Architect - What's in a title?

Several discussions about architectural licensing and use of the term "Architect" started recently on blog posts (See Liz O'Sullivan's blog) and on the LinkedIn AIA group. The Philadelphia Young Architects Group announced plans to explore "Why get licensed?" through a panel discussion meeting. Why are architects consumed by the importance of the title?

I am reading these posts with a somewhat detached interest. Why? I have never been concerned about titles or the initials after one's name. I am an architect and AIA member, but I practice as a specifier. I have no desire to be a designer. I will leave that to architects that are much more creative than me. I want to focus on using appropriate  products in the right application to produce durable buildings that don't leak. I want to help ensure architects' success by helping guide them to the best material selections for every project.

Architects are passionate about their title, at least the ones involved in the discussions. Architects want to own the "architect" title, exclusively. There seems to be a disdain for anyone using the title that is not a registered (licensed) architect engaged in building design. There is a protectionist attitude that the state licensing boards should regulate use of the title and its derivatives to ensure the public does not confuse a "designer" of any type with an architect.

This attitude seems strongest when discussing residential design. Single-family homes are not required by licensing laws in every state to be designed by architects. Some contractors and designers purport to offer architectural design services for these residential projects where architects are not required by law.  Because the vast majority of architects work in small (less than 10 man) firms often competing for residential design work, this title protection issue affects the majority of the profession.

I am beginning to wonder if this whole discussion has a much deeper root than it appears. Might this be a self esteem issue? I recall when I first passed my licensing exam. When I was able to tell folks I was an Architect, there was a bit of awe and respect.  I remember the results of a survey at that time showing the public held architects in very high esteem, above nearly every other professional. That was almost 40 years ago, and times have changed.

Today most professionals in the workforce are college graduates, often with multiple or  advanced degrees. Attending college, today, is nearly as fundamental as graduating high school used to be. As a result, architecture, as a profession, does not stand out from the many others. (Disclaimer: some architects older than me may have become licensed without a college degree, but that has not been an option since the late 1970s.)

I suspect the majority of the public will never hire or work directly with an architect. Yet, architects affect everyone's daily life, directly, through their designs. The public relies on architects' designs for shelter, commerce, inspiration, and delight.  So it seems an architect's public influence and perception should remain high, despite how the title is used.

I believe controlling the "Architect" title is futile and petty. The title endowed by a certificate displayed on the office wall only entitles a legal position to assume a public responsibility. What is done with that responsibility is what matters.

The time consumed policing the title could be spent so much better. Take a positive stance. Promote the positive effect the profession has on society and elevate the public perception not just of architects but of the entire team contributing to built designs. Enjoin the team - the engineers, designers, specifiers, contractors, craftsmen, and owners - to reciprocate, jointly promoting the influence the entire team makes to society.

Titles become meaningful and bring high regard only in context of what is done - what has been earned - with the privilege of the title.

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