Chapter 1.2
The Architect as a Professional


Advocacy: The act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.

Architect: A person or entity registered, licensed or otherwise authorized exclusively to use the title “architect” and to practice architecture in a province or territory.

Competency: The ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

Copyright: The exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell or distribute the matter and form of something (such as a literary, musical or artistic work).

Intellectual Property: Property (such as an idea, invention or process) that derives from the work of the mind or intellect.

Practice of Architecture: From the UIA Accord on Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice: The practice of architecture consists of the provision of professional services in connection with town planning as well as the design, construction, enlargement, conservation, restoration or alteration of a building or group of buildings. These professional services include but are not limited to:

  • planning and land-use planning;
  • urban design;
  • provision of preliminary studies, designs, models, drawings, specifications, and technical documentation; coordination of technical documentation prepared by others (consulting engineers, urban planners, landscape architects and other specialist consultants) as appropriate and without limitation; construction economics;
  • contract administration;
  • monitoring of construction (referred to as supervision in some countries);
  • project management.

Refer to each provincial or territorial architects act for a legal definition.

Profession: A vocation or calling, especially one that involves some branch of advanced learning or science.

Public Good or Public Interest: The benefit or advantage of the community as a whole.


“Membership in any profession, whether law, medicine, teaching, journalism, accounting, or architecture, entails not only the mastery of a body of knowledge and skills but at its best the honoring of a social contract to advance basic human values.”
Boyer and Mitgang

The dedication to advancing the human condition and upholding the public trust distinguishes professions from other occupations.

Most professions in Canada, including architecture, are self-governing and self-regulating. The provinces and the Northwest Territories, through enabling legislation (the provincial and territorial architects acts), have established associations which regulate admission to the profession in exchange for safeguarding the public.
The provincial and territorial associations of architects are mandated to maintain high standards of practice and ethics among their members.

The Practice of Architecture

The International Union of Architects (Union internationale des Architectes (UIA)) is the international nongovernmental organization that represents the world’s architects. Founded in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1948, the UIA defines architectural practice thus:

“The practice of architecture consists of the provision of professional services in connection with town planning and the design, construction, enlargement, conservation, restoration, or alteration of a building or group of buildings. These professional services include, but are not limited to, planning and land-use planning, urban design, provision of preliminary studies, designs, models, drawings, specifications and technical documentation, coordination of technical documentation prepared by others (consulting engineers, urban planners, landscape architects and other specialist consultants) as appropriate and without limitation, construction economics, contract administration, monitoring of construction (referred to as ‘supervision’ in some countries), and project management.”

- UIA Accord on Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice 

From the Quebec National Assembly’s (Assemblée nationale du Québec) Bill 401: An Act mainly to improve the quality of buildings, the regulation of divided co-ownership and the operation of the Régie du logement:

“15. The practice of architecture consists of engaging in analysis, design and advisory activities applied to the construction, enlargement or alteration of a building with regard to its siting, envelope and interior layout as well as the materials and methods used, in order to ensure that the building is durable, functional and harmonious.

The practice of architecture also consists in coordinating the work of persons who, in relation to architectural work, participate in the construction, enlargement or alteration of a building. The practice of architecture includes respect for the environment and life, the protection of property, heritage preservation and economic efficiency to the extent that they are related to the architect’s professional activities.”

Provincial and Territorial Architects Acts & Self-Regulation

The practice of architecture refers to the professional services associated with design, alteration and management of construction of a building or group of buildings. The Attorney General of Canada has mandated provincial and territorial associations of architects to determine and regulate the conduct of their members in their practice. The provincial and territorial architects acts are government statutes which establish the authority of each individual self-regulating professional association. They define the scope of practice for which architects in that jurisdiction are responsible and mandate the legal responsibilities, terms and standards associated with their professional designation. The authority granted by the architects acts allows each self-regulating architectural association to determine subsequent regulations that govern the behaviour and practice of their members. This can include bylaws, codes of ethics, codes of conduct, rules, regulations, policies and protocols. It is the responsibility of professional members to uphold the standards set by their regulating bodies and, as members, they are empowered to contribute their voice by joining councils, surveys or committees in self-governance.

See also Chapter 1.6 – The Organization of the Profession in Canada.


In the Western tradition, the professions were the scholarly endeavours and practices of theology, law, and medicine, historically called the “learned” professions. They had certain principles and characteristics distinct from other vocations.

The term professional is derived from the Latin profiteri, meaning “to declare publicly.” The notion of declaring our skill publicly reinforces our dedication to the public good. Unfortunately, the expression “profession” or “professional” is often misused and overused in an attempt to capitalize on the influence and prestige associated with the original status enjoyed by scholarly professions. Today, the expression does not necessarily represent an adherence to the principles of professionalism. It is the responsibility of professionals and their regulating bodies to uphold the significance of their respective professions.

To be worthy of the term, all professionals must conduct both their personal and business lives according to certain fundamental principles.


