An architect license is a professional accreditation that enables an architect to work within a certain jurisdiction. Most of the time, licensing is on a local or semi-local level. Countries, states, and provinces usually have mandatory licensing specifications, though sometimes cities and counties do, too. In all cases, the architect license serves as a way of establishing some baseline standards of both education and training for professionals in the architectural field.
Architecture is an exacting science that requires a firm grasp of physics, geometry, and general engineering. In most cases, architects are responsible for ensuring that the basic structures for any number of buildings, from houses to offices and shopping malls, exemplify the utmost standards of integrity. They may also be charged with designing landscapes so as to promote proper drainage and eliminate the chance or erosion or foundational instability. Public safety is usually the main reason that governments get involved in regulating architecture and controlling the practitioners able to influence the field.
Nearly all jurisdictions have architect licensing requirements, but there is a lot of variance when it comes to what is actually required to get an architect license. The process typically centers on an exam that newly-minted architectural graduates must pass. Sometimes this test is nationalized, but other times it is written and administered by local architectural boards or governing authorities. Proof of formal education and training are usually also required.
There are usually different licenses depending on discipline. A residential housing architect must usually have different knowledge than a corporate architect or a landscape architect, for instance. Architects are usually able to hold licenses in more than one discipline, but the licenses are usually discreet, and often must be obtained separately.
In most cases, a person must hold a professional architect license before he or she can be offered permanent employment with a design firm. Exceptions are often made for interns and more junior drafting staff. Architects practicing on a freelance or contract basis are not exempted, and must maintain the same licenses as their peers working in bigger firms. Practicing architecture without a license is a criminal offense in some places, and is almost always subject to some sort of civil discipline.
An architect license is usually good only for a set period of years. Renewing architect licenses is rarely difficult, but often involves continued training, and, at a minimum, proof of active work experience. Governments generally want to ensure that professional architects are not only competent when they enter the field, but also that they retain that edge for the duration of their career.