Curing Acronymaphobia: Your Breakdown of the Letters

Outside of the professional architect community, most people in the commercial real estate business have only a vague idea (if that) of what the initials after an architect or designer’s name really mean. The terms “architect” and “designer” have become catchall words. As a broker, construction executive, landlord or tenant delves into a project and reaches out to an architect for assistance, he or she then encounters a team of professionals and, with any luck, can become educated on the differences between each.

Rather than guess or hope, wouldn’t it be better to know, in advance, the difference between a registered architect, registered interior designer, owner’s decorator and a LEED-licensed architect, or that there are many levels between one AIA or IIDA and another? Much like a Ph.D., each accreditation has its own meaning and specialized expertise that can bolster a project team. Each initial behind a person’s name shows a special commitment to the design world, an education received or involvement in the industry that can lend deeper knowledge to those they serve.

As someone who is an advocate for ongoing accreditation, I consider these initials and what they stand for in my firm’s recruitment process and celebrate the individuals that use these designations as stepping stones to more fulfilling architecture or interior design careers. Designations alone don’t make an individual a senior member of the team—some of our youngest professionals are highly credentialed—but they certainly make that person more marketable.

Here is a rundown of what those initials mean at the end of your architect or designer’s name:

RA – Registered architect. One can be a licensed architect—meaning he or she has passed the national exam in a particular state—but the individual must maintain his or her continuing education and pay the associated fees to be registered and practice in the state in which the project is located in. For instance, even if your architect passed the exam in New York, unless they’ve registered and paid the fees, that person cannot practice in the Empire State.

AIA – This is an architect credentialed through the American Institute of Architects. They are entitled by law to practice architecture and use the title “architect” in any state within the United States. There are several sub-designations, including Associate AIA (an individual without a U.S. architectural license who meets other educational or employment requirements according to the Institute’s bylaws); International Associate AIA (someone who has a license outside of the U.S.); and an FAIA (someone advanced to fellowship by the Institute). There are also honorary and emeritus designations from AIA.

NCIDQ – Someone with a National Council for Interior Design Qualification has been educated, trained and examined to protect public health, safety and welfare.

IIDA – The designation, from the International Interior Design Association, shows clients, employers and peers that an individual has obtained special qualifications in interior design and has passed the NCIDQ exam (see the explanation above).

NCARB – National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. The NCARB certificate allows those with the title to automatically qualify for a reciprocal license in most states and some foreign countries. It does not mean that they are automatically granted a license; however, it is supposed to make it easier.

LEED AP and LEED AP BD+C – A LEED professional credential stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and signifies that someone is a leader in the field and an active participant in the green building movement. AP stands for accredited professional, and additional initials afterward tell the person even more about the area the party specializes in. For instance BD+C connotes that the individual works in the building design and construction phases of a project, bringing an eco-friendly focus to commercial, residential, education and healthcare work. ID+C notes a specialty in healthful and sustainable interiors and tenant spaces. With new jobs specifying the need for green building expertise, the LEED professional credential shows a clear commitment to professional growth while underscoring the value of LEED project teams and sustainability-focused organizations.

We often hear a request to get an “architect” involved or to get his opinion on an aspect of a project. Armed with this information, hopefully more people will know exactly who they really want and why.

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