Professional designation has a place in the public context, which is defined by the governmental mandate to create an architects act. The architect’s role as a professional is in educating the public and advocating for the elements in society that are affected by the specialized knowledge and skill that the architect possesses. Architects are well-equipped to serve local communities by contributing to public policy, serving on local councils, or participating in peer review such as municipal design review panels. In their professional capacity, architects often advocate for their contribution in defining public spaces, environmental policy, and generally preserving the public interest where it is affected by components that may fall under the scope of practice defined by the provincial or territorial act regulating architectural practice and the profession at large. In this public-facing capacity, architects maintain the dignity of the profession by adhering to the regulations for conduct laid out by their local associations.

Principles of the Profession

All professionals are required to adhere to the following four principles:

  • expertise;
  • autonomy;
  • commitment to public good;
  • accountability.


Professionals possess a comprehensive body of knowledge, skills and theory developed through education and experience. The process of professional education, experience and examination is structured to assure the public that professionals engaged to perform professional services have acquired the expertise to perform them to acceptable standards.

To achieve proficiency, professionals undergo intensive preparation, gaining specialized knowledge in an academic setting. Education in an academic setting is usually followed by a period of training in practice. Alternatively, education and training may be concurrent, as in university-based co-operative learning programs or the RAIC Syllabus Program. Because acute judgement is such an essential skill in the provision of services, professionals are required to be proficient, adept, skilled and expert.

While in practice, professionals continue their personal scholarship, their quest for knowledge, and their growth by experience. The combination of continuous education and experience in practice provide the professional with a body of tacit and explicit knowledge on which to draw. In parallel, knowledge-sharing becomes intrinsic to the profession and is expressed through mentorship and supervision.

See also Chapter 1.4 – Mentorship and Career Transitions.


Professional practitioners provide expert advice, independent of self-interest.
Uncompromised professional judgement should take precedence over any other motive. Professionals are at liberty to exercise discretion, and clients value their judgement and authority. They act independently and accept responsibility for their actions.

Professionals must also embrace the spirit and the letter of the laws governing their professional affairs, and thoroughly consider the broader societal and environmental impacts of their professional activities.

Commitment to Public Good

Professionals bring a high level of dedication to their work. Members of professions are mandated primarily to serve societal needs in a competent and professional manner, and to exercise unprejudiced and impartial judgement on their behalf. In benefitting societal needs, architects are committed to upholding their professional integrity. The commitment is inherent in the dedication required of the architect to become a licensed professional. In practice, architects’ commitment to continuing education to maintain their currency and their contribution to the profession contributes to contemporary societal needs.


Professionals are aware of their responsibility to provide independent and, if necessary, critical advice to their clients and of the effects of their work on society and the environment. Professionals undertake to perform professional services only when they, together with those whom they may manage or consult, are qualified by education, training or experience in the services offered.

Professionals accept personal responsibility and liability for the consequences of their professional behaviour. Furthermore, professionals are expected to protect not only the primary interest of their clients but also the interest of the public good. Professionals must provide and exercise the standard of care typical of their profession, but they are not required to have an extraordinary degree of skill.

Professional Liability Insurance

The provincial and territorial associations vary in their requirements for professional liability insurance. In most jurisdictions in Canada, professional liability insurance is mandatory. Professional liability insurance will protect the public by providing financial compensation as a result of an error, omission or negligence in the provision of professional services.

Under some provincial and territorial statutes of limitations there is a limitation period for bringing an action related to professional services; however, in certain jurisdictions the risk can endure for a lifetime. Architects should discuss their insurance requirements with their insurer.

See also Chapter 3.8 – Risk Management and Professional Liability, Appendix E – Comparison of Statutes of Limitations in Each Province and Territory.

Architecture as a Profession

Architecture, which has been described as a social art (and also an artful science), is the sole profession whose members are qualified to design and to provide advice, including technical and aesthetic judgement on the built environment. Architects provide services and solutions with technical competence and aesthetic sensitivity suitable to the physical, social, cultural and economic environment, thereby inspiring the community and its citizens. In matters of public health and safety, architects are obliged to serve the public interest and respond to the public need. The concepts of health and safety are expanding to encompass the sustainability of the global environment and accessibility for all persons.

The four generic principles of professionalism previously outlined in this chapter apply to architecture. But what distinguishes architecture from other professions? In the broadest of terms, architecture is the profession which endeavours to identify the public need, and to serve the public interest, in matters relating to the built environment. In this context, architecture is environmental design; in fact, any manipulation of the physical environment is of potential interest to architects. Other disciplines, such as interior design and landscape architecture, share in specific aspects of the design of the built environment.

The practice of architecture is usually broader than the regulations governing the profession. However, legislation formalizes a specific relationship between the profession and society by setting certain regulations which limit and define membership and practice. An architect’s proficiency may extend well beyond the requirements of registration/licensure — particularly after extensive experience. For example, although a statute or regulation may not define “urban design” or single-family house design as architecture, most architects would agree that it is, to a significant degree, an architectural endeavour. Not including urban design in its legislation demonstrates a jurisdiction’s decision to regulate only a certain portion of architecture which it deems to be the “profession of architecture” under its legislative authority.

Architecture and Engineering

Almost all architects work closely with professional engineers, structural, mechanical, electrical, and civil, who are members of the design team.
Professional engineering adheres to the principles of professionalism and is regulated in a manner similar to architecture. In Canada, most jurisdictions have legislation to identify which professional services or building types fall under the authority of architecture or engineering.

The differences between the professions of architecture and engineering can be summarized as follows:

  • the educational background required for architecture is more diverse than it is for engineering;
  • the experience requirement is more wide-ranging for architects and more specific for engineers;
  • the architect is expected to understand, assemble and coordinate all the building disciplines, whereas the engineer usually specializes in one discipline;
  • the architect is involved in the design and construction of many buildings and environments for human habitation and occupancy, but architects are often not involved in other structures which require only engineers by building code, such as warehouses and bridges, or smaller buildings, such as single-family residences, that do not require the involvement of a licensed professional;
  • the architect is involved not only in the building design but is also concerned about the impact of a building or buildings on the character of a community;
  • architects have traditionally filled the role of the prime professional responsible for managing and coordinating a project.

The Architect's Seal

An important symbol and tool of the architectural profession is the architect’s seal. An architect’s seal is a professional seal and not a business seal. The seal must be applied to certain documents prepared by the architect who is licensed to practise. Issued by the provincial or territorial association, the seal assures the public and authorities having jurisdiction that they may rely on document preparation, prepared under an architect’s supervision, direction and control, with confidence. Affixing the seal to documents indicates that they were prepared under the supervision, direction and control of a licensed architect. For information on the proper application of the professional seal, refer to the provincial or territorial associations’ practice bulletins.

See also Chapter 1.6 – The Organization of the Profession in Canada, Appendix E – Charts: Comparison of Practice Requirements of Each Provincial and Territorial Association.


All artistic works — including music, photography, paintings, drawings, artistic crafts and architectural designs — are intellectual property belonging to their creator. In Canada, a copyright does not have to be registered. It rests automatically with the author, and so does the responsibility to demonstrate any ownership of copyright
by the author. The Copyright Act protects the architect’s designs and drawings from unauthorized use or copying.

The ownership of the copyright rests with the architect unless the architect assigns it in writing to someone else. Architects are advised to retain ownership of the copyright in all instances. Copyright protection is also provided in the standard forms of agreement. RAIC Document Six – Canadian Standard Form of Contract for Architect’s Services states that the architect retains the copyright for their work and grants the client a licence to
use the “instrument of service,” i.e., the drawings and specifications, for the purposes of “constructing, using, maintaining, altering, and adding to the project.”

See also Chapter 6.4 – Construction Documents, Appendix A – Copyright and Architects.

Building Inscriptions

The architect may be permitted to arrange for the installation of a permanent inscription on a building, which may identify the construction date, owner, architect and builder. Traditionally, a cornerstone was used; however, today, other suitable signs or inscriptions are provided on the permanent fabric of the building. In some localities, building inscriptions may be required for specific projects. Building inscriptions provide an opportunity to foster public discourse on architecture, and to provide recognition of both the contribution of the professional and the profession.

Non-Professionals and the Built Environment

It is important, especially for the public and for clients, to understand that there are many other disciplines that provide services for design and construction and that these individuals are not regulated professionals. Architects and engineers are regulated by provincial and territorial statute, which provides both title protection and a scope of practice. Other non-professionals may provide services under a limited scope of practice and they may not have the same accountability as professionals. Some of these non-professionals include architectural technicians and technologists, cost consultants, construction managers and designers. In some provinces, allied professionals such as interior designers and architectural technologists have a designated scope of practice and are regulated under the respective architects act.


American Institute of Architects (AIA). The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th Edition, Chapter 1 – Professional Life. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley, 2013.

“Bill 401: An Act mainly to improve the quality of buildings, the regulation of divided co-ownership and the operation of the Régie du logement.” Assemblée nationale du Québec, 2018,, accessed 2019-08-12.

Belfall, Donald. Professions in Transition. Toronto: Canadian Society of Association Executives, 2008.

Boyer, Ernest L. and Mitgang, Lee D. Building Community: a new future for architecture education and practice: a special report. Ewing, NJ: California Princeton Fulfillment Services, 1996.

“Copyright Act.” Government of Canada, current to March 19, 2020,, accessed 2019-08-12.

“UIA Accord on Recommended International Standards of Professionalism in Architectural Practice.” Amended August 2014 at XXVI General Assembly, Durban, International Union of Architects (UIA),
, accessed April 19, 2020.

“Référentiel de compétences lié à l’exercice de la profession d’architecte au Québec.” Ordre des architectes du Québec (OAQ),,
2018, accessed April 17, 2020.