can you stamp my drawings?

A follow up question (from our last post) which comes up on occasion is “can you stamp my drawings” that were prepared by someone else. Again, these questions are frustrating, but the general public has no context or background to the world of design professionals. It seems some of the calls that I have gotten are people who liken the stamping of drawings to the service of a notary. I mean no offense to those who choose to be a notary, but these two services could not be any further apart. So I’ll answer the question.

My answer is no. But for good reason, let me explain.

An architect sealing or stamping a set of drawings implies that the architect is giving his/her “seal of approval” on the design and documentation for which they had direct supervision. In today’s world sealing something for which you did not have direct supervision or control over is an unlawful use of the seal or stamp. It also cheapens the profession.

According to the Pennsylvania Architects Licensure Law § 9.142, Unlawful use of seal or stamp: (other States will have similar laws)

(a)  An architect may not seal or stamp a document unless his license is current with the Board.

(b)  An architect may not impress the seal or stamp, or knowingly permit it to be impressed or affixed, on drawings, specifications or other design documents which were not prepared by the architect or under his direct supervision.

According to the NCARB Code of Ethics, “An architect may sign and seal technical submissions only if the technical submissions were: (i) prepared by the architect; (ii) prepared by persons under the architect’s responsible control…. “Responsible control” shall be that amount of control over and detailed professional knowledge of the content of technical submissions during their preparation as is ordinarily exercised by architects applying the required professional standard of care. Reviewing, or reviewing and correcting, technical submissions after they have been prepared by others does not constitute the exercise of responsible control because the reviewer has neither control over nor detailed knowledge of the content of such submissions throughout their preparation.”

Construction drawings are not only a series of technical drawings, but they represent a series of decisions and systems that have been made within a specific context and work together in harmony one with each other. In addition, the seal on the drawings states that these drawings comply with the applicable building codes to the best of the design professional’s knowledge. Each drawing, each detail comes from an understanding of a story that begins at the beginning when the client introduces their desires, budget, site and local building code.

Certainly there are common methods of construction and many details can be considered standard or typical. However, even the placement of a typical detail has to be done carefully with an understanding of how that detail interacts with the remainder of the building components. The architect who seals the drawings does not need to draw every line or any line for that matter. Yet, the architect needs to be involved in the discussions with the interested parties so they understand the process of decision making from the beginning. Then they can review and comment on the drawings as they are prepared, edited and finalized. They can give their “seal of approval” because they have had direct supervision and exercised reasonable control over the process.

If one understands the long journey of sacrifice that it takes to obtain a professional license, such as an architect, they would understand how no architect should risk the potential fines, or potential loss of that license for using it inappropriately. No fee could cover that loss.


bottom photo is from L*Ali’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

can you stamp my drawings?

10 thoughts on “can you stamp my drawings?

  1. Lee, beautiful blog, looks like an architect chose the theme… 😉 .

    Sad but true comment on the disjuncture between public perception and the reality of the profession. Thanks for posting, found you via LinkedIn…

    1. Thanks for your comments. Obviously I agree with your comments, but based on the wild discussion on LinkedIn, I’m not sure where to go with it. Also check out the other discussions on LinkedIn that I started and you’ll really get worked up.

  2. I’ve heard that in my country (Romania) an architect lost his right to sign projects because in just one year he stamped over 2000 projects.
    What made me wonder is who the hell were those people that made those 2000 projects.
    Other way I don’t care if somebody just use his rights this way. I am not a judge, I am just an architect.

    What confuses me is the way that other countries use a restricted registration possibility. I think it would be normal if anybody can make projects in Chicago to do the same in LA. Or if somebody is licensed to sign projects in the one region of Italy, he should be able to design in all Italy.

    I think are too many fences and borders. I wouldn’t mind if an architect from Argentina, USA or China would make projects in my country.

    1. I understand the frustration some have over the “fences.” However, there has to be some control or the welfare and safety of people is in jeopardy. I’ve seen people make decisions purely for their own benefit and if no restrictions were in place, they would eventually jeopardize someone. Even in the USA, there are different climate regions and areas more prone to earthquakes, that one needs to be more familiar with those types of things before they can practice architecture in those regions. I am one for small government interference with our affairs, but there has to be a balance struck between ensuring public safety and getting into people’s affairs. Thanks for reading and thank you for commenting. This is about having a discussion. I appreciate your feedback.

  3. I understand that if you are from Florida, you can’t design a house in Canada, because there is a colder region? Come on!
    At least in my country, the structure is the job of the structural engineers. They have norms to design structures no matter what kind of seismic activity is in a area or other.
    The structural engineers are now engaged into the design of a building addition in Italy. For this task they are just following the Italian technical prescriptions for the specific region of the country.

    The earthquakes from Italy are very different from the earthquakes from Romania. They are aware of that.

    I personally trust that any architects from all over the world can design buildings all over the world. Of course, they have to study the specific conditions of the areas they are designing in and respect the technical prescriptions, the urban conditions over there.

    Everything that exceeds this ideal situation is just a network of fences. The problem should be if non-professionals design buildings even in their hometown.

    1. I agree with the notion that if one takes work in a region unfamiliar to them that research is part of the job. I do research for every project for some reason. I don’t make the rules and before I argue to change them, I would need to know why they are in place (at least what the government agency would reveal). In the mean time, I am protective of my architect stamp and have to use it with the utmost care. Thanks for your perspective. I like having contributors from other countries to give us a view of how things are done elsewhere. We can learn from each other.

  4. natano says:

    After getting up between 1:15 and 3 AM for the last 3 weeks thinking about structural liability, I can now empathize with the profession. As a contractor, I always thought it was kinda of like dentistry. You can put it off, but the longer you do, the more it hurts. Then I set off a fire alarm in a commercial building trying to do sound isolation with blown-in cellulose in a quick and lucrative switch a roo from hair salon to office. The fire department chit-chats quite a lot with the permitting Department, which is why I’m typing this s$%^ out at my computer instead of sleeping.

    So putting a few privacy walls up and soundproofing is slightly more complex than one unassuming muser would assume. My framing is rather unconventional. I tend to let gravity do most of the work with a few pins to keep the lateral stuff from rearing its ugly free, falling head. And an Architect is supposed to know that? Therein lies the problem. People always try to cut corners, so it becomes a game of hide-and-seek. Oh, you’re hiding a shortcut? You forgot to put the anchor bolts in, so you glued a washer nut and stub of thread to the foundation to make it look like it will hold? The thanks for telling me list is my shortest list in contracting.

    Your stamp of approval is you being unbeatable at hide and seek at the square centimeter scale.

    1. I’m not sure I fully follow where you’re going, but I’ll assume you can sympathize with what’s involved in assuming liability for something you don’t completely control. I was almost in a similar situation recently where I was asked to stamp a drawing for a tenant space that made one change – the addition of a wall. I began to ask a series of questions and the person went dark on me. Good, I didn’t want to take that risk for no reward.

      It’s disappointing that someone would go through the trouble of faking anchor bolts instead of installing them in the first place.

      No one ever regretted or lost sleep over doing something correctly. Yes, I meant that pun. I hope you can sleep soundly soon.

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