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The Attempted Engineering of Architecture
Safeguarding the Public? Or Expanding Market Share?
By Stuart L. Owsley, AIA


Until about 10 years ago, I was never aware of the apparent nationwide turf wars that were being played out between the professions of architecture and engineering, and how this conflict would impact my future practice of architecture. After practicing the profession of architecture for over two decades without any allegation or compliant, a report was filed with my state board alleging my illegal practice of engineering, while providing architectural services for a small design-build remodeling project. In my practice of architecture, I had always used the standard contract agreements between Owner and Architect that included site preparation work, site improvements, architectural, structural, mechanical, and electrical work as part of the architect’s responsibilities. On many occasions, I would personally design the structural, plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems as well as the site development and architectural work. On occasion, I would engage services of engineering consultants only when necessary.

After providing complete integrated design services for twenty-three years without any question of competency, experience, training, and qualifications; an engineer alleged I committed a violation of State Law. After receiving the compliant notice and recovering from disbelief, I reluctantly agreed with the state board to cease and desist from the “practice of engineering.” Agreeing to not engage in the practice of engineering was quite easy because, I never conveyed, advertised or implied in anyway, that any of my design services were provided under the practice of engineering. I was simply practicing the profession of architecture as defined by state law, which permits an architect to include as part of his services, the building design in its totality, including all of its integral parts as related to architecture. This was my first indication that something was awry in the professions of architecture and engineering. Five years later, when advised of another allegation, I sought the opinion of legal consu
l. This opinion concurred with my interpretation of statutory and case laws. Accordingly, I continued my practice of architecture.

“From the very beginning of licensing architects and engineers in the United States – and for decades later, state licensing laws have recognized that there is, to a certain degree, an overlap in the professions. Up until recent times, state licensing laws accommodated the overlap between the two professions by allowing engineers and architects to design components from the other’s field of practice that were incidental to the design of their project. In the 1970s and 1980s, state licensing boards found a greater effort being made by engineers to design entire buildings. In most or all cases, the various state licensing boards rejected that effort on the basis that the law permitted only architects to design those buildings. In a retaliatory effort, there followed an aggressive effort by some engineers to prevent architects from designing engineering systems for a building by attempting to rewrite licensing laws and lobbying local municipalities to require engineer’s seals on various sheets of the architects’ drawings. Some state licensing boards were inclined to adopt revisions in their licensing laws and amend their rules, all in an apparent effort to reduce the scope of architects’ traditional role in designing buildings while assigning some parts of buildings exclusively to engineers, thus fulfilling the aspirations of those engineers who aggressively sought to expand their market share.” (Excerpt from 2008 compliant analysis by Architect Vernon Reed, FAIA)

Apparently, this conflict or so-called “turf war” has been fought only on the architect’s playing field. Some architects allege a violation when engineers attempt to provide complete design services for architectural projects. Some engineers allege a violation when architects provide design services for their architectural project’s site, structural, mechanical and electrical systems, which they apparently now believe to be their exclusive domain. Some civil engineers have jumped on board and now have convinced some state boards and building officials that site plan drawings for architectural projects should only be prepared by civil engineers, as if architects are not capable. There is one major difference with the rationales from each profession. Architects are providing their services “within their field of practice” for architectural projects they have normally contracted to design in their totality. Engineers would be providing complete design services “outside their field of practice” for architectural
projects not as architects, but as engineers for all integral parts of a project type not normally designed by them under the practice of engineering. Architects enter into contract agreements for complete design responsibility and liability for a building in its totality. To now say an architect, while qualified by his experience, training, and competency, may not design all of the components for a building project he has total responsibility is unconscionable.

An old US Supreme Court Case, State v Beck cited at the bottom of page 665 of the AmJur 2d material: “We conclude that, while all architects may be engineers, all engineers are not architects.” To take an appropriate position with this matter, according to a NCARB publication, forty state boards have adopted the National Council of Architectural Registration Board’s position, which permit architects to design the structural, mechanical and electrical systems incidental to the architects design. Unfortunately, my home state of Kansas is one of the state boards, in addition to Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Dakota, that have not adopted the NCARB position, even when Kansas Statutes appear to support the NCARB position. In 2001, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed the board’s attempt to discipline an engineer for providing his professional services for an architectural project. The Kansas State Supreme Court determined that the professions of architecture and engineering do overlap in Michael Schmidt v. Kansas State Board of Technical Professions (Vol. 271 of the Kansas Reports, pp. 206-222). (In that case the court also ruled that an administrative agency could not use its power to issue regulations, which alter the legislative act, which is being administered.) Architect Vernon Reed, FAIA is quoted: “It is my professional opinion “a bright line” delineation between the professions of architecture and engineering is not possible. Considering their history and the real world practice of these professions, such a clear distinction is simply not feasible or realistic.” In the US Supreme Court Case, State v Beck, the Court said: “Professional engineering and architecture are not mutually separate and can never be completely disassociated. They are overlapping vocations.”

