Can I design a gas station without a license?



I was called in at the last minute (meeting is in 2 hours) to meet with a client on a freelance gas station design project and I am unsure if I am able to do so without a license. I tried looking online but I couldn't find any applicable information.

Any information helps. Thanks 

Nov 9, 14 2:59 pm

depends on where you are located state/country...but the short answer is probably no.

most municipalities do not allow unlicensed "building designers" to work on commercial projects.  Where did you look online?  Start with the state board's website in which the project is located.  

Nov 9, 14 3:26 pm  · 
Non Sequitur

probably not... and I would not trust an unlicensed designer with such commercial project.

Nov 9, 14 3:47 pm  · 
Usually no. Again, where are you located?
Nov 9, 14 4:34 pm  · 

You can design anything you want.

Whether you can get it built or not is something else entirely.

Nov 9, 14 4:53 pm  · 

There is an unlicensed designer working  in Los Angeles that I know of.  He went to SCI-Arc and is one of those guys who puts more energy and effort into finding the "easy way out" than he would if he just buckled down and did things the proper way. Anyway, I'm told that he gets around the restrictions he faces by not being licensed by hiring an anonymous architect who stays behind the scenes to prepare and stamp the drawings for his projects. This arrangement seems to work for him even on hillside residential projects involving steel construction that I think are not exempt from needing a licensed architect in California. I've always wondered how much or how little he tells his clients about his particular creative work-around but I don't know him enough to ask. He does call himself an architect in print so maybe he reveals little to his clients of what is going on.......

Long story short, if you get the job you could look into such an arrangement for yourself. If it works for him I don't see why it can't work for you. 

Nov 9, 14 5:48 pm  · 

Time to do the responsible thing and report him to CAB...

Nov 7, 18 3:52 pm  · 

you should.  the liablity ain't worth it.

Nov 9, 14 6:53 pm  · 

If all else fails, telephone your state licensing board and ask them if you can legally do it in your state.

Nov 9, 14 11:40 pm  · 

This might sound harsh, but frankly, licensed architects are dime a dozen. Get the job and I am sure you will find someone in your circle who can work with you to be able to create something buildable, and stamp it too.

Nov 10, 14 12:57 am  · 

Gas Stations are complicated...You have big tanks in the ground, you have fire suppression systems in the canopies over head.    If you don't see this as a problem, fill a small tin can and toss in a think thousands of gallons... Ya you should probably be licensed.

Nov 11, 14 7:11 pm  · 

I consulted for this firm once.  They had a new project architect with licenses in 5 states.

This guy, he calls me one day at 6:30pm and talks my ear off about this job he had in the south where the owner/contractor just started demoing the lot of a former gas station.  The guy hit the tanks and oil and gas everywhere. 

Because he was the licensed professional who filed the job... after the DEP was notified the local Sheriff was notified.  The architect spent a night in jail.

This project architect was later let go because he'd often start drinking at lunchtime any day of the week.  He apparently was hammered when I had spoken with him.

I can't blame him.

Nov 11, 14 10:09 pm  · 

In Oregon, it isn't necessarily non-exempt. Similarly in Washington (state). 

First off, like architects, you don't take the responsibility of anything because you off-load the liability onto your engineers and making sure they have prior experience doing such projects and following industry standards.

First off, the mini-mart being designed is just a light frame building. Usually one story. The only thing of any significance  of hazard is the "fueling station" part. You would be designing to manufacturer specifications for the fuel tank. In which case, you follow manufacturer specifications unless a code requirement says otherwise. They are generally designed to meet EPA and other federal requirements.

The storage tank is underground.


You would have a asphalt covered reinforced concrete slab at least 6" thick if not 8" thick with 10 gauge WWM on an 8" x 8" grid. The asphalt would be about 4-6" thick.

Whatever the case maybe, the storage tank would likely be 5-ft. deep with at least 12" of earth/gravel above it. The surface would be be 18" to 24" from the top of the tank. The bottom of the tank would likely be about 6-ft below the non-combustable surface. 

