Registered Architects / Licensed Architects, and AIA

by | Last updated Jun 22, 2023 | Architects, Architectural Services, General Architecture

What is a Registered Architect?

A Registered Architect in the United States means that the architect has fulfilled all the requirements for licensing and has been issued a license by one or more states. Architects must apply to be licensed in multiple states within the US. Being a registered architect means you can legally practice architecture: designing buildings, homes, and renovations. 

Different States have different regulations but for the most part, they are relatively standard. Being licensed in a state only authorizes you to practice architecture in that state.

I am Jorge Fontan an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture a New York City-based architecture firm. In this post, I will review some of the terminologies and basic concepts with regard to being a registered architect in the US.


Licensed Architect vs. Registered Architect

What is the difference between a licensed architect and a registered architect? There is no difference. A registered architect is a licensed architect. There is no difference in the meaning of the terms with regard to Architectural State Licensing. IT just happens that the term Registered is used for the architect licensing board.

A registered architect is a person who has completed the requirements for architectural registration. These requirements include graduating with a degree in architecture, obtaining the required experience working for a licensed architect, completing the license exams, and submitting all applications and fees to the State Licensing Board.

A Registered architect has a valid license from one or more states. Registered Architects have the legal right to call themselves architects and operate a business offering Architectural Services. It is illegal for anyone who is not a Registered Architect to call themselves an architect or offer architectural services within the United States.

FYI a licensed Engineer in the United States is typically called a Professional Engineer or PE.


Registered Architects: RA and AIA Architects

If someone is a Registered Architect they will have the privilege of placing a suffix after their name of either: RA or AIA.

RA is the abbreviation of Registered Architect. All architects registered in the United States can use RA after their name to identify themselves as a Registered Architect. 

AIA stands for the American Institute of Architects. I am a registered architect and member of the AIA so I personally write my name as Jorge Fontan AIA but before I became a member of the AIA I wrote my name as Jorge Fontan RA. Both indicate that you are a registered architect. Joining the American Institute of Architects is not required, so the AIA is optional.

RA and AIA, all have the same legal rights. AIA only means you have chosen to join the American Institute of Architects. This is optional and has no added legal privilege. One must first be a Registered Architect to be AIA.


State Architecture License Registration

Architecture Registration is issued by each individual State. I personally am a Registered Architect in New York State. I can therefore legally practice any type of architecture anywhere in the state of NY.

In almost all states it is very easy for registered architects to get reciprocity. This means if you are already licensed in NY for example and you want to work in NJ they will very easily give you a license because the requirements are mostly standardized throughout the country. There are a few States that make it a little more difficult. In most cases any Registered Architect should be able to obtain licensed in another State in a reasonable amount of time without great effort.

So if you find an architect who’s design you love but they are out of State don’t worry they can always get licensed in your State. All they have to do is some paperwork and pay the State Fees in most cases. Also architects from out of State can work with what we often refer to as an Associate Architect. An associate architect is when you hire a local architect with a local license to help you with the project. The local architect assumes legal responsibility. This is very common with foreign architecture firms building in the USA.


Architect’s Stamp / Architect Of Record

Architects stamp their drawings in order to file them with local government agencies like the Department of Buildings or Department of City Planning. These drawings are legal documents. The stamp is a symbol that the drawings were produced by a licensed architect. Architectural projects often have a large team of people working on them but each project only requires one license. The person stamping the drawings is called the Architect of Record. and is the only individual ultimately responsible for the project as far as any Agencies Having Jurisdiction are concerned.


What does it take to be a Registered Architect?

The basic steps for becoming a Registered architect are as follows.

Earn a degree (or multiple degrees) in Architecture.

Obtain suitable experience as required for licensing. An aspiring architect must spend years working for a Registered Architect before they themselves can apply for a license.

Complete the ARE Architecture Registration Exams. When I took the exams there were 7 exams ranging from 4 to 6 hours long each. The exam structure has been changed and is only 6 exams now. Each exam focuses on certain specific aspects of Architecture.


“Unlicensed Architects” – Irony

Some people call themselves “unlicensed architects” but this is not a thing. There is no such thing as an “unlicensed architect”. Either you have a license and you are an architect or you don’t have a license and you are not an architect. Registered Architects are the only people who can call themselves architects in the United States.

In life there is a lot of gray area but this is rather clear. If someone tells you they are an “unlicensed architect” please know they have no more legal right to call themselves an architect as a four year old does. Also having a degree in architecture does not make you an architect. It makes you an educated person with a degree or an intern or as we often call it a “Junior Architect”. You wouldn’t see an “unlicensed doctor” or hire an “unlicensed lawyer” would you? You would report them to the authorities.


Insured Architects

To my knowledge there are still no laws requiring architects to have liability insurance in order to operate a professional practice. This is just nuts. I highly recommend you only work with architects who have insurance. This should be a no brainer. We of course have professional liability insurance in our office.


I Am Very Proud To Be A Registered Architect.

Jorge Fontan AIA is a NY Registered Architect and member of The American Institute of Architects.

Jorge Fontan AIA is the owner of Fontan Architecture PLLC.


Registered Architect Licensing and Practice

In this article we reviewed some of the basics with regards to being a Registered Architect and Architectural Licensing. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.


Thank You for reading our blog post on Registered Architects.

I hope this was helpful. If you want to discuss a specific project with an architect please feel free to contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.


Contact Fontan Architecture


Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.