Sunday, December 30, 2007

Terminology Legit: (unlicensed [information/interior] ARCHITECT{ural} interns)

>> Crossposted from Archinect.

Who gets to call themselves an architect?

The state boards say that no one may call themselves an architect unless they have a license to practice architecture. In my state, this is the relevant law: link. As has been noted elsewhere, this is state law and the states enforce it, but NCARB, the national council of state boards, has tended to bring all the diverse laws in line with one another, keeping the laws and terms consistent. NCARB suggests, with no little authority, that the proper term for an unlicensed architect is 'intern', see, for example, the note at the bottom of this page.

There are a number of problems with this: there's the difference between party style 'what do you do?' chatter and professional representation, there's the difference between popular perception of a term's meaning and the legal reality, and there are a number of edge cases that are steadily eroding the sense of all of this.

1) Interns are peons. An 'intern' in the minds of many people, is a person who is underskilled and underpaid, maybe even still in school and working part time for free. The legal use of this term for entry level professionals with (in many cases) graduate degrees only contributes to consistent complaints about low pay and exploitation that plague the discipline. If the state says you can call me an intern, then you're going to treat me like one. I've heard some people say 'Junior Architect' instead, but that makes it sound like you're in the Boy Scouts. Should NCARB change this designation to something less pejorative?

2) Unlicensed Starchitects. There are many, look it up, you'd be surprised. A dead giveaway is often the lack of the term 'architects' or 'architecture' in their office name, another hint is the lack of any license listing on their CV. When people are licensed, they usually put it on their resume. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but on the one hand, it contributes to the perception/reality split when these people are often repesented in the media as architects when they're legally not. On the other hand, it's contributing to a split between academia and practice, unlicensed starchitects often teach, and they've often spent their youth working for other unlicensed starchitects, creating a perpetual parallel universe in the practice that often corresponds to the Designer/Architect of Record split. Should NCARB help set the record straight on who is, and who isn't, and architect?

3) Unequal enforcement. There was that case in Colorado where the guy was running for public office, and he called himself an architect in response to reporter's question, his state board went after him when he lost the election and there were hints that the prosecution was political retribution. (once again, can't be bothered to google the details) Wherever there exists a law that is underenforced and widely ignored, there's the possibility for abuse of power through selective enforcement. In many states, it's illegal for anyone under 18 to drive a car that has only other (non family member) kids in it, in practice this just gives the cops the power to stop and maybe search any teenager whose looks they don't like. If the law is widely ignored in casual speech, should it just be thrown out or rewritten?

4) (x) Architects. Where (x) is Product, or Software, or Information, or Interior ... This makes and Craigslist almost completely unusable when you're on the job hunt, the results are so polluted by these jokers. This is the crumbling edge of the erosion of meaning in popular perception. Karl Rove is not the architect of the Iraq War and my profession is not a metaphor. If we're really going to enforce the limits of the term's use, aren't these people worth targeting?

NCARB should let the law stand as written, but refine enforcement. Throw out the word 'intern' for anyone with a professional degree and replace it with 'Unlicensed Architect' This would cover the cocktail party talk issue, just say 'I'm an unlicensed architect', and leave it at that. NCARB should write a letter to Dwell or Metropolis everytime they call so-and-so an architect when they're not licensed (especially if they're not even degreed), and make them issue a retraction. If the stars (or the regulars) are caught misrepresenting themselves without the 'unlicensed' qualifier, prosecute 'em.

No mercy should be shown to the Software and Information Architects.


bryan said...

"Karl Rove is not the architect of the Iraq War and my profession is not a metaphor."

Best. Line. Evar!

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Tayna said...

This is a complicated issue. Who in the world would call themselves an "unlicensed architect"?? I think you are a little hard on interns - you perhaps used to be one?
Tayna @ Panic Away review

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