This would be probably the part mostly involving your engineer. This is where you would have the engineer. The canopy may as well be largely "engineered" by your engineer while the architect/designer will address the look & feel to a certain extent, the canopy would be mostly done by the engineer while the architect/designer would mostly be designing the mini-mart or mini market building itself and the overall look and feel of the station which often is set by the corporate entities owning the gas station such as Shell, Texaco, etc. to meet their "branding requirements".

If an engineer is involved (mostly with the canopy and fueling stations and gas storage tank), it isn't really much of a problem because the architect or designer would have an engineer involved in those parts while the architect/designer would be usually most involved in the designing of the associated mini-mart (main building associated with the gas station).

If I had to design such, I would have an engineer involved on the canopy, fuel dispenser, storage tank, etc. while I would be designing the mini-mart/market and would have the engineer involved on the mini-mart/market as needed. 

As people said, it depends on the laws of the governing jurisdiction and architect licensing laws (and exemptions within) of the state, country, province having jurisdiction. In the U.S., it would depend on the state laws where the project would be located and the local jurisdiction having authority.

Nov 12, 14 1:23 am  · 


If the gas station is located in California, I wouldn't recommend it. I don't believe it is legal in California to design non-residential buildings without being licensed as an Architect.

If it is in Oregon, (meaning you having to travel a bit from Los Angeles area), that is another story.


Nov 12, 14 1:26 am  · 

@OP: Your meeting was in 2 hours 3 days ago. What'd ya do?

@Olaf: On what grounds was your colleague arrested? Drunken disorderly conduct? Professional malpractice isn't a criminal offense. Of course I realize the south may not adhere strictly to rule of law.

Nov 12, 14 3:11 am  · 

"First off, like architects, you don't take the responsibility of anything because you off-load the liability onto your engineers"

What dreamland are you living in, Richard? If my engineers are my subs - which they are - then we share the liability.

Nov 12, 14 9:24 am  · 
Non Sequitur

For Sean Connery (PBUH)'s sake Richard, all you needed to write was:

"If I had to design such, I would have an engineer involved on the canopy, fuel dispenser, storage tank, etc. while I would be designing the mini-mart/market and would have the engineer involved on the mini-mart/market as needed. "

My office works on many gas stations and the gas guys have their own in-house crew that deals with all the explosive and leaky parts. Outside of applying lipstick to the concession and bad coffee shack, the architect is mostly involved with tanker turning radius, curb-cuts and any neighbourhood committee negotiations.

With that said, as Donna says, liability is not purged. Are all building designers this way? I mean... this replies read like those first year students who thought the length of their papers was the most important part.

"it's 3000 words. Is that enough?"  ---um, maybe, is it any good?

Nov 12, 14 9:45 am  · 

"First off, like architects, you don't take the responsibility of anything because you off-load the liability onto your engineers"

Have you ever been involved in litigation? Its not as simple as telling the judge who was responsible. All somebody has to do is list you in the lawsuit and regardless if you are "responsible" or not your insurance will kick in and there goes your deductible. And guess what the insurance companies do? They settle almost everything out of court to reduce the cost and they will pay out in your name. Of course you can pay attorneys out of pocket and try to fight it but we all know that the fees would be astronomical!

Nov 12, 14 10:48 am  · 

Anyone can be listed in any lawsuits and that is what lawyers do.... name all possible parties. It's the shotgun approach.

It was meant to be a facetious statement and I was going to actually delete that setence but the option to edit post ended before I could. However, you do reduce your liability by contracting an engineer because the engineer becomes the design professional of responsible charge for the portion of the project they are contractually connected.

I'm not saying you should not have general oversight and coordinate the engineering disciplines as needed. NOTE: AS NEEDED. You might not have to do much because if they are a well established multi-disciplinary firm, they will have internal coordination.

The canopy and fueling storage and dispensing is mostly going to be under the domain of the engineers. The canopy structure will probably have a structural engineer involved because they aren't usually conventional framed construction. The biggest part is the canopy roof which will have to be engineered to resist wind uplift. The canopy is like a steel "umbrella".

