Should I become an architect?


Hello everyone! 

I just had a general question. I want to become a residential architect and have an Associates in Drafting and Design and I'm currently a draftsman while I go into my B-Arch, however, before I start that program, I've been second guessing if I should go into the student debt that comes with becoming an architect along with the time it takes to earn the degree. Is it worth all the time and money to become an architect? I've been in love with this field of study since I was young and I'd like to start my own firm in 8 years. Is it a good career choice?

Jul 4, 18 10:20 pm


In your case, the B.Arch (if NAAB accredited) is your first best step to becoming a licensed architect. No state has a "Residential Architect" license. It is just an "Architect" license. Residential architect is just a licensed architect who focuses on residential architecture such as designing houses and small multi-family dwellings (duplexes, triplexes, quad-plexes, etc.)

Lets start with what do you want to do as in what kinds of projects that you want to work on. If it is SFRs, you don't need the title "Architect". You can call yourself a Building Designer or Home Designer or even Residential Designer in most states. In which case, there is no licensing requirement. To simply put, I'm using the title building designer but home designer or residential designer are just alternative titles like building designer so for the rest of the post, I'll just use "building designer" for brevity sake but I am implying those other ones as well.

You have been functioning as a draftsman. A building designer's role is basically the same as an architect but the difference is that building designer are limited on types of projects allowed to be designed by them. However, a building designer is more than a draftsman in that a building designer's first and foremost job function is designing an architectural solution to the client's needs. We are creating spaces. We are basically unlicensed "architects" but we can not legally use the architect title as the laws are written with regards to projects in the united states for the most part. Instead of calling services "architectural services" we may use the alternative "building design services" but functionally we are doing the same job but on a limited range of building types as exempted from the licensing laws. 

If you want to become a building designer, a competent one, I recommend you complete the B.Arch degree. With your drafting experience along the way under an architect, after graduating, you begin working independently. I will recommend you learn and understand the 'business of architecture'. It is fundamentally the same for building designers and architects that focuses on residential design. We are usually small practices. Almost always sole-proprietors to small firm size scale of usually less than 10 individuals making up the firm including the Principal (which would be you and any business partner you have other than employees as a business owner).

You don't need to complete the architectural licensing path if what you want to do is design homes. An alternative credential to accredit your professional education & experience is the NCBDC certification from the American Institute of Building Design. (not the AIA). Then you earn the credential "Certified Professional Building Designer". It doesn't give you additional scope of practice BUT it is a third-party accreditation of your education & experience by professional peers. It adds credibility to your word to prospective clients.  It also tells them that you adhere to a professional code of conduct. You become associated with fellow building designers. Nevada has a "Residential Designer" license if you want to pursue it. 

If you want to work on medium to large commercial projects, educational facilities, health care facilities, etc. then you may want to consider full completion of AXP, and passing the ARE and any additional state exam and obtain an architect license in one or more states. At that point, you become legally authorized to design any type and size of building and the use of the architect title.

Jul 4, 18 11:10 pm

Do keep in mind that currently independent building design experience is not accepted or recognized for licensing process at this time by the state architectural licensing boards.

Can't wait for Shaw to jump in here ...

Jul 4, 18 11:18 pm

Somehow, Miles, I didn't see this until just now.........but also, I'm hard at work writing a new novel - 'Rich Architect, Poor Architect'.......




NCBDC Candidate Handbook:

Do check in the upcoming months and periodically after that for updates.

There are various links and sources for understanding the architectural licensing path.  In both paths, I recommend an NAAB accredited architecture degree.

In the NCBDC PATH, you'll need 3 or more years of practical experience in architecture, drafting, building design, and closely related experience for a combined total of 6 (or more) years of education & experience. No more than 3 years will be credited to education. That way, you can't just take a 5 year degree and then only practice for 1 year. There is a minimum of 3 years of practical experience. Keep that in mind. The NCBDC path will recognize independent building design experience. Start small with easier projects. It would be recommended working under the supervision of an architect or another building designer such as one who has been certified by the NCBDC.

There are other credentials you may also consider attaining as you about your career.

