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An architect is a person involved in the planning, designing and oversight of a building's construction. The word "architect" is derived from the Latin architectus or from the Greek arkhitekton. In the broadest sense an architect is a person who translates the user's needs into the builder's requirements. An architect must thoroughly understand the building and operational codes under which his or her design must conform. That degree of knowledge is necessary so that he or she is not apt to omit any necessary requirements, or produce improper, conflicting, ambiguous, or confusing requirements. He or she must understand the various methods available to the builder for building the client's structure, so that he or she can negotiate with the client to produce a best possible compromise of the results desired within explicit cost and time boundaries.
Architects must frequently make building design and planning decisions that affect the safety and well being of the general public. Architects are required to obtain specialized education and documented work experience to obtain professional licensure, similar to the requirements for other professionals, with requirements for practice varying greatly from place to place (see below).
The most prestigious award a living architect can receive is the Pritzker Prize, often termed the "Nobel Prize for architecture." Other awards for excellence in architecture are given by national and regional professional associations such as the American Institute of Architects and Royal Institute of British Architects. Other prestigious architectural awards are the Alvar Aalto Medal (Finland) and the Carlsberg Architecture Prize (Denmark).
Although architect technically refers to a licensed professional, the word is frequently used in the broader sense noted above to define someone who brings order to the built or unbuilt environment through the use of rational constructs. For example, "landscape architects," "naval architects," "software architects," and graduates of schools of architecture working in architecture firms are often called "architects." However, in most countries unlicensed people working in the construction industry are legally prohibited from referring to themselves as "architects."
In the United States, people wishing to become licensed architects are required to meet the requirements of their respective state. Each state has a registration board to oversee that state's licensure laws. In 1919, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) was created to ensure parity between the states' often conflicting rules. The registration boards of each of the 50 states (and 5 territories), are NCARB member boards.
While registration requirements do vary between jurisdictions, there are three common requirements for registration: education, experience and examination. Most states require a professional degree from a school accredited by the NAAB to satisfy their education requirement; this would be either a B.Arch or M.Arch degree. The experience requirement is typically the Intern Development Program (IDP), a joint program of NCARB and the AIA. IDP creates a framework to identify for the intern-architect base skills and core-competencies. The intern-architect needs to earn 700 training units (TUs) in 16 categories; each TU is equivalent to 8 hours. California is the lone exception requiring C-IDP which builds upon the seat time requirement of IDP with the need to document learning having occurred. All jurisdictions use the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), a series of nine computerized exams administered NCARB.
NCARB also has a certification for those architects meeting NCARB's model standard: NAAB degree, IDP and ARE passage. This certificate facilitates reciprocity between the member boards should an architect desire registration in a different jurisdiction. All architects licensed by their respective states have professional status as Registered Architects (RA).
There are three types of professional degrees in architecture in the United States: the Bachelor of Architecture, Master of Architecture, and the Doctorate degrees - either Doctor of Architecture, Doctor of Design or Doctor of Philosophy, respectively abbreviated as "B.Arch," "M.Arch," and "D.Arch.", "D.Des." or "Ph.D." Non-professional degrees include the Bachelor of Arts in Architecture (BA), Bachelor of Science in Architecture (BS), Bachelor of Fine Arts in Architecture (BFA Arch), and "Bachelor of Environmental Design" (B.Envd). A non-professional degree typically takes four years to complete (as opposed to five years for a Bachelor of Architecture) and may be part of the later completion of professional degree (A "4+2" plan is comprised of a 4-year BA and a 2-year Master of Architecture). The 5-year BArch and 6-year MArch are regarded as virtual equals in the registration and accreditation processes. Other programs (such as those offered at Drexel University and Boston Architectural College) combine the required educational courses with the work component necessary to sit for licensure exams. Programs such as this often afford students the ability to immediately test for licensure upon graduation, as opposed to having to put in several years working in the field after graduation before being able to get licensed, as is common in more traditional programs.
Depending on the policies of the registration board for the state in question, it is sometimes possible to become licensed as an Architect in other ways: reciprocal licensure for over-seas architects and working under an architect as an intern for an extended period of time.
The American Institute of Architects  is a professional organization representing architects licensed in the United States, and offers its members services such as continuing education programs, standard contracts and other practice-related documents, and design award programs. The AIA is not directly involved with the professional licensing of architects, although AIA members usually place the suffix "AIA" after their names.
The Society of American Registered Architects  or SARA is another professional organization for registered architects in the United States. Its activities and services include conventions, continuing education programs, standard contracts and other practice-related documents, and design award programs. Members of this organization may have the suffix "SARA" after their name.
The National Organization of Minority Architects  or NOMA is an organization for minority registered architects and minority architectural students in the United States. It was created in 1971 to bring light to the contributions of African Americans and other minorities in the field of architecture in the United States and the world.