There is alot of surface area underneath for wind uplift to occur. That is something, most architects will have a structural engineer prepare the drawings and specifications and therefore the structural engineer would take responsibility to that portion of the project.

Although you must communicate and oversee their work and provide feedback dialogue, you aren't specifying the size of bolts, the grade of steel bolts to be used, the size of beams, the number of bolts, the welding requirements, etc. You don't have anything to do with that. You don't really dictate the gasoline storage anchorage and so forth. That maybe prescriptive and you would follow that. Anything beyond that and you would have the engineers take care of the "hard stuff". 

This is pretty much true for architects and building designers.

Don't confuse what your insurance company does with legal responsibility. What your insurance company does isn't the law. You also are not required by law to have that insurance company.

Nov 12, 14 12:28 pm  · 

i'm starting to believe that architects are better off not having insurance

Nov 12, 14 12:41 pm  · 

Richard keep doing what you're doing - I love the firestorm that seems to follow your posts and I always learn something, which is the whole reason i started visiting archinect in the first place

Nov 12, 14 12:42 pm  · 

Midlander I can't say for sure why, at times I held the phone away from my ear. Apparently there was oil everywhere, the water table had been polluted and he was the applicant of record that made the permit happen for the contractor........wait Richard was that you? Kidding.

Nov 12, 14 12:52 pm  · 


Sure, they got 99% of the liability and you got 1%. Okay, the exact percentage is facetious but your liability is pertaining to oversight and such. They bear liability to the specification because it is their stamp on the drawings NOT yours. You do NOT stamp the engineers drawings and specifications. When it comes to the canopy, you aren't always going to have much. Regarding site planning, yeah, I  agree. 

Non Sequitur,

Turning radius isn't that hard to be a real liability risk. 

Is it really a liability? Is there really a risk of you being negligent? Sure, technical legal liability isn't totally purged. Your liability is significantly reduced because the engineers takes the responsiblity for their drawngs. YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENGINEER'S DRAWINGS AND SPECIFICATION THE SAME WAY THAT THE ENGINEER(S) ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ARCHITECT'S DRAWINGS AND SPECIFICATIONS. YOU DO NOT STAMP THE ENGINEER'S DRAWINGS & SPECIFICATION. 

You are generally jointly liable to extent where your oversight and communication and coordination of disciplines and general review. Your general review is not about you telling them how to do their job. You don't know how to do their job. You look to see if there are glaring such as but not limited to: conflict between structural systems and mechanical systems, electrical systems too closely located near gas ventilation or other issues that either violates required standards or presents a serious danger such as exposed electrical contacts next to a ventilation for the gas fumes which should NEVER occur. Glaring issues!

If you are clear about the project requirements to the engineers and reviewed their drawings for any issues of design conflicts or other glaring issues. There shouldn't be much issue but they are the licensed design professional of responsible charge for the drawings and specifications they prepared. You are not legally certified to be capable of doing their job UNLESS you are so duly licensed in the engineering disciplines they are.

Therefore, you can not be liable for their work unless you are aware that they are performing their work in a clearly negligent manner such as they doing the work while intoxicated and ignoring it while being fully aware of it and due to them not being in a sober state of mind, they fail to perform their work competently. You really do not have much control over their work. If you have communication back and forth over the work, have oversight and coordination of the disciplines and general review of their work then you are for the most part done your due diligence unless a specific situation calls for additional actions on your part.

Nov 12, 14 1:21 pm  · 


Hahaha, I figure you are joking.

Nov 12, 14 1:27 pm  · 

PS: For god sake, it is NOT a nuclear reactor.

Nov 12, 14 1:28 pm  · 
Saint in the City

I haven't posted on this site for about 6 months -- first thing I see is Mr. Balkins' aggrandizements.    

I'm sure I don't need to point this out, but take this guy's posts as sheer entertainment.  Mr. Balkins is / was / has been a thorn in the side of several online forums.  

Looks like he gave himself a bit of a promotion as well, which I don't think is legit.

