Becoming a Licensed Architect


California law defines the practice of architecture as the planning of sites, and the design, in the whole or in part, of buildings or groups of buildings and structures. Any person who uses the title of "architect" (or any term confusingly similar) or advertises to provide architectural services in California must be licensed as an architect by the Board. The Board has a helpful Design Limitations Chart for Professionals that specifies the types of projects that may be designed by an unlicensed individual. It also specifies the limitations placed on other licensed design professionals.

Unlicensed Practice

Unlicensed individuals, which includes candidates, should be aware it is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both to:

  • Practice Architecture
  • Represent oneself as an architect
  • Use any term similar to the word "architect"
  • Use the stamp of a licensed architect
  • Advertise or put out any sign, card, or other device that might indicate to the public that he or she is an architect, that he or she is qualified to engage in the practice of architecture, or that he or she is an architectural designer
  • Affix a stamp or seal that bears the legend "State of California" or words or symbols that represent or imply that the person is so licensed by the state to prepare plans, specifications, or instruments of service
  • Advertise or represent that he or she is a "registered building designer" or is registered or otherwise licensed by the state as a building designer.
  • Unlicensed Practice Penalty (PDF)

Who is NCARB?

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is a nonprofit organization made up of the architectural licensing boards for 55 US states and territories and has three strategic goals: facilitate licensure, foster collaboration, and centralize data. The Board works collaboratively with NCARB to achieve its goals and fulfill its mission of protecting consumers. NCARB provides services to the Board that are required as components of licensure.

Among the requirements a candidate must complete are the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) and the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to receive a California license. The AXP requirement provides a framework for gaining professional experience, and the ARE is the nationally recognized architectural licensing examination. Both the AXP and ARE are NCARB-administered programs and two of the many services it provides the Board.

Additionally, NCARB offers its Certificate to licensees. The NCARB Certificate indicates a licensee has met the national licensure standard and facilitates reciprocal licensure for candidates wishing to practice in other member jurisdictions. Reciprocal licensure candidates who apply and request a transmittal of their NCARB Certificate are immediately eligible for the California Supplemental Examination (CSE). California does not require licensees to maintain an NCARB Certificate as a condition of licensure.