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What is an Architect?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

It is a pleasure to welcome you to Design Create Inspire. Through this blog and podcast, I am hoping to inspire a new wave of architects and designers, playing the role of a mentor while answering questions I wish I knew when beginning my career.

My journey of becoming an architect started long before I even knew what an architect was. As a little girl my father and I would take nightly walks through the streets of La Jolla or Pacific Beach, pointing out which homes we loved most, the ones we would choose, all while unknowingly creating a lasting impression on my young mind. It was then, with my dad underneath the moon and the stars, that I first fell in love with the importance of aesthetics and design.

Fast forward a decade or so and I was off to California State University, Chico to pursue a degree in Interior Design, a field I had been told I would thrive in. Shortly after beginning my courses, I realized my mind, as well as my heart, was geared more towards architecture. My professors began to comment on my architectural outlook and I knew where my path was headed.

Once I graduated with extensive knowledge in Interior Design, I returned to my hometown of La Jolla, California to work for my dad’s construction company where I learned the construction aspect of the design world. With the subtle whisperings of my professors in the back of my mind, as well as trusting my intuition, I decided to make the life-changing decision to pursue my Masters in Architecture at the NewSchool of Architecture.

As I entered graduate school to become an Architect, I was also starting my own design firm. I was simultaneously studying for my masters while designing with real clients, all while figuring out the best way to run and grow a business. I wish someone had sat down with me and answered all of my questions, from how to set up proposals to what it’s really like to be an architect.

Most people have an idea of what an architect does, someone who creates homes, buildings, etc. right? That is true, but this profession is much more than that. The role of an architect is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the general public.

Becoming an architect is a lengthy process with four challenging, mandatory, time-consuming requirements for licensure:

  1. Degree from an accredited school. Either a 5-year undergrad program or a masters program.

  2. Completion of the AXP: Architect Experience Program. You must complete 3,740 hours of work under a licensed architect or engineer.

  3. Successful completion of 6 national Architect Registration Exams (the infamous AREs)

  4. Successful completion of state requirements. In California that means passing the California Supplemental Exam (CSE). The CSE is very similar to the ARE, it is a 3.5-hour exam with a 50% pass rate.

Once you have completed these steps, take a step back and give yourself a loving pat on the back, as well as some champagne and a well-deserved vacation, as you are officially a licensed architect in your registered state! Each architect has the choice to refer to themselves as a licensed architect or to use the increasingly popular term, RA, registered architect.

Once you have returned from your well-deserved vacation as an official architect, you will receive a stamp with your name, state, renewal date, and license number. This information will be used to stamp all drawings, holding you accountable for your work. While you may think you know everything there is to know in this field, rightfully so after completing a lengthy process, an architect’s education never commences as continuing education related to constantly changing codes, energy requirements, and advancements in technology is required to keep a valid license.

If after this lengthy process you decide you want to practice in another state, you must file for reciprocity and complete the individual state’s licensing requirements. Don’t stress, you don’t have to take the ARE’s again!

Speaking of the wonderful ARE’s, there are six divisions of the exam, all of which give a good understanding of what sort of knowledge is required by an architect.

1. Practice Management

  • Business operations

  • Financial and risk management

  • Delivery of services

2. Project Management

  • Project planning and management

  • Contracts

  • Project execution and quality control

3. Programming + Analysis

  • Building context

  • Codes and regulations during programming

  • Site analysis

  • Building analysis

  • Selection of structural systems

4. Project Planning + Design

  • Site work design development

  • Sustainable design

  • Codes and regulations during design development

  • Barrier-free design

  • Human comfort and mechanical

system fundamentals

  • Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems

  • Structural systems

  • Fundamentals of lighting and acoustics

  • Vertical transportation

  • Site work

  • Concrete

  • Masonry

  • Metals

  • Structural and rough carpentry

  • Finish carpentry and architectural woodwork

  • Moisture protection and thermal insulation

  • Doors, windows, and glazing

  • Finish materials

  • Building configuration and budgeting

5. Project Development + Documentation

  • Integration of building systems

  • Integration of specialty systems

  • Loads on buildings

  • Structural fundamentals

  • Beams and columns

  • Trusses

  • Foundations

  • Connections

  • Building code requirements on the structural design

  • Wood, steel, concrete construction

  • Wall construction

  • Lateral forces - wind, earthquakes

  • Construction documentation

  • Project manual and specifications

  • Detailed regulatory and cost reviews

6. Construction + Evaluation

  • Construction activities

  • Construction administration

  • Project closeout

While I am well on my way to becoming an Architect, I am not a licensed architect...YET. I have completed my graduate degree, begun an award-winning design firm, worked on numerous projects from start to finish, completed all required internship hours, passed all six divisions of the National Architecture Registration Exam, but cannot legally call myself an architect until I pass the California Supplemental Exam. Therefore, I am a designer until further notice!

As I continue my journey of becoming an architect, it is extremely important to me that I build my career along the way, specifically through my design business, BYoung Design. Although I am not an architect yet, there are certain building typologies in California that do not require a license. Section 5537 of the Architects Practice Act allows me to use my skills in the following spaces:

  • Single-family residences standard wood-frame construction of 2 stories and basement or less

  • Multiple wood frame dwellings containing no more than four units

  • Garages

  • Agricultural buildings

This specific typology is a true blessing for me, as I am legally allowed to practice what I have always been interested in since my nightly walks with my dad, residential design. Over the last few years I have worked on many design additions, remodels, and new residences without a license, all with a licensed engineer by my side.

It is essential to build strong, lasting relationships with licensed structural engineers before and after architecture licensure, as partial liability is released when an engineer is on a project to perform calculations. While an architect can perform structural calculations, there is drastically less stress and liability when an engineer joins the project. Additionally, bringing an engineer on allows you, as the architect, to focus more on the design aspects of the job at hand.

If you are on your path to becoming an architect, know that obtaining licensure is not essential, rather it is a choice. This is the path I am on, but there are many different directions one can take in this industry, such as building scientist, furniture designer, contractor, developer, professor, the list goes on. Many people ask me, “If you can do what you love without a license, why bother going through the time and expense to get a license?”. The answer is simple, becoming a licensed architect has been my priority, my goal for many years. I have worked extremely hard to gain the knowledge I have to create my design firm, but that is not enough for me. I want to run an award-winning architecture firm, a firm that specializes in all aspects of building one’s dream home, from the safe structure, sustainable landscape, to the small details that complete a home.

Building and renovating one’s space is an incredibly rewarding honor, as clients are trusting you to create an ideal sanctuary for themselves, their family, and their memories, turning their space into their home, a place to grow. I wake up every morning thankful for the path I have chosen, and I hope to inspire others to immerse themselves in their dreams.

Choose your path with confidence and invest your heart into your work. The rest will come!

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