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Education, experience, examination key to becoming an architect

JENNY OWEN

RICHARD McNEEL

By NASH NUNNERY

So, you want to be an architect?

Nobody enters the field of architecture solely on the premise that it’s cool. Not even downtrodden Seinfeld character George Kostanza, who often introduced himself as architect extraordinaire Art Vandelay in certain social situations.

Actually, the process to becoming an architect can be a bit arduous. It involves finding the right college, passing the National Council of Architecture Registration boards, participating in an Intern Development program and getting licensed.

Enter the Mississippi State Board of Architecture.

In Mississippi, an applicant for initial licensure must have a NAAB accredited professional degree in architecture.

Additionally, the applicant also must complete the Architect Experience Program, a structured internship of approximately two years, and pass the national Architectural Registration Examination.

“Education, experience and examination are the keys to the process,” explained MSBOA executive director Jenny Owen. “Our agency regulates not only architects but also landscape architecture and certified interior designers. By law, we are pledged to protect the public’s life, health and property with respect to the professions regulated.”

MSBOA board and committee members – all 15 of them – serve as volunteers and are appointed by the governor for a five-year term.

There is no residency requirement for licensure or examination in Mississippi, according to Owen. However, out of state applicants are required to meet the same essential licensure requirements as a Mississippi applicant.

A partner with Jackson-based JBHM Architects, Richard McNeel serves as the MSBOA’s president.

“Our work with building officials is very vital to the process,” McNeel said. “They are, after all, the ones with their feet on the ground in our communities. Remaining engaged with them and code enforcement specialists is mutually beneficial.

“We learn about issues they are facing with respect to design shortcomings, and even practitioners who are not meeting the standards.”

An example offered by Owen would be the simple act of entering a hospital or shopping mall. Most people would take for granted that they’d have an accessible and clear exit path in case of fire or other emergency.

“Architects, certified interior designers and landscape architects make that happen through the design of a code compliant and safe building,” she said. “A safe layout and fire-safe finishes and materials, and exterior vehicular and pedestrian paths allow you to get out of the building safely.”

Along with similar agencies in other states, MSBOA is a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Members of the agency serve on various boards and committees within the NCARB structure, including the preparation of exam questions.

Continuing education for architects licensed by the state of Mississippi is not only vital, but a requirement.

“Architects must have 12 hours of coursework every year,” McNeel said. “This is continuing education that must be health, safety and welfare related.”

Much like the BAR for lawyers, the MSBOA can censure architects, landscape architects and interior designers for wrongdoing. When a complaint is filed, the agency investigates to determine if charges against the registrant are warranted. If formal charges are issued, the MSBOA is represented by the state attorney general’s office.

“The accused receives due process, either through an administrative hearing or through a negotiated settlement agreement,” said Owen.

Revocation is the most extreme course of action for offenses that are deemed “grossly negligent” or an “ethical breech.”

Owen said she was not at liberty to discuss past or active cases.

“If the Board finds the accused guilty of unprofessional or unethical conduct by clear and convincing evidence, we have the authority to issue a reprimand, to suspend or revoke the license, or to levy a monetary penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation,” McNeel added.

State government oversight of the profession is critical, said Owen.

“From design through construction, regulation ensures that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to design a safe structure of space,” she said. “Otherwise, citizens would be unable to protect themselves from unqualified practitioners as they use buildings and space.”

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