AIA-NJ Responds to Star Ledger Article

June 30, 2010

The following is the letter sent from AIA New Jersey President Jason Kliwinski to the Star Ledger in response to an article giving mis-information on the use of an architect.  At the end of the letter is an image of the original article as printed in the Home Improvement section of the Star Ledger on June 17, 2010:

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June 21, 2010

The Star Ledger
1 Star Ledger Plaza,
Newark, NJ 07102

Attn:  Mr. Richard Vezza, Publisher

Dear Mr. Vezza:

I am writing in response to a syndicated article written by Mr. Henry de Marne which was published in your newspaper on June 17th, entitled ‘Is Architect Needed for House-Building Plan?’  A copy of that article is enclosed herewith.  As President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, I am compelled to point out several dangerous and inaccurate statements made by the author of this article which require correction in order to protect the safety of the public.

First and foremost, New Jersey law requires that a licensed architect sign and seal drawings for new home construction.  The only exception allowed is if a homeowner is developing their own architectural drawings for their own house, which can then be signed by that homeowner.  Neither a contractor nor anyone else may prepare or offer to prepare architectural drawings for signature by that homeowner.  Thus, Mr. de Marne’s  ‘advice’ to have a homeowner utilize unlicensed individuals to prepare architectural  design documents is advocating a practice that would be illegal in the State of New Jersey, and would endanger public health, safety and welfare that the New Jersey Legislature has deemed worthy of protection by licensed architects.   Such advice should never appear in our State’s foremost newspaper.

Second, Mr. de Marne contends that professional architectural services are not justified and are too expensive to be included on most home construction projects. Projects which do not have proper professional supervision are often plagued with additional costs, change orders, and unforeseen issues that a professional architect could have been able to foresee and avoid for their client. Home construction is a significant investment of time and money on the part of a homeowner, and should always result in the construction of a safe structure that meets all of the needs of the homeowner.  That is why the State of New Jersey requires that only a licensed architect may prepare architectural plans for any home construction project that is offered for sale to a third party, deeming only licensed architects as being qualified to protect the health, safety, and welfare of homeowners.  The cost of not engaging the proper professional to oversee a construction project, in terms of dollars and safety, can be far higher than any fee charged for this oversight.

AIA-NJ respectfully requests that you publish an article correcting Mr. de Marne’s incorrect advice.  The American Institute of Architects, New Jersey Chapter would be pleased to assist you in that regard or with and questions regarding the profession of architecture in the future.

Sincerely yours,

Jason Kliwinski, AIA, LEEDap
President, AIA-NJ

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The following a letter that was separately submitted to the Star Ledger by Yogesh Mistry, AIA, from the Newark and Suburban section and the subsequent edited clipping that was printed on June 29th :

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Mr. Henri de Marne

After reading your question/answer article on ‘Is architect needed for house-building plan?’ in the June 17th edition of the NJ Star Ledger I was worried that a terribly inaccurate message has been delivered to the general public.  As a licensed architect in New Jersey as well as an active AIA (American Institute of Architects) member I feel an obligation to stand up for and protect our profession when it has been misrepresented.  In my opinion your article has misguided the public as well as damaged their perception of architects.  I would like to clarify a few points you have made in your article which I feel are inaccurate.

First you are correct in saying there are various levels of service that a home owner can pay for.  However a basic (schematic) set of drawings CAN NOT be used to build from in the state of New Jersey.  NJ requires that a licensed architect sign and seal drawings for new home construction.  The only exception allowed is if a homeowner is developing their own drawings for their own house can they be signed by that homeowner.  A contractor or anyone else can not develop drawings that are then signed by the homeowner.  In fact many township inspectors are hesitant to approve drawings by a homeowner for anything more than a deck or minor addition.  Drawings at minimum need to show all code related items as well as structural components of the design.

Secondly you mention ‘If you want the architect to supervise the construction, which is only necessary if you have some concern about the builder, it will be at an additional cost.’.  This seems confusing as to why a homeowner would hire a builder when they have concerns about them.  Regardless architects provide great value in ‘reviewing’ the construction work, not ‘supervising’ it.  They represent the homeowner and look to protect their interests.  They advise on quality issues, review payment applications, answer field questions, and advise clients on deviations that may have been made from the drawings.

Thirdly architects can be cost effective at any budget level.  In fact the majority of residential projects in the current market are less than $400,000.  If you were building a new home for $350,000 and this was your life savings wouldn’t you want some professional advice and guidance on making sure your investment will be standing in a few years.  If you invested $350,000 in the stock market wouldn’t you want some advice from a professional financial planner?

Lastly the alternatives you offer at the close of your article truly misguide the public.  People who are not architects can not sell themselves as architects just as someone who does not have a license to practice medicine can not call themselves a doctor.  A person not licensed or experienced in residential architecture will surely not provide the level of design, safety, or guidance that someone experienced or licensed will.  Those people will also not assume any liability if something goes wrong.  Will they even have insurance?  I find it frightening that someone trusted in the construction industry as you are is directing homeowners to places that could get them in trouble as well as promoting activities that are border line against the law in most states.  It is like saying to someone go see a student intern if you are sick rather than going to a licensed doctor.  Sure that person might be able to give you advice but is that the proper direction you want to give someone.

I know this letter may not go any further than your desk but I hope you can enlighten your readers to some of the facts presented above in a follow up article.  I would gladly take your call to help clarify any questions you may have.

Yogesh Mistry, AIA

By | Posted in AIA-NJ News, Codes & Regulations, NJ Architect Newsletter | | Comments (2)

2 responses to “AIA-NJ Responds to Star Ledger Article”

  1. Jerome Morley Larson Sr EAIA says:

    “Architect needed for house building”
    Interesting that the single most important reason for commissioning an architect to create your living space and protect your biggest investment was never mentioned in either letter – THE QUALITY OF THE SPACE! – the sheer enjoyment of delighting in every waking moment in your place of refuge – your HOME – the beauty of the place, the connection with the environment and the quality of the value judgements that can only be made by an architect are immeasurable – the fee is a pittance by comparison. Winston Churchill said it best: “WE SHAPE OUR BUILDINGS, THEREAFTER, THEY SHAPE US.”

  2. At a recent AIA-NS general meeting, a veteran member said to me that these types of articles are the fault of the AIA because we do not inform the public about what we do! The AIA, who is the AIA? The AIA is each and every one of its members and it is up to us to take every opportunity to inform all walks of life about what we do. If anyone knows of a speaking engagement opportunity for an Architect, please send an email to AIA-NJ so that we can make sure we do what we can to educate. We need our members to inform AIA-NJ of these types of articles so we can provide the proper information to the public. I applaud Yogesh for his letter and hope that there were another 2,000 letters that followed his.



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