What is the Value of Licensure?

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Diversity and inclusion within the profession is not an old conversation, but as of late it has been a hot topic. It has been less than a month since I wrote my article, “I am the 5%,” and several major positive decisions have been made towards inclusivity.

  • I attended the Missing 32% Symposium put on by AIA SF
  • The Pritzker rejected the Petition for Dennis Scott Brown’s Retroactive Award
  • In response, Kazys Varnelis, Director of the Network Architecture Lab at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, said “Good Riddance to the Pritzker.”
  • AIA New York Petitioned the AIA National Board to Expand the Gold Medal rules to include Joint Collaborations, allowing for couples like Robert Venturi and Dennis Scott Brown to both be awarded the Gold Medal
  • Robert Ivy, CEO and Executive Vice President of AIA National, announced on his twitter feed that the: “AIA will sponsor major, authoritive study on gender and inclusion in 2014 as part of repositioning. “We need facts and acts.”
  • The AIA National Board obliged and changed the criteria for the Gold Medal
  • Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA became the first Asian-American female architect be elected 2014 First Vice President and 2015 President-Elect.

Given the current buzz on diversity and inclusion, I became more interested in the following question, “What is the true value of licensure?” After all, if we increase the value of the architecture license, wouldn’t more individuals choose to jump through all the necessary hoops to get their architectural license? Would it then follow that there would be more diversity within the profession of those getting licensed? Perhaps I am being too naïve.

However, the MBA in me sees no real cost benefit analysis to the value of licensure. Many of my friends who are happy at their jobs are not pursuing licensure. They continue to be challenged with additional responsibility on their projects, and their salaries reflect their growth in the firm. Many of them are content with their work/life balance and have no desires to be principals of their own firm.

While attending the Missing 32% Symposium put on by AIASF, students and associate members were indirectly asking the value of architecture. Responses from the sage elders ranged from expressing pride; to reminiscing on the friendships made from a time when the architecture registration test was only held once a year; to making statements to the effect that one is not legally able to call oneself an architect unless you are licensed.

As the Associate Representative to the AIA National Board, I was often asked how we get more individuals to pursue their license. My common response (which I stole from a good friend of mine) before I attended business school was, “Guarantee everyone who gets their license in your firm a $10,000 raise for their accomplishment.”

Reasons for obtaining my license were selfish. I wanted to make a difference within the profession, and believed that the AIA provides me the capacity to create change. However, to be a leader within the AIA and to earn the respect of my colleagues, I also needed to be able to have conversations with them as a licensed architect.

It is true that a lot of work has to be done on Diversity and Inclusion within architecture, but we would be absolutely remiss if we did not look at the value of the architectural license. What are your thoughts on Diversity, Inclusion, and the value of licensure?


Evelyn Lee

Evelyn Lee, AIA is a senior strategist at MKThink in San Francisco. In addition to her M. Arch from SCI-arc she also holds dual Master degrees in Public and Business Administration from the Presidio Graduate School.

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