9 Resources and opportunities ensuring fair access to design.

AIS Designs, Houston, Texas.

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) reports the age, gender, and racial gaps closing in architecture for nearly two decades. But is fair access happening as fast as it could be?

In 2020, NCARB and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) launched a joint study to identify how minority professionals experience obstacles to licensure. 

In the report, individuals who indicated that they were not interested in pursuing a license were asked to select the point in their career when they decided not to become an architect, with options including:

  • During college
  • After taking an ARE division
  • While searching for employment in an architecture firm
  • While working for an architecture firm
  • Other

“While working in an architecture firm” was the most frequently selected response at 48 percent.

Black or African American respondents, individuals aged 18-29, and those in entry-level positions were likelier to report that they stopped pursuing licensure while employed at a firm than their peers. 

Women and candidates forty or older were more likely to indicate that they stopped pursuing licensure after taking a division of the ARE.

What is causing their decision? The culture of the architectural firm? Other life events? Or is the general problem working while trying to study and pay the expenses?

Fortunately, the architectural profession has wisely created an alternative to licensure.

Architectural registration boards are statutory bodies that govern architecture within their respective states.

Nearly every state has some form of exemption in the architectural act that allows anyone to design some building types without possessing an architectural license. The exemptions are more liberal in some states than others. All but a handful allows single-family homes to be designed without an architectural license. 

In 2021 over a million single-family home permits were issued by building departments throughout America. The American Institute of Building Design estimates that 90% of them are designed by someone other than a licensed architect.

By utilizing exemptions in the architectural laws, individuals can work as nonlicensed residential designers, offering personalized design services to a growing market of homeowners seeking unique living spaces.

Thanks to these exemptions, a professional may start a business sooner and have more control over their work schedule and life outside of work.

According to NCARB, in 2022, the average timeline to becoming an architect is 13 years, about the same amount of time it takes to become a doctor.

The National Council of Building Designer Certification (NCBDC) requires at least six years of experience to qualify for the Certified Professional Building Designer (CPBD) certification exam. Being a CPBD is not equivalent to being a licensed architect. However, it is a credential available to those who wish to have third-party accreditation of their knowledge and experience.

With the path to becoming a residential designer being shorter and more affordable, this provides an opportunity for individuals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to enter the field of architecture and have a fulfilling career that brings new perspectives and experiences to the profession.

In 2023, the AIBD celebrates International Design Day with a message about social equity.

Five years ago, three of 64 projects recognized in the American Residential Design Awards, the AIBD’s premier awards program, were designed by women. That’s less than five percent.

In last year’s program, 29 out of the 111 ARDA-winning projects are designed by women-owned firms, an increase of more than 20 percent.

Women own twelve of the total 47 firms recognized in ARDA in 2022, three more have female partners or principals, and one is employee-owned.

That is impressive growth in only 48 months. 

However, participation in AIBD events by African American, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, and Native American professionals is present but minimal.

International Design Day is an opportunity to recognize the value of design and its capacity to effect change. On this day, the designers are challenged to reflect deeply on the well-being of people within their local environments and to find innovative solutions to local needs by using design as a vehicle to honor diversity and transcend borders.

Celebrated since 1995, the International Council of Design has marked the occasion by celebrating how design has improved everyday life in local communities every April 27.

2023 celebrates the ICoD’s 60th Anniversary with a theme that nods at its legacy as an organization. The theme, ‘Peace. Love. Design!’ Inspired by the sixties activism, we are encouraged to explore environmentalism, social equity, collective movements, and radical change issues. 

AIBD celebrates the exemptions in architectural law and its pursuit of social equity in architecture.

AIBD’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The AIBD Statement on Diversity and Inclusion is summarized on their home page: “Creating where people live, engaging everyone to make it happen.” The full scope is found at AIBD.org/WhatWeBelieve.

While there may be some good arguments in favor of not requiring an architectural license to design single-family homes and townhouses, whether or not it is a good example of social equity is up for debate.

One argument is that not requiring a license can allow more people to enter the field of residential design, which may lead to greater innovation and diversity in design styles. Additionally, it could make it easier for those from underserved or minority communities to pursue careers in residential design.

On the other hand, there are concerns that not requiring a license could lead to lower design and construction quality, especially in areas with few regulations to ensure safety. It could make it difficult for licensed architects to compete for these types of projects.

