Keith Witmer

Age 46. Co-founder and co-principal of Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors in New York City. No license.

"The license issue is complicated. I started taking the tests. But the closer I came to completion, I realized that knowledge of the code became the total focus, rather than the clients and their priorities and interests or creativity. It took over everything. I asked myself, "Is this what I really want to do?" And the answer was, without hesitation, "No." Something happens when you pass the final exam that is irreversible. You become a code administrator, with a sheriff’s badge, and it is hard to turn that off. In my lifetime, the title of architect has gone from master builder to primarily a law-enforcement profession. I want to be a collaborator, not an obstacle who always tells the client they can’t do that. I did consider finishing the exams, but then thought I would not be able to focus on creativity. You have to be free and not have a policing mentality. At times I was a bit nervous about not having a license. It seemed like a tough compromise and a potential shortcoming. But it did allow me to collaborate with clients and explore design in a larger way. It has not been a problem professionally, with clients or with fees." As told to Ernest Beck