at large, an intern is a college student in wrinkled khakis working a summer job, not an adult with an advanced degree. To call such a person an intern sounds narrowly like a put-down. It’s time to come up with a better title.