In my opinion, for all practical purposes an architectural project is really an engineering type of project that normally is designed and contracted by architects. It would be very difficult to separate or differentiate between the engineering principles applied by architects and engineers to building design and its systems. Engineers do not have the exclusive right to use engineering principles. We learned the use of these principles in our education. An architect’s education and professional examination require at least an entry-level understanding of all the major specialist disciplines that will be integrated into an architectural project. I understand that passing the professional examination for architects does not guarantee all architects a competency in structural, mechanical and electrical system design, any more than graduating from an accredited school of architecture guarantees all graduates success in becoming licensed in the profession of architecture. Architects are required to use engineering consultants when the scope of work is outside their field of competinency. Most state boards will not permit architects to prepare and seal “engineering drawings” that would imply they were providing engineering services. In my opinion, design drawings are only to be considered “engineering drawings” when they are prepared and sealed by an engineer. Drawings for the same system design, prepared and sealed by an architect under the practice of architecture for any component or integral part of the building, are considered part of his field of practice whether they are architectural or of engineering nature in design, and may not be considered exclusively “engineering drawings” per se. To discipline an architect for preparing and sealing “engineering drawings” is ridiculous when you consider the only apparent criteria for determining what constitutes “engineering drawings” could be; they are drawings only prepared and sealed by an engineer. A “Code Officials Brochure” published in 2007 by a joint effort of the
Kansas State Board of Technical Professions and other state agencies, clearly states: “Kansas licensed Architects may not prepare and stamp “engineering drawings” is basically correct as stated, but has created more uncertainty.

Another complaint in 2007 (initiated by another engineer’s allegation in ‘05) was filed against me by my state board for the practice of engineering without a license to do so, for a moderately sized new design-build architectural project. The turf war in my state is still being waged and continues to be a problem, even though my practice of architecture is still supported by state statutes, the state Supreme Court, the NCARB and forty other state boards. In the matter of both allegations, I found it interesting that neither questioned the correctness of the design work done, never suggested any errors, mistakes or oversights, and never questioned competency. In fact, these engineers were not personally acquainted with me and were not aware of my experience, training and ability. It appears, their only rationale for these allegations was--I am an architect doing design work they assumed they had the exclusive right to perform. Even though this second compliant was eventually dismissed by the state board, to have to defend my practice of architecture every time there is a report of alleged violation, is not what I envisioned 40 years ago, to be the profession of architecture. After rereading the state statutes, I found it unbelievable that the state board ever considered these two allegations to have any validity. When will it ever end? I suggest this situation might end when these complaining engineers in my state understand that their reports of alleged violation against architects for “practicing engineering” under their practice of architecture, are not well founded under statutory and case laws. State board action should be consistent with adopted state statutes and not what the special interest groups desire the law to be. Many architects, engineers and building officials in my state apparently believe that because of the state board’s attempts to adopt a “bright line” delineation of the professions of architecture and engineering and not consider their overlap, this position represents the current state law. It appears, this position is currently not the state law and never has been. Apparently, the state board’s attempts have encountered setbacks and resistance along the way from a few engineers and architects, while the engineers and architects on the other side of the fence, continue to pressure the state board to revise and administer licensing laws to suit their particular positions of interest.

When some engineers were not successful in acquiring the right to design an entire building project, it appears there has been an attempt by them to acquire a share of the architect’s project design responsibilities and then say, because of that, an architect is not permitted to design any of that share for his own project, because it is exclusive for them. Who is winning this turf war in those states that still have not adopted the NCARB position? Some architects and engineers will continue to struggle in those states until their state boards recognize the fact, professions of architecture and engineering do overlap. Looking back on that US Supreme Court conclusion, it appears some architects are in a better position to provide engineering type system designs incidental for their projects, than most engineers would be with providing complete architectural type services under their “practice of engineering.” Considering this overlap of the professions of engineering and architecture, I would agree some engineers and architects are indeed qualified to design an entire building including all of its integral parts, but not all engineers, as well as not all architects are qualified. Both the professions of architecture and engineering require the licensed professional to only provide design services within their respective field of competency.

From an older practitioner’s standpoint, this attempted engineering of architecture by engineers has nothing to do with safeguarding the public’s health, safety and welfare. Safeguarding the public’s health, safety, welfare and property is not the exclusive responsibility of the engineering profession. The paramount reason for global licensing laws for both of the professions is for the protection of the public’s welfare and safety. If the engineering profession has their say, an architect would be required to use engineering consultants for the design responsibilities of site work, foundation work, structural, mechanical and electrical systems; and engineering consultants would provide services approaching fifty percent of an architectural project, which is supposedly, outside their defined “field of practice” for it’s total design. Architecture is as much about the nature of engineering as it applies to building design, as it is architectural. The argument for the position of the engineering profession only appears to expand the market share for their work in the field of architecture, a field in which apparently, they only may provide design services as engineering consultants. The project architect is the only licensed profession, globally accepted and generally permitted under the practice of architecture, to be responsible for designing an entire building, including all of its integral and incidental parts.

Based on a NCARB survey, it appears this conflict or turf war only affects the practice of about 25% of the architects in the US. This survey determined that one in every four architects would occasionally provide the structural, mechanical and electrical system design services for their projects. An attempt to reduce the role of the architect for architectural building projects appears to discriminate against the current practice of at least 25% of the architects in the US. It appears the other 75% of the architects either, do not care or do not care to have the other 25% capable of providing total design services for their building projects. While these architects that do it all are in the minority and are an exception to the norm, they also might be considered a throwback to what architects generally used to be. It appears to me, for some state licensing boards to now attempt to reduce the scope of the architects’ traditional role and responsibility will not reduce the architects’ achieved level of competency.

Mr. Owsley is principal of SOA Architects. E-mail: soaarchitects@aol.com

Vernon Reed, FAIA has served as a consultant for resolutions of the architect-engineering design issue. His expertise and contribution in submitting an understanding of the past and present accepted practices of architecture and engineering has been enlightening and appreciated by this writer. Mr. Reed’s E-mail: reedarc@solve.net.

 


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