Jul 4, 18 11:30 pm

"I've been in love with this field of study since I was young and I'd like to start my own firm in 8 years. Is it a good career choice?"

In the certified professional building designer path, you can technically start your own practice as a building designer, now. HOWEVER, I recommend starting that after graduating from the B.Arch degree. Doing this will at least put him in a position where he can get a job working for architects under AXP program (or whatever it maybe called in the future) and pursue licensing without having to go after a NAAB accredited degree. I recommend completing the education before he starts his own practice. I recommend he works for an architect for a year or two. After that, he could either take the NCBDC certification or pursue licensing by completing AXP requirements and licensure. It's recommend him completing AXP if he could because AXP experience will generally be recognized by the NCBDC certification program. He could complete NCBDC and the ARE. 

I know a building designer who is also an architect.

Jul 4, 18 11:44 pm

Three years post school is probably not enough time to competently start your own firm. Get some real experience running projects first.

Jul 5, 18 12:03 am

Some of that can be done during school albeit not recommended but I agree with you.


I will make a professional advise here. The education and the AXP will be helpful in meeting the requirements for NCBDC as it will for architect licensure. Being qualified and licensed as an architect and a CPBD will be fine. 

The professional advise I want to make here is before you go go start your own firm, you want to be competent in your knowledge and skills AND you want and need to be confident in YOURSELF in being being able to do the work on your own. If you don't have BOTH, you should not be running your own business as an architect or building designer.

Don't confuse confidence with arrogance. Confidence implies you actually have the competence but I know people who have competence but lacks confidence but every truly confident person is competent otherwise, that person is arrogant. Ego without the knowledge & skills is arrogance. 

Jul 5, 18 12:08 am

As for the title question:

"Should I become an architect?"

Simple answer: If you don't really enjoy the work as an architect despite the crappy stuff that you have to do as with any occupation, then no. 

Every occupation has "shit work" that has to get done. When you work in a consultant type business with individual clients then there will always be shitty clients.... pain in the ass ones. Even ones that try to get out of paying you because you cost more than a cup of coffee at Starbucks then yeah..... if you still love the work as a whole, yeah... pursue architecture. It's hard work for the pay. It's not the best paying occupation for the work involved. 

If your concern is about whether you will make the most money for the labor involved then the simple answer is there are other occupations that pays more for the work involved if you are in the right positions but architecture isn't necessarily the worst paying occupation around. 

Architecture isn't as physically laborious as say.... construction labor but it can be exhausting mainly from being brain fried from mental exhaustion, headaches, etc. It's part of the occupation being basically an office occupation with some outside the office work like visiting clients, visiting project sites, etc. It's what it is.

Should you become an architect? I don't know. What is your motive. What is it that drives you. What is it about architecture that gets you excited, motivated and passionate about? Is it looking at buildings or designing them? Is it about solving some kind of design solution? Yes... No? 

Are you a good listener? 

Is your first response to client about trying to impose some ideological prescribed solution or is it asking the clients questions to detail and express the nature of the challenges, problems, etc. and what they are trying to get out of the project. Architecture is about trying to establish solutions to design problems and other criteria that clients are wanting. Is is lack of usable storage spaces? Is it something about an experience of space. Is the existing and prior homes or buildings they occupied lame or boring or lack character? What we are there for is the sift through this and get an understanding of what the client wants and needs in the outcome of your design services. This means, our design must solve their needs and wants within the affordability of the client's financial resource while addressing all regulatory issues like building codes, zoning, etc. We are the client's trusted guide. We are the professional they are relying on and paying.

Therefore being a good listener is one of if not the most important part of our job. Everything else depends on our understanding of the nature of the project that is put in our charge.

If this really describes you and your passion, maybe architecture is for you. You got the Wright name.... so maybe !!!!

Jul 5, 18 4:23 am
Wood Guy

Corywright, if you know you want to be an architect, then go all the way and get licensed. It will open more doors for you, and you'll learn a lot in school, internships, and ARE test prep. There are reasons to avoid architecture as a profession, but if you want to be in the profession, don't go half way. None of the alternative, "certified building designer" programs hold any weight with potential employers or peers, unless you want to work as a kitchen designer. 

I say this as a moderately successful, unlicensed residential designer. 

