Registered Architects / Licensed Architects, and AIA

by | Last updated May 31, 2020 | Architects, General Architecture

As a registered architect running an architecture firm I get lots of questions from people about architecture license’s. I will explain the terminologies for registered architects, some general information on licensing, and give a little background on becoming a licensed architect.


Registered / Licensed Architects

In the United States the term Registered Architect means a Licensed Architect.

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 regards to Architectural State Licensing.

A registered architect is a person who has completed the requirements for architectural registration. A Registered architect has a valid license by one or more states. Registered Architects have the legal right to call themselves an Architect 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.

FYI a licensed Engineer in the United States is 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, AIA, or FAIA. 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.

RA, AIA, and FAIA 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 be a Registered Architect to be AIA or FAIA. An FAIA is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects this is awarded to individuals who have distinguished careers and contributions to architecture.

You can go to the AIA website to  see a directory of AIA Architects.

State Architecture License Registration

Registered Architects

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.

Can I practice in other states? 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 standardized throughout the country. There are a few States like California that make it a little more difficult. In most cases any Registered Architect should be able to easily get licensed in another State.

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. 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. I do caution you to make sure the contracts clearly state who is responsible for what. You do not what to get into a situation where the Design architect is blaming the associate architect for a problem and the associate architect says the design architect is responsible.

Architect’s Stamp / Architect Of Record

At the top of this page is an image of my New York State Architecture stamp. Architects stamp their drawings in order to file them with local government agencies like the Department Of Buildings or City Planning Department. These drawings are legal documents. The stamp is a symbol that the drawings were produced by a licensed architect or staff working under a licensed architect. The person stamping the drawings is called the Architect Of Record. 


What does it take to be a Registered Architect?

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

Earn a professional degree in Architecture from an Accredited Architecture School.

Complete the Intern Development Program. An aspiring architect must spend years working for a Registered Architect before they themselves can apply for a license. This typically takes at least 3 years.

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 will only be 6 exams from now on. Each exam focuses on certain specific aspects of Architecture.


“Unlicensed Architects” – Irony

Some people call themselves “unlicensed architects” but this is not a thing. You have to see the irony in the term. 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? Have you ever met an “unlicensed doctor”. You would report them to the authorities.

It is illegal to call yourself an architect if you do not have a license. People do get prosecuted and are subject to fines and prison for doing this. Nobody other than a registered architect can offer architectural service in the United States.


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.


I Am Very Proud To Be A Registered Architect.

I am very proud to be an architect and to be running an architecture firm in NYC. Pleas see our homepage if you would like to learn more about our Architecture Firm in New York.

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.


NYC Architects

Fontan Architecture is an architecture firm in New York City. If you would like to read more about being an architect in NYC we have another post you can see Registered Architects NYC.


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 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 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.