Chapter 499: Coll[arch]quial- A Question of Title


This is one of those questions that go on and on. What to call an unlicensed architect? In Canada the can call themselves 'Graduate Architects' but we're still stuck with 'Intern Architect' here in the states. There are people who say that perhaps it is the licensed architects who should add to their title similar to engineers having the P.A. after their name, similar to P.E. And while you can't toss an "M.D." at the end until you get your license or practice without passing the bar, there's an incongruity in the essence of the 'intern' label among those practicing designers who have not yet taken their ARE's. The debate always rages whenever it comes up on a message board or in conversation and I think it's a great topic for the first Coll[arch]quial. These entries are meant to spur the comments forward on the blog and start to build a dialogue on the site so weigh in with your thoughts by leaving a message!


A Question of Title
By Casius Pealer

Many unlicensed architecture-school graduates have a difficult time describing their jobs to family, friends, and others outside of the profession. Though classified by the profession as interns, their work is remarkably similar to the kind of work they would be doing if they were licensed. Yet the title of architect is restricted by state licensing boards to refer only to currently licensed practitioners. The challenge is that, to most people outside of the profession, intern doesn't resonate as a proper title for a graduate with a professional degree in a respectable full-time job-especially one a few or more years out of school.

Based on a ruling from a recent court case in Colorado, this confusion may be resolved, at least for casual conversations and other noncommercial situations. Jack Johnson, 42, was an architecture graduate running for the Aspen city council. During his campaign, he referred to himself as an architect in various public forums, though he was also careful to explain that he was not a "licensed architect." A political rival filed a complaint with the Colorado Board of Examiners of Architects, and the board issued a formal cease and desist order to Johnson, demanding that he stop referring to himself as an architect or face a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. Johnson instead sued the board for violating his First Amendment rights, and the board eventually rescinded its order. However, Johnson pursued the case in order to fully resolve the issue, and in May 2006 the Colorado District Court ruled in his favor. Specifically, the court held that the board's action was "far more restrictive than it needed to be in order to protect the interests which were the board's charge."

When asked why he sued the board rather than simply stop referring to himself as an architect, Johnson said, "The board's position was wrong. The board refused to make a distinction between commercial and noncommercial speech, and I wanted to make it clear that there is such a distinction and that the board does not control noncommercial speech." Johnson also won his election and now sits on the Aspen City Council. He regularly draws on his architectural education and experience to inform a variety of public policy issues in Aspen, including the redesign of the main road entering the city, and affordable housing in this resort town. "As an architect influencing public policy, I would have expected the board to encourage me rather than to censor me," said Johnson. While Johnson agrees that licensing boards should regulate the use of the title, he also agrees with the court that outside of commercial transactions, unlicensed individuals have an expansive constitutional right to use the word architect as they see fit.

To get in touch with Jack Johnson, please e-mail him at


On the next Coll[arch]quial: The Green Collar Movement

Also, if anyone has ideas for Coll[arch]quial let me know. I have a couple of ideas on the docket but am always looking for more. Feel free to leave a message or e.mail me at james.wheeler [at] gmail [dot] com.