Jul 5, 18 1:03 pm

Of course it doesn't mean much to employers because when you are employed and not a licensed architect, you're a drafter in an architectural firm. Building designer firms generally have only one or two principals and everyone else (usually no more than 1 or 2 employees (other than an office assistant) as drafters. The CPBD title is a peer assesed credential that tells CLIENTS.... the ones that commissions you that you have been accredited. Not just your word and pretty looking portfolio which could be someone else's work for all anyone knows. A CPBD has education/experience and is tested by an association. Yes, you can be successful as a building designer without it but it is a little harder starting out in the profession on your own when you have little to no work of your own. The work of the firms you worked for is the work of your employer and you have only an small role because you aren't the one who brainstormed the design. As a building designer, you work more solo than in a large architectural firm. Another thing, buy yourself an RV or something so you can readily move with the work. Housing patterns is migratory these days. There are successful people who are CPBDs. Your level of success will depend on where you reside and practice. If you live where people are moving to build new home.... your clients will be either the individual home buyers or the developer/contractor building the homes. Those are who you work for. In any case, I recommend completing the degree and the AXP (with 3 or more full-time years worth of experience) because at that point, it's just the exams and filling out forms and paying fees. You can then take the ARE or the NCBDC exam or both. ARE is more commercial oriented. The NCBDC exams is more residential oriented. You won't necessarily get licensed in all 50 states because of the costs. You would get licensed in states where you would be doing work that requires an architect license. The NCBDC certification can be used in other places.

Wood Guy

I'd argue that NCBDC designation does clients a disservice, making them think that the designer may have a level of expertise equivalent to an architect. To be successful as an independent designer you have to have experience, a portfolio, referrals, etc. You're at the mercy of the free market so talent helps too. If you want some letters to make up for the lack of an architectural education, I recommend pursuing Passive House training. Then you can throw "CPHC" after your name, and it has at least some recognition, within the architecture and engineering communities and among interested consumers.


Wood Guy, why wouldn't they when it comes to residential? Most architects knows how to design commercial buildings really well but they won't necessarily know how to design houses well. CPBD title means you have been certified through education, experience, and examination and accredited as a Residential and light commercial building design professional. CPBDs specializes in residential, agricultural, and light commercial buildings. In which case, you are accredited. If you can't do this independently of an architect, you are not a building designer let alone certified professional building designer. Yes, portfolio of works, referrals, experience helps but anyone can "fake" that to con a client to procure them. A certification is a way of doing so without having to show a portfolio and have them go through a bunch of checking referrals. Why not establish peace-in-mind with a certification where they can file a complaint to if there was an issue for sake of accountability and subscribe to professional ethics/code of conduct and continuing education? 

Of course if you don't have the experience, knowledge & skills, it's going to be a bit hard to pass the exam and to keep the certification. You are going to need to be able to work on projects without having to have an architect hand hold you through the whole process. A client isn't going to hire you and hire an architect. The architect will take the job and have the client terminate contract with you. No one is going to pay double. As for the Passiv House training. It isn't a building design training. Architects recognizes it because an unlicensed person being a passive haus certification isn't going to be designing the building but functions as a consultant akin to a historic preservation consultant. You are hired to facilitate with the architect that their design meets passiv haus standards. You aren't designing or drafting. 

Passive Haus's CPHC and the CPBD title together works fine. CPBD certified your occupation as a building designer. CPHC certifies you as a Passive House Consultant meeting the PHIUS standards. CPHC is like LEED AP. A CPHC isn't about designing or being a designer. They are not an equivalent certification of CPBD because they are not the same. CPHC isn't about certifying a person as a building designer. The CPBD is the ONLY certification other than architectural licensing that pertains to certifying a persons competence as a building design professional. PHIUS's CPHC is about certifying a person's understanding of heat transfer, air-tightness, thermal bridge free detailing, super-insulation, etc. It's a narrower specialization certification. 

As a building designer, I would get CPBD and CPHC. They are different certification not equivalent certifications because they have different purposes in certification. It's like becoming an architect and also attaining CPHC. Same basic idea. The only equivalent to CPBD is the architectural licensing laws at this time.


