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So you want to be an Architect?

After my education in both interior design and architecture, I was ready to claim myself as an architect. I had the degrees in hand, experience, and had gone through all the stress and work that comes with an architecture program. Unfortunately, what I quickly learned is that the name "Architect" and words associated with it are very protected in the United States. The assumption is that once the degree of architecture is in hand one can declare “I’m an architect”. This is untrue.

Some conversations began to arise among my peers about what we call ourselves to the public once we've finally earned a bachelor's degree. I began looking into this topic and, quite frankly, I ended up doing a lot of research. My husband suggested to share this information to shed some light on the confusing circumstances surrounding the name "Architect" in the United States. So, here it goes.

I hope to provide clarity and inspiration for the journey ahead if your goal is to be an Architect.

Let me begin by answering this question:

What do you call yourself after you've completed a degree in Architecture? This could be an M.Arch, B.Arch, B.S. Architecture, or B.A. Architecture from any school, domestic or international.

The Answer is simply DESIGNER. Yes, I know this is frustrating and all those theses and all those pin ups should have proven something more than “designer” but unfortunately, in the United States, you are a designer. In Oregon, "Intern Architect" is only used if you have completed all the hours of work experience required and are signed up to take the ARE. If not, you're a designer.  

Let's say you want to disregard this fact and begin calling yourself an Architect with friends, then with colleagues and so on. The consequences can be severe.

EX: In Oregon two men (one an architect in Washington and one a designer with a degree in Architecture) were fined $30,000 for providing and advertising architectural services in the form of simple renderings to developers to help promote architectural growth in Portland during the recession. This also shut down their business promptly.

EX: In California advertising, administering, or simply introducing yourself as an Architect would be a misdemeanor and the person(s) will be fined $100-$5,000 and jail time for up to one year. 

Yes, you are a designer.

Alternative titles like Design Architect, Architectural Designer, Architect in training, or even Architectural Associate are still using "Architect" and thus also not allowed. Maybe one day all of us who sing the same tune can make a louder song on NCARB’s front steps to change these limitations, but until then we are designers so lets make the name have a new meaning with how well we can design buildings!


Definitions we throw around during school but are never really explained:

NCARB:  National Council of Architectural Registration Board

This group has laid out a foundation for what should be required for one to practice Architecture in the United States. Each State has adopted NCARB's requirements - with some changes, but one thing remains- the AXP.

AXP:  Architectural Experience Program

This is an online database that tracks the hours you work with a licensed Architect. The jurisdictions (or States) will require a certain amount of hours and use the NCARB's AXP database to verify the hours worked. By doing this you are establishing an NCARB Record which will be used to see if you are qualified take the ARE.

ARE:  Architect Registration Examination

This is the test we should all be familiar with. Each jurisdiction has adopted NCARB's set of exams they have grouped together and named ARE. This grouping used to be 10 exams! Now it’s 6 exams. Some jurisdictions have added a test so take note on your jurisdictions requirements. 

NAAB:  National Architectural Accrediting Board

This group, over 100 years ago, got together in Illinois and passed a law to regulate the practice of architecture. They are the one's who determine if a school of architecture meets their standards.

Why does this matter? Well, NCARB adopted NAAB's requirements. The first part of NCARB's requirements says you must have a NAAB accredited degree. But there's hope if you happened to go to a school that is not accredited, as I had done! Not every state has adopted ALL of NCARB's requirements! They sort of tweak the requirements, though Oregon is not one of them FYI. 

AIA:  American Institute of Architects  

This one is a little bit of an eye roller for me. I had always assumed that these guys regulate the practice of architecture and hand out licenses. They do not... At All. This group is a paid membership who lobby for the regulation of the practice of architecture. In some ways they are a great benefit to those in the field of architecture, but in others (like similar organizations) they may be a hinderance too. I won't go further than this description, it's a bit controversial. If you see someone's name with "AIA" following it, this means they have a license of architecture and also pay membership dues every year to AIA.


Now for the fun part- Let's say you want to call yourself an Architect.

Each state in the United States is a jurisdiction. Within these jurisdictions you must meet specific requirements. Many States use NCARB's requirements, but some are a little different. The requirements of these jurisdictions matter to you because you must meet them for initial licensing.

Here is a super helpful tool to know each jurisdiction's requirements

In short, once you've completed all the requirements for a jurisdiction you are ONLY licensed in that one state. Remember the Washington State Architect fined $30k by Oregon? You cannot practice Architecture outside of that jurisdiction or even call yourself an Architect. The good news is that if you want to practice outside your jurisdiction you can apply for reciprocity. Again, every jurisdiction is different, but in my research I couldn't find a state that does not allow reciprocity. 

Architecture licensure Requirements for Oregon

  • Hold a NAAB accredited degree (B.ARCH or M.ARCH ONLY)

  • Pay an application fee

  • Complete 3,740 hours on your NCARB record

  • Pass the 6 ARE exams (and pay exam fees)

  • Do an in-person interview

  • Pass Oregon's jurisdiction specific exam

The tool linked above gives the full requirements, but these are the main ones.


The cool thing about these states is that they accept additional experience as an alternative to the NCARB’s education requirement. This means if you didn't go to a NAAB accredited school (such as Portland State's undergrad program) you can still become an Architect!

Some states require the Architect that you work under to be licensed in the jurisdiction where you are applying for a license, but others, like California, do not. The Architect just has to be licensed somewhere in the United States. 

To be an Architect in the state of Washington without a NAAB accredited degree it will take a total of 9 years.

4 years of education, 2 years of experience under a licensed architect, 7480 axp hours, and 6 ARE exams grants you an architecture license

4 years of education, 2 years of experience under a licensed architect, 7480 axp hours, and 6 ARE exams grants you an architecture license

This is the path that I am on. After that I plan to apply for reciprocity in Oregon which requires 3 years practicing in Washington, an in person interview, and  1 exam + some money. There's always money involved. 

Lots of information up there but I hope this gives clarity to your profession and career journey. Good luck! And to quote a dear colleague of mine who has just finished her 4th exam for licensure: "You can do it too!" 

Kendra Shippy