Therefore, the effects of not requiring an architectural license for single-family homes and townhouses depend on various factors, such as how it affects the quality of design and construction, access to career opportunities for different groups, and potential risks to public safety.

Ultimately, it is up to organizations like the AIBD to carefully evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks and make informed decisions to promote social equity in architecture.

The American Insitute of Building Design is providing resources that can help mitigate the potential drawbacks of not requiring an architectural license for single-family homes and townhouses. For example:

  1. Promoting education and training: AIBD offers educational opportunities for the industry to increase their knowledge and skills in residential design, helping to ensure they have the necessary training to create safe and functional buildings.
  2. Providing certification or accreditation: AIBD’s established certification program ensures residential designers meet certain experiential standards in their residential design work.
  3. Advocating for building codes and standards: AIBD works with policymakers and other stakeholders to promote regulations and standards that ensure the safety and quality of residential design work, particularly in cases where an architectural license is not required.
  4. Supporting disadvantaged communities: AIBD provides resources and support to ensure everyone’s housing needs are met, including affordable, safe, and functional residential design.

By providing these and other resources, AIBD ensures that not requiring an architectural license for single-family homes and townhouses does not lead to lower quality of design and construction or other negative consequences.

Here are some examples of how AIBD wants to expand its promotion of fair and equal access to opportunities in the field of residential design:

  1. Expand outreach efforts: AIBD wants to expand its outreach efforts to reach underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities, and encourage them to enter the field of residential design by providing more scholarships, mentorship programs, and career coaching opportunities.
  2. Increase educational resources: To promote professional development, AIBD can increase its educational resources, such as offering more online courses and seminars, providing continuing education opportunities, and partnering with educational institutions to provide access to design programs.
  3. Promote diversity in design: AIBD wants to promote diversity in design by encouraging its members to embrace cultural sensitivity and inclusivity in their work. It can also support efforts to showcase designs that reflect diverse perspectives and collaborate with organizations that promote diversity and inclusion in the design field.
  4. Advocate for policies that support fair and equal access: AIBD advocates for policies that support fair and equal access to opportunities in the field of residential design, such as lobbying for increased funding for industry-related programs that focus on diversity and inclusion.
  5. Foster a culture of inclusion: AIBD can foster a culture of inclusion by promoting diversity and creating an environment that celebrates different perspectives, ideas, and backgrounds. This can be achieved by hosting events, such as the American Residential Design Awards, that showcase underrepresented groups’ contributions and proactively address issues of bias and discrimination.

As an organization committed to promoting excellence in residential design, the AIBD is dedicated to ensuring that all industry members have access to the resources they need to succeed, regardless of their background, experience, or credentials.

However, we know that achieving this goal is no small task. It requires the collective efforts of all professionals in our field to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our work.

As an AIBD member, you have access to a wide range of resources to help you elevate your skills, expand your professional network, and contribute to the advancement of our industry. From educational opportunities to networking events and mentorship programs to advocacy efforts, we are committed to providing the support and resources you need to succeed in your career.

But more than that, as an AIBD member, you are joining a community of like-minded professionals who share a common vision for the future of residential design. Together, we can work to promote social equity in architecture and ensure that all designers have access to the opportunities and resources they need to achieve their goals.

AIBD will pay half if you’re not a member.

We encourage you to spread the word, inviting others to join us, and if you haven’t already, we invite you to become a part of the mission.

AIBD is paying for half of everyone’s first year of membership on International Design Day to show its commitment to the cause.

If you have never been a member or are a past member who let your membership lapse, visit AIBD.org/join and use the gift card at the top of the page.

AIBD is paying half the first year of every membership level, but only for those who join between April 27 and April 30.

Get 100% of your next membership renewal paid.

AIBD wants to pay 100% of your next renewal if you’re already a member.

Pass on the gift card to everyone you know in the industry, building designers, CAD techs, interior designers, engineers, architects, and product suppliers and manufacturers.

If at least three people use your gift card to join as a Professional member, your next membership renewal is on us.

Or if at least one company uses your gift card to join as a Corporate Member, we’ll also pay for your next 12 months of membership.

We can build a more equitable and inclusive future for our industry and the communities we serve.

We can protect the opportunity for individuals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to enter the field of architecture and have a fulfilling career that brings new perspectives and experiences to the profession.

But we can’t do it alone. Let’s start today.

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