I'm not trying or implying CPHC is less than or greater than CPBD. They are different credentials serving a different purpose. Both credentials works well together in my opinion. I wouldn't expect you to get CPBD certified if you have been in this business for 30-50+ years.You'd be too close to retiring at that point. 

However, for younger people, I rather encourage them to either get license as an architect or certified as a CPBD if they want to be a building design professional. They can add the other certifications as well as may be appropriate to their career objectives. This way, in either way, they have an "earned title" not just a title any jackass may use. CPHC will serve well if your goal isn't being the 'architect' / "building designer" but that of a consultant to either in a project. CPBD and/or architect will serve fine for standing out from the myriad of riff raff especially if you want to aim towards quality design and to some extent charge a higher premium because you are accredited by the certification or license. 

In a way, I want to discourage people from not pursuing ANY license or certification as a building design professional. If we can get more CPBDs and architects, we can encourage more apprenticeship so people pursue working for an architect or CPBD and then become an Architect or CPBD before going out on their own. 

Not everyone in the world will become a licensed architect but they have other options. I want people to be aware of them so they have choices and backup options if they change course. I know some of the architect here would rather people who give up on architectural license to completely leave the field of designing buildings, altogether by pursuing a field where they aren't designing. I rather not be that way with people who already invested some time and money into this field.


I rather see 70+% of building designers who have, say 10+ years of experience designing buildings which designing buildings is half or more of their work and more experienced design-builders pick up the CPBD certification. In a way, it is about public health, safety, and welfare. It would be much nicer when we have a stronger culture of apprenticeship and mentoring for building designers even outside of AXP. This doesn't really exist outside of those part of the AIBD circle.

Wood Guy

In any case, the original question was, " Is it worth all the time and money to become an architect?" I stand by my answer--if you want to be an architect, then yes, it's worth it. If you don't want to be an architect, or can't afford it, there are alternatives, but none carry the weight of an architectural stamp.


I'll agree with you there. He did say he wants to be a residential architect. With that in mind, the OP doesn't appear to know or familiar with titles like building designer, home designer, etc. What residential architects do is generally no different than a building designer as far as type of projects. In a way, a residential architect and a CPBD is generally indistinguishable at about 10 years of education & experience other than the architect's exam is more commercial oriented and architecture school will be more commercial oriented. In any case, they just have a little more commercial slant to their approach.

I do support adding more weight and recognition of CPBD and that takes A) more building designers choosing to become CPBDs, B) effort by building designers becoming actively involved in professional associations whose mission is to represent their profession, C) effort by building designers and their respective professional association to recognize the importance of certification and getting states and local governments to recognize the certifications through the statutes and or rules & regulations such as the building codes. 


A building designer who is not certified is never going to be recognized as anything more than the home owner. In other words, not worth squat. To a building official, no certification means no credential and no credential means you know nothing in their eyes and is no more than the dip shit client you represent. to them, it means you haven't been accredited. You're word is unaccredited like an unaccredited degree. Your word isn't worth the paper its written on. At least in the eyes of some building officials. They would consider certifications like the CPBD but of course, never in lieu of an architect or engineer's stamp when either is explicitly required by law. When either or both is not required, they could recognize if it is incorporated into the codes as recognized alternatives when neither an architect or engineer's seal is required. Should a CPBD be recognized and be held accountable like Architects and Engineers for work they seal? In my opinion, yes. Should a CPBD seal be used in lieu of an architect or engineer seal when an architect or engineer seal is required by law? No. This could be achieved through the building code regulations where it doesn't violate state law. Nothing in law (at least in Oregon) prohibits a building official or building codes to legally recognized certifications like CPBD or require drawings to be stamped by someone who is duly certified such as a CPBD when the law doesn't require an architect or engineer's seal. They can STILL be authorized to require certain drawings to be prepared and stamped by an architect or engineer. It comes to rewording some of the provisions of the building code.

Wood Guy

Rick, where licensure is not required, all the AHJ cares about is that the project meets the building code and zoning ordinances. They don't care what letters you have after your name. If it's not clear that the project meets the prescriptive building code, they will accept an architect or engineer's stamp. I have been the designer of record for upwards of 200 projects, with no letters after my name and no stamp. I bring in a structural engineer 10-15% of the time, when it's not clear that prescriptive code will cover the situation.