From the AIA website:

"Associate membership is open to individuals who meet one of the following criteria: professional degree in architecture; currently work under the supervision of an architect; currently enrolled in the Intern Development Program (IDP) and working toward licensure; or faculty member in a university program in architecture."

Nov 12, 14 1:55 pm  · 
Non Sequitur

Richard, in the gas stations I've worked on, turning radius were very important because they determined the location of the pumps, tanks, coffe-shack, etc. You'll get a call from the client real fast if they can't get their tankers in and out of their site smoothly.  Another issue that is coming up with gas station (and drive-thrus) is the space for cars to idle as they wait to fill up. If there is insufficient space on site and cars line up on the street, your client might face fines... which, can be enough justification to file suit against the architect.

If the scope of the OP is just to layout a cash register and pick the colour of the stucco, then this is over-thinking it. If on the other hand there is site-planning involved, then best refer them to a real professional... Any fool, even a long-winded building designer can pick finishes, but I doubt many can jump in on this deeper without prior experience.

Nov 12, 14 2:01 pm  · 

shuellmi, you're not really learning anything from these posts.  be more careful in wading through what's truth and what's just complete bullshit.  you could get yourself into trouble if you start taking any of this as real.

i would say there is a reasonable chance non sequitur actually worked on a gas station design.  everything else is just filling space.  also, the picture richard posted is kind of nice.  it's certainly no animated gif or lolcat, but it will do.

Nov 12, 14 2:41 pm  · 
Non Sequitur

Indeed I have Curt. We went through a dozen or so design (client was looking to test new "looks" to their brand) but in the end, upper management decided to keep doing the same decorative brick shed. A-shame though, we tried to push something nice but client's ambitions (or lack of) aside, if you're tight on space, it's not easy to navigate around the basic program clunky reqs. I think we're at 6 or 7 stations now with the same gas company.

Nov 12, 14 4:03 pm  · 

I was just reminded by my friend who is a paraplegic that gas stations have u-neek accessibility issues too. That's all. 

Nov 12, 14 4:05 pm  · 

Non Sequitur,

Hold on here... You are talking about the functional efficiency of the Site Plan. I agree with you that it is important in that regard. It isn't rocket science.

As for lawsuits, anyone can file for a lawsuit against anyone for anything. Whether their lawsuits has merit is another matter. There is consequences for filing b.s. lawsuits.

As architects/building designers, we rely on the information the client provides us about their needs. We may do our due diligence to inform the client of potential fines or other penalties the authorities having jurisdiction may impose if the traffic line for the gas station backs up into the street but we aren't required to design to design gas stations to serve 1 billion cars a minute. We aren't traffic engineers, either so such lawsuits will often fall on its face. 

I don't consider it the same thing as the "liability risks" in the context that I was referring to. I would assume we would be designing to be programmatically efficient and turn radius is part of that efficiency equation.

Nov 12, 14 4:06 pm  · 
Non Sequitur


"We may do our due diligence to inform the client of potential fines or other penalties"

Wrong... ignorance is never a defence. I choose site plan examples because they are simple things a client (or an inexperienced designer) might not be aware of as they obviously vary based on location. Tanks are standard and more often than not, the same docs are recycled from project to project, these are not the difficult issues at hand here.

Perhaps if you spent less time composing essays and more time actually working, you'd realize why building designer, just like 90% of your replies, is just a fluff.

Nov 12, 14 4:26 pm  · 


It's comes from EPA guideline/standards and meant to illustrate not to be used in lieu of accurate technical drawings from the manufacturer and so forth. 

It is still a good basic illustration for visualization sake in the conversation at the very least.

Nov 12, 14 4:28 pm  · 

oh this was fun! I'm changing my title to Building Designer!

Nov 12, 14 4:55 pm  · 

Non Sequitur,

I'm not talking about the tank size or vehicle size with that statement. I was talking about traffic demand needing the gas station at once. You can only have so much capacity of a site.

Here's a question for you:

How do you know the traffic demand? How could you know?

