Many folks mistakenly think that architecture and design are basically the same thing. Architecture can only be performed by a licensed architect. It is both an art and a science. Architects are highly trained professionals who are required to complete a four or five year college degree in the field of architecture, multiple years of apprenticeship and multi-part licensing examinations. Formal training for architects includes structural, civil, electrical, mechanical and plumbing engineering, in addition to exterior and interior design. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) requires architects to take continuing education to keep their skills up-to-date, so A.I.A. membership is a desirable qualification if you are choosing an architect. In addition, by statute an architect assumes professional liability for every project he or she designs. The skills and training of an architect are critical for public health and safety, and no commercial or public building can be built without a licensed architect.
Homes are private structures, and are not legally required to be designed by an architect. Residential designers can offer their services to create designs or provide documents for building permits. There is no licensing or experience required for a “designer”. (“Interior Designers” have certification programs and qualifications that can be verified by their own organizations and associations.) Designers have no professional liability, and can walk away from a project if they made a mistake in the design with no legal responsibility.
In designing a home, in addition to the technical qualifications, a thorough understanding of your lifestyle and priorities is important to give you the best project outcome. For example, would you like to use “green” (environmentally-friendly) materials and methods in your home construction? Do you have sensitivity or allergies to dust or any other commonly-used materials? Is high-tech or home entertainment part of your lifestyle? Will you have children or senior citizens inhabiting the home? If so, the construction drawings should include details and specifications designed to fit your needs. Home design “kits”, software, and non-licensed designers do not provide the same level of knowledge, experience, service and customization as a licensed architect can provide. An architect can usually suggest creative solutions that are not obvious to a non-professional.
There is, however, usually a higher cost to utilize the services of a licensed architect. Many times, this up-front cost is made up for in the quality of the project and cost-savings during construction. By knowing the value added by a licensed architect you will be able to make an informed decision as you embark on a residential project. It is easy to find a licensed architect in your area. Use your search engine to find your state government’s bureau of licensed architects. In our state it is the California Architects Board under the Department of Consumer Affairs. To check on whether the architect has maintained membership in the American Institute of Architects, go to http://www.aia.org and click on “Find an Architect” from the task bar. Checking on the credentials of your architect is similar to checking on the medical credentials of your surgeon. It is worth taking a little bit of time to find the person with the right skills to help you.
Lorianna Kastrop The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects