Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
Suppose you’re in the middle of a renovation project or are setting your sights on designing a home. In that case, you may wonder about the legality of doing so yourself. Is it possible to design buildings even if you’re not an architect?
You may be able to design a home without being an architect — but it depends on the size and scope of the structure. Note that building requirements and certifications vary by state. Typically, buildings are designed by architects, engineers, building developers, or a combination of various professions.
Keep reading as I discuss why it’s possible to design buildings without being an architect, the roles of architects, and why bringing in professionals to build plans is important.
You Can Design a Home Without Being an Architect
If you want to design a house or residential space, you may be excited to get started on floor plans and purchases. It’s worth stopping and researching the laws and regulations in your state first, though.
It depends on whether you want to develop a large public property, private residence, or something in between. Regardless of what you intend to build, states have codes and regulations that you must follow. You may need to contract a professional to get plans approved by a zoning board.
Suppose you choose to design a house without the proper license. In that case, you may put yourself and anyone involved in your project at risk of legal action. There are dozens of instances of those without certifications getting sued or legally reprimanded for practicing architecture without a license.
You could be putting those who reside in or use your building at risk by not considering the local government’s building codes and safety measures.
Certification is a requirement for architects to practice. In most states, having a degree in architecture isn’t enough. To be considered a legal architect, you have to pass the examination conducted by the architecture state board in your home state.
That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to design anything, though. In most conditions, stipulations would enable individuals without their certification to create single-family dwellings or small buildings.
Who Can Design Buildings?
Architects, engineers, building designers, or a combination of the three can typically design buildings. Though the careers are similar, there are considerable differences in the schooling, salary, and licensure process. The requirements depend on the state you intend to build in.
Building designers must have an associate’s degree and architectural drafting training. Architects must have at least a professional 5-year bachelor’s degree, real-world experience via an internship, and licensure obtained by passing an exam. There is a significant difference in their salary, with architects making an average of nearly $30,000 more than building designers. Civil engineers are also in the mix for designing buildings.
Regardless of who’s designing the building, states have different codes for who can build what. You’ll be able to design the building yourself if you live in a state where an architecture certification isn’t required to make a single-family dwelling or a residential property. However, you may still want to seek advice from a professional.
What Do Architects Do?
You may be disappointed to find out there’s a requirement to contract or consult an architect before any plans can be made in your state. Remember that working with an architect is a precaution to keep you and others safe.
But what do architects do, exactly?
Architects help to design buildings professionally. They use a combination of creative design skills and mathematical understanding to produce the designs of structures. Designing buildings requires certifications, as every detail concerning safety matters.
Because their job requires attention to detail and advanced skills in design, the process of becoming an architect is lengthy. Architects attend school, pass an exam, and get a license before practicing.
Though it may not be top news, there are sometimes examples of shoddy work by architects, which have caused people to be badly injured or in the hospital. That’s why it’s important to ensure architects receive proper training and certification.
There are also requirements for architects who learn in one state and practice in another because not all programs are created equally. For example, suppose an architect was certified in one state and has worked in that state only. They then move and wish to practice in the new state they are living in. In that case, they must re-obtain their licensure in whatever state they hope to work in.
It Takes Time To Become an Architect
Becoming an architect is a process that varies from state to state. In most states, you must be licensed or registered to design buildings or structures legally. You’ll begin with getting a degree from an accredited university in architecture.
Like many other careers, you’ll then need real-world experience in the field. You must participate in an internship or apprenticeship with a registered architect or an architecture firm. States vary on how many hours you need to be considered practiced in the real world.
Lastly, to officially register, you must take the Architect Registration Examination. The ARE is only available to those who’ve gotten their degree in architecture and can demonstrate real-world experience in architecture, such as an internship. Your state board will approve your licensure if you pass the exam.
Whether or not someone without an architecture certification can design a building depends on a few things:
- The type of building being built
- The state where the building is being constructed
- Other professionals who may be involved
Sometimes, there’s no need for an architect or a professional. If so, the design alone must ensure all codes are followed, as professionals may support the process significantly.
Usually, a professional will be required to help in the design, especially for buildings rather than homes. Depending on your state’s codes, this could be an architect, an engineer, or a certified building designer.
- NCARB: The Basics
- Teach Engineering: Architects and Engineers: Working Together to Design Structures – Lesson
- AIBD: The best path for finding a home builder, and where to get the map
- Architect Magazine: Trust Me, I’m an (Unlicensed) Architect
- AIBD: State Boards of Architecture United States of America
- Contra Costa: Plans that can be prepared by an unlicensed person
- Masterclass: What Is an Architect? Learn What Architects Do – 2021
- CNBC: 10 Major Architectural Failures
- Best Accredited Colleges: Difference Between Building Designer & Architect
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