Where I am at, SFRs are exempt under engineers law as they are under architect law. If you can't do structural calculations of a beam even if they are directly derived from prescriptive load/span tables or column sizing of solid wood or built-up columns & beams should be well within the capacity of any competent building designer especially a CPBD. I'd would have engineers for things like trusses and other considerably more complex structural systems but a building designer should nonetheless be competent to do some basic structural and MEP systems calcs. Otherwise, what real value are you to anyone such as clients?

Wood Guy

"Otherwise, what real value are you to anyone such as clients?" The value is in planning a construction project. 

 I don't know any architects, much less building designers or drafters, who do their own structural calcs. Or energy loads, unless they are Passive House consultants. (I do both when it's straightforward, but I have a degree in structural engineering and am a CPHC.)


There are reasons such as insurance but competence to do so and to do so in structural design. I do so, myself. I know how to perform the calculations like found in a good reference for Architects & Building Designers.... "Simplified Engineering for Architects and Builders". This doesn't mean I won't involve an engineer. In some states, I can 'informally' do it to check my own work before going to an engineer. 

While I haven't done the CPHC which I am not opposed of doing at some point. Mainly, it's money but Phase II can be expensive above and beyond that of fees because there is that cost of going to the location, hotel/motel costs, costs of returning, etc. that all can add up to more than the cost of the training and the exam combined. Locations aren't relatively close. Phase I is easy. Going to Portland from Astoria for 5 days or 7 days total if you have to account for things like hotel/motel costs, etc. Places even further away can be even more expensive and hotel/motel costs can become particularly mandatory at a certain point. It's easy for someone in NYC to attend something in NYC. 

I have been working with passive solar building design and similar systems for some time. The calcs is the math backed by the science. I don't necessarily need a certification for that but I'm sure people could say that for building design and even architecture except that architects had pushed licensing to become an Architect into law and all those requirements.


RickB is enamored with certifications, has become stalled on the path to an architecture degree and sees this NCBDC thing as a shortcut to a title, and repeatedly brings it up as if it's a real alternative to an architect license.  If letters after your name are your only real goal then fine (though if that's the goal then there are faster and cheaper letters you can buy), but I worry that he's sending prospective architects into that boondoggle thinking it's somehow going to make them more qualified or authorized to practice residential design. 

No state recognizes the CPBD certification, so it doesn't qualify you to do anything that you can't already do with no certifications at all.  If you want to practice residential design in states that don't require an architect for that, then you don't need any particular certifications.  If you want to practice residential design in a state that does require an architect for most residential design (example: New York), then you'll need to become an architect (and "Certified Professional Building Designer" isn't even a legal title to use in New York.)  There are only a few hundred CPBDs worldwide, and most of the states in the eastern half of the US have between zero and 5 of them so it's got no name-brand-recognition for the public at all. 

Jul 5, 18 1:22 pm


Jul 5, 18 3:19 pm
( o Y o )


Jul 5, 18 9:58 pm

You are going to pay a lot of money and defer working for years to take courses you could probably teach?

Jul 7, 18 10:47 am

For $1,000 you can take a test to become a Super Awesome Designer.  I will personally proctor and grade the open book exam on an as needed basis.  If an applicant live in a particularly desireable area I'll even allow them to take the exam more than once.    

The "SAD" designation let's everyone know that while you like doodling pretty pictures, you are not interested in the actual knowledge and experience required to take responsibility for a design in the manner than at architect or engineer does.

Please spread the word, I think this could really take off!

Jul 10, 18 9:37 pm
Wood Guy



apologies for poor grammar, perhaps the "SAD" designation will have more cachet if I raise the price?


I may start the competing Designation of Universal Merit in Building.


I like it!


The passive house cert is a very interesting and worthwhile pursue as it certifies knowledge that only a few people really have, and does not duplicate and architect or engineers training.

If you're not going to become architect, that's prob the only one worth anything

Jul 10, 18 9:42 pm

Block this user

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

  • ×Search in: