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By Casius Pealer

Many unlicensed architecture-school graduates have a difficult time describing their jobs to family, friends, and others outside of the profession. Though classified by the profession as interns, their work is remarkably similar to the kind of work they would be doing if they were licensed. Yet the title of architect is restricted by state licensing boards to refer only to currently licensed practitioners. The challenge is that, to most people outside of the profession, intern doesn't resonate as a proper title for a graduate with a professional degree in a respectable full-time job-especially one a few or more years out of school.

 Jack Johnson's response to the initial complaint to the Board of Architects [June 10, 2005]
 Cease and Desist Order from Colorado Attorney General [July 26, 2005]
 Johnson Sues State Board [Aspen Times news article, August 24, 2005]
 State Rescinds Censure of Aspen City Councilman [Aspen Times news article, Feb. 22, 2006]
 Court Order awarding summary judgment to Jack Johnson [May 9, 2006]
 Judge Rules for Councilman in "Architect" Case

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Based on a ruling from a recent court case in Colorado, this confusion may be resolved, at least for casual conversations and other noncommercial situations. Jack Johnson, 42, was an architecture graduate running for the Aspen city council. During his campaign, he referred to himself as an architect in various public forums, though he was also careful to explain that he was not a "licensed architect." A political rival filed a complaint with the Colorado Board of Examiners of Architects, and the board issued a formal cease and desist order to Johnson, demanding that he stop referring to himself as an architect or face a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. Johnson instead sued the board for violating his First Amendment rights, and the board eventually rescinded its order. However, Johnson pursued the case in order to fully resolve the issue, and in May 2006 the Colorado District Court ruled in his favor. Specifically, the court held that the board's action was "far more restrictive than it needed to be in order to protect the interests which were the board's charge." When asked why he sued the board rather than simply stop referring to himself as an architect, Johnson said, "The board's position was wrong. The board refused to make a distinction between commercial and noncommercial speech, and I wanted to make it clear that there is such a distinction and that the board does not control noncommercial speech." Johnson also won his election and now sits on the Aspen City Council. He regularly draws on his architectural education and experience to inform a variety of public policy issues in Aspen, including the redesign of the main road entering the city, and affordable housing in this resort town. "As an architect influencing public policy, I would have expected the board to encourage me rather than to censor me," said Johnson. While Johnson agrees that licensing boards should regulate the use of the title, he also agrees with the court that outside of commercial transactions, unlicensed individuals have an expansive constitutional right to use the word architect as they see fit.

To get in touch with Jack Johnson, please e-mail him at


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