Limitations of a non-licensed Architect? Need some advice.


So, a friend referred their friend to me to help with renovation and potentially an addition to a piece of residential property they recently acquired.  I've only had one conversation with him so far and to my current understanding he just wants drawings (at least renderings, and I'm not sure if they need CD's) done for the contractors to understand and utilize.  The propert is two hours away from me so I've asked him to email me photos and original CD's if he can acquire them from the county just to start.  I'm a little intimidated by this potential job because I really don't know what I'm legally permitted to do here in California considering that I'm fresh out of school and unlicensed so  I'm looking for any sort of advice or things I should be considering before taking on this job.

Aug 16, 13 11:11 am

Check with the local building department. I've worked on residential projects in California that only needed signed and stamped structural drawings. If this is the case for your project, I believe you can provide your client (and structural engineer) with an unstamped architectural set.  Make sure it is clear with the contractor that the legally binding drawings are your structural drawings, NOT the architecturals. 

Aug 16, 13 11:18 am


You are an Architect if you are licensed. If you are not are something else.

Aug 16, 13 11:25 am

Under state law, non-licensed persons are allowed to design some low risk buildings without an architect.  This includes:

Single-family dwellings of woodframe construction not more than two stories and basement in height.

Although this is the State law, follow J5LO's advice and check with the building department as a few municipalities have more stringent requirements.  The bigger issue for you is going to be whether you are professionally able to do the work without costing your friend of a friend tons of money.

Aug 16, 13 11:27 am

Thanks for the correction, poop. I really hope we can move on from this horrible mistake I made and be friends.

J5LO and Janosh, much appreciated. Will do. Is there a square footage threshold?

Aug 16, 13 11:41 am

I think i understand why they call you poop, ate, seventy-six.......

Aug 16, 13 12:17 pm

as long as you know the difference, as some of us have worked very hard and spent a lot of time and money to have that title!

Good luck on the project though!

Aug 16, 13 1:15 pm


Tell that to Preston Scott Cohen, Chair of the Department of Architecture at Harvard and principle at Preston Scott Cohen, .Inc.

Aug 16, 13 3:06 pm

afrdzk - I wouldnt rule it out as a mistake just yet. If it is the case that all you need is stamped structural drawings it is still within the realm of possibility. You will need to contract a structural engineer and provide them with dimensioned floor plans and some sections and elevations to work from.

When heading into the construction set, dont detail anything that will be covered in the structural set. Most small scale residential contractors will want to go on autopilot for a wood framed house and you dont want to get hit with a bunch of change orders if their field details dont match up with your drawings.

Aug 16, 13 3:23 pm


"as some of us have worked very hard and spent a lot of time and money to have that title!"

ROFLMBO!! U mean the title of "non-licensed", by the way imbho, i think just about all of us work long, hard, & are spending alot of money (espeacially on the weekends ;)

breaker breaker

over & out

Aug 16, 13 3:35 pm

Well, fortunately, the client is a structural engineer and will take care of that portion. I really think all he wants me to do is create renderings and basic floor plans/elevations, but we'll see when I talk to him more.

Aug 16, 13 3:52 pm

Interesting link to Cohen's website.  Nowhere is he called an architect, and the first line in each bio of his two top lieutenants states their licensure as architects.

So Cohen gets it right.

Aug 16, 13 3:57 pm
( o Y o )

Cohen is not an architect, but he practices architecture. Or do you have to call it building design to protect those who've spent vast fortunes in time and money acquiring a title (and not necessarily the skill)?

Aug 16, 13 4:19 pm

I acquired both title and estates through my vast fortunes.  unfortunately that means I have to constantly attend these ridiculous royal dinners.  those things are    t    e   d    i    o       u        s.

Aug 16, 13 4:33 pm

its always the "designers" and students that are still early in the game that bitch about the title haha....but once and if they get licensed they switch sides!

Aug 16, 13 4:53 pm

I think it is easy enough to pull the the Architectural Registration Board of California  and see who they fine and why they fine.  It your eyes your are either doing something bad  or they don't give a  damn. I believe they have a list of everyone they have ever fined and for what reasons.  It is not about knowledge  it is about Smarts... Now  go get some smarts, before you  are fined and maybe mess up your path to registration in California.

Aug 16, 13 5:30 pm

I have friends who are Mechanical and Civil Engineers. Although they now have their PE licenses they were always referred to as engineers since university graduation. What is to be gained by not referring to a graduate architect who has not yet obtained his professional liscense as an architect? He could hand you a business card stating his name, Bachelor of Architecture, State U. What would you call him? Cad Monkey? He has studied five years in an accredited university and earned a degree.

Aug 16, 13 9:08 pm

Volunteer, the problem is that recent graduates don't know what they don't know... Once you have ten years of experience and have gained your license you will have a different perspective on things. Drawing a house is no big deal (and doesn't require a licensed architect), but the types of buildings that do require licensure are far more complicated, and nothing that you are taught in school will have prepared you to do it in a way that is responsible to the public or your client.

Aug 17, 13 12:27 am

Now, that's some interesting reading, thanks to Miles.  A high school classmate, a fellow faculty member, a competitor... and those are just in a couple of letters...

Aug 17, 13 1:47 am

Janosh, Thanks for the reply, but how or why is that different from the engineering field? And, seriously, what do you call yourself during the ten years you are working toward your liscense?

Aug 17, 13 8:21 am
Tinbeary There there

"the problem is that recent graduates don't know what they don't know" Ok, then don't you think all of these schools peddling PROFESSIONAL degrees in architecture need to have their accreditation taken away until their programs can create PROFESSIONALS?

Aug 17, 13 9:19 am

+++ tint

Aug 17, 13 9:31 am

Thanks Miles, I could not stop reading those! 

Aug 17, 13 11:15 am

there is no there,

those schools give you diplomas and take your money, they do not create professionals. I don't remember ever learning in school the difference between fire wall, fire partition and fire separation and trust me the difference is very critical in the real world without pretty renderings.

An architect will know the difference and for a reason!

Aug 17, 13 11:22 am

An architect *might* know the difference and the reason, but if he does it most certainly wouldn't be because he learned it in school. 

Aug 17, 13 12:46 pm
vado retro

given the time it now takes to get that professional degree, i see no reason why graduates shouldn't graduate as registered architects. seven exams over the course of a march degree seems logical to me. after all, there is zero design on the a.r.e. unless you count a ada compliant ramp. its codes and contracts and some structure and some hvac. all which should be covered in the course of a professional degree. finish the exams pass them get registration. then either go work for someone or if you can start your own business. the idp indentured servitude model needs to be retired.

Aug 17, 13 1:06 pm

^ Agreed. I'd add some form of internship in architecture or construction (preferably both) into the degree process.

Aug 18, 13 11:21 am
Isn't that the model for most European countries?
Aug 18, 13 12:23 pm

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