Architectural Articles

Who Can Design What?

In California, the design of all types of buildings, from sheds to skyscrapers, are governed by statutes through the State Department of Consumer Affairs. In this locality, you will find a number of licensed and unlicensed individuals involved in building design.

Among professionals licensed by the State of California, structural engineers may design any type of building without limitations; civil engineers may design any building except for hospitals or schools; while architects may design any type of building with the exception of the structural portion of a hospital. City and county departments of building inspection will require that the licensed architect or engineer to sign and officially stamp his/her drawings before a building permit is issued.

When it comes to houses and apartments, the state appears to be far less protective of the consumer. Unlicensed home designers and drafting services or licensed contractors may design single family dwellings of woodframe construction not more than two stories in height. They may design multiple dwellings as long as they contain no more than four dwellings units of woodframe construction, and again not more than two stories high. They may also design wood agricultural and ranch buildings, and garages. Interior designers may design nonstructural storefronts, interior alterations or additions, cabinetwork, and furniture. According to state statutes, unlicensed persons may not design any component that affects the safety of any building or its occupants.

For further protection of both the building owner and the architect, the state now requires a written contract. The contract must contain at least five required items:
· A description of services to be provided by the architect;
· a description of any basis of compensation and the method of payment:
· the name and address of both parties plus the license number of the architect;
· a description of the procedure that the architect and client will use for additional services; and
· a description of the procedure to be used to terminate the contract.

The American Institute of Architects has developed a whole range of contract forms for agreements between owners and architects and contractors that have been tested over time and are widely used in the industry. I recommend that you take advantage of your state's consumer protection agency and think twice before you spend tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars on any building designed by someone who is not licensed. For more information, call the Board of Architectural Examiners in Sacramento at 916-445-3393.

Published in The Californian

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