The definition of an architectural firm varies from country to country. For example, in the United States, a company that employs at least one licensed architect and ‘practices architecture’ is considered to be an architectural firm. In other regions of the world, like the UK, an architectural firm is any company that provides services related to the field of architecture. Architecture as a profession has existed for a very long time, stretching back to antiquity. Today, the US and the UK are home to some of the oldest architectural firms in existence across the world.
In countries like the United States, architectural firms are required to be legally registered businesses. These firms can be in the form of sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) or Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). Typically, these organizations will be run by one or more ‘Principals’. A Principal is typically someone who is a licensed architect and who is quite experienced. Principals also usually own a share of the company and work with Partners and Advisors (who constitute the board) to run an architectural firm.
Depending on the size of the organization, the number of roles within the company can vary. A smaller company can consist of just a single person working as a consultant from their home or a small boutique firm, consisting of a handful of people working in a regional capacity. Medium to large firms can consist of two or more Principals and a lean managerial structure. The largest firms are also, usually the more renowned ones. They generate considerable revenue, take up larger scale projects and can have global footprints, with offices and clients from all across the world.
Architectural Firms & Licensure in the US:
Following the incorporation of the firm as a business entity, architectural firms need to register with the office of the Secretary of State of the state in which they’re located in, in order to be fully compliant. Upon registration, these firms need to obtain a Certificate of Authorization. The process of applying for a certificate of authorization can vary slightly from state to state, and in some cases can become a little confusing. Firms typically enroll in the services of a compliance specialist in this case.
The costs associated with registration for an initial architectural license can range from $0 - $600. In most cases the filing fees amount to $100. In some states, the application for licensure is combined with engineering, and surveying. Licensure for firms are also subject to renewal, and in most states, this is an annual process.
The licensing of architectural firms is fairly common practice and is required by more than 60% of all US states and regions before firms can start practicing. In many states, there are penalties for non-registration.
As mentioned in a previous section, architectural firms in the United States are required to employ at least one licensed architect, to be classified as an architectural firm. To become a licensed architect, individuals need to comply with state and national regulations. With 55 jurisdictions (50 states and the five jurisdictions – District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) across the country, there can be a lot of varying state specific or regional rules and requirements for individuals to be classified as a licensed architect.
To help get around any potential confusion, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) was created in 1919. A non-profit association, NCARB issues certificates to architects who qualify as licensed architects. The NCARB certificate is nationally recognized and is usually enough in most states to obtain a regional or state specific license. However, many states suggest architects, to first qualify as a licensed architect within the state before applying for an NCARB license. Only about 1/3 of all licensed architects go on to become NCARB licensed. That being said, state and regional jurisdictions work closely with the NCARB to help architects get licensed within the state. In this section we will take a look at the basic steps taken by architects to qualify as a licensed architect within a state.
In most states and regions in the United States, architectural jurisdictions require an individual to qualify across three specific areas:
Education: Most American jurisdictions requires a licensed architect to possess a professional degree from a program that is certified by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). If an individual does not possess a professional degree that is NAAB certified, they are required to apply for a state/regional architectural certificate through the ‘Education Alternative’. For architects with foreign degrees, they can seek NCARB certification through the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect Program (BEFAP). This part of the accreditation can take up to 5-6 years to complete At a minimum, applicants are expected to hold a Bachelors in Architecture(B.Arch.), a Masters in Architecture (M.Arch.) or both, a Bachelors and a Masters in Architecture (B.Arch. + M.Arch.).
Experience: Individuals seeking to become licensed architects are expected to complete the AXP or the Architectural Experience Program. The AXP is meant to provide architects with real world experience across 6 specified divisions. The architects are meant to earn roughly three years’ worth of experience under the guidance and supervision of an NCARB licenced architect.
Examination: The architects are further required to complete an exam. The successful completion of the Architecture Registration Exam or the ARE is the last step needed to be completed to become NCARB certified. There are 7 specific ARE exams that needed to be completed. This usually takes applicants up to a year to complete.
This entire process can take up to 11 years, including time spent in University. Additionally, there is a financial consideration to make. Architects who are starting this process need to register with the NCARB. The fees associated with NCARB registration can be found on https://www.ncarb.org/fees.
Architectural Firms & Licensure in California:
In the state of California, architectural firms are required to register with the California Architects Board (CAB). While California does not issue firm licenses at a state level, firms are still required to register, submit a report form and file an updated report within 30 days of any change in registration. The CAB also requires that each director, shareholder and individual in a Parent Company (the company that owns a majority of the subsidiary company that is looking to register for a license) must be a licensed architect. More information can be found here: https://www.cab.ca.gov/licensees/berf_information.shtml.
To be a licensed architect in California, individuals are required to follow a 7-step process. These steps are modelled around the process mentioned in the previous section:
Establish an NCARB record online and select California as the testing jurisdiction
Complete and submit an Application for Eligibility Evaluation
Complete or show proof of completion in one of the following four pathways to be considered eligible for examination:
Degree from an NAAB/CACB program
Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) – An integrated program that completes a student’s education requirements and ARE (Examination) requirements.
Degree from a non NAAB/non CACB program + work experience – This is typically for foreign students or for students with foreign degrees. These students will need to show work experience under an architect licensed in a US jurisdiction.
Work experience only – In some cases, applicants can supplement educational requirements by showing work experience of 5 years or more under a licensed architect in a US jurisdiction.
Completion of the 6 AREs:
Construction & Evaluation
Programming & Analysis
Project Development and Documentation
Project Planning & Design
Completion of the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) or the Internship in Architecture Program (IAP).
Complete the California Supplement Examination (CSE)
Complete an Application for Licensure
Architects from other states can obtain a license to practice within the state of California through something known as licensure by reciprocity. Licensure by reciprocity is a process through which licensed architects in one state can apply for a license in another state via an NCARB registration and proof of education, experience and examination.
Upon the completion of these 7 steps, architects can be considered licensed and eligible to practice in the state of California.
How can Design Everest Help You?
There are plenty of architectural firms in the United States and in the State of California and it can get confusing to understand what licenses are required for practicing within the state. If you’re interested in knowing more about the kinds of licensing required for your firm and the considerations you need to make to be eligible to practice, then look no further than Design Everest!
Contact us now and we will provide you a FREE Consultation with a quote. We also provide virtual on-sites and virtual consultations.
*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.
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