Do You monitor the traffic at the gas station, especially a new one that doesn't exist yet that you are designing?

I am not talking about the tanks themselves. The vehicles have standard dimension. I'm not talking about it. You don't know the customer base for a not yet existant gas station the same way you don't know how many clients you will have in 2020. You don't know what you don't know. You can ONLY rely on your client's information for planning the gas station. The client will have to work on their statistics planning but its a gamble. Developing a gas station is a speculative development like forming any business. It's a gamble.

How would you know the demand for the gas station at any one time?

Do you need 5 rows of pumps? Do you need 4 rows? How many pumps do you need per row... 1, 2 3 4? How many?

Sure, we can pirate other site plans all day long. It's not like architects care about copyrights of others... only themselves. Nothing new or surprising there. In any case, even when reusing plans, nothing surprising... for a corporate chain gas station just like the McDonald's. They all look the same... sort of.

Regardless, you will always have so many many that can be served at a time.

Nov 12, 14 5:16 pm  · 

I'm waiting for Richard to tell us how many gas stations he's designed and built.

Nov 12, 14 5:29 pm  · 

doesn't sound like the op is talking about a new build...why you guys getting your panties in a bunch?

Nov 12, 14 5:29 pm  · 


There is nothing indicating one way or another.


I asked Non Sequitur, how does he determine the volume of cars that is going to use a gas station that is being designed? You only know what it is capable of handling at any one moment in time. The variables such as how fast the gas tank is filled up in a vehicle is a variable. Also, how fast is the person operating the pumps. In Oregon, the pumps must be operated by an attendant (gas station employee) not operated by the customer. That is different than in California where it self-service. 

That's a variable. You also don't know how many people will be on the road leading to the gas station at any given time in the future. You only know what it in the past (from near-present [real-time... because there is a latency factor in data collectin] to distant past days, month, years, decades). That involves a lot of statistics, data collecting and data analysis that isn't something architects/designers do. We don't do it because we don't want to be data analysts. If we did, we get degrees in data analysis not go to our "art school". (architecture school)

You don't know the future unless you got a time machine. If so, give us all time machines.

I like that DeLorean.

Nov 12, 14 6:09 pm  · 

I would like to see a thread debate between tammuz and balkins and clock the word count per minute. Talk about keeping the NSA occupied and draining defense budget spending. ....I am going to predict Richard will be a architecture critic in the future, NY times maybe? Just throwing it out there.

Nov 12, 14 6:16 pm  · 
Non Sequitur


Nov 12, 14 6:26 pm  · 

Balkins nerding it up again....nerd.  

Nov 12, 14 6:57 pm  · 

Still waiting ... I have a feeling it's going to be a while.

Nov 12, 14 7:02 pm  · 

balkins jaffe & partners

jaffe balkins & associates

bj associates

balkins jaffe consulting


the love is strong - you guys have a future together

Nov 12, 14 8:14 pm  · 
Saint in the City

Richard Balkins, Associate AIA, could you repost your famous house sketch - you remember....the house with no bathroom?

Nov 12, 14 8:34 pm  · 
Saint in the City

By the way, it's the one with no bathroom.

Nov 12, 14 8:36 pm  · 
Saint in the City

Bathroom?  None.

Nov 12, 14 8:37 pm  · 
Saint in the City

Richard Balkins, Assoc. your professional opinion, would you say that gas stations require restrooms?  Please provide sketch.

Nov 12, 14 8:43 pm  · 

FYI, all Chuck Norris facts also apply to Richard Balkins Associate AIA:

Richard Balkins clogs the toilet even when he pisses

Nov 12, 14 9:03 pm  · 

When Richard Balkins turned 18, his parents moved out. 


Nov 12, 14 9:04 pm  · 

Richard Balkins puts the fist in pacifist. 


Nov 12, 14 9:05 pm  · 

Richard is a Profundus Maximus.

Nov 12, 14 9:31 pm  · 

"Bathrooms are for pussies!"

Nov 13, 14 12:48 pm  · 

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: