What Do the Letters After Your Architect's Name Mean?

AIA... RA... IALD... and more

Architects exchanging business cards with client
Look Closely at that Business Card. Photo by Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images

What does AIA stand for? Is an AIA architect better than an RA?

Architects, engineers, builders, and home designers often wear a string of letters after their names. Letters like AIA or RA can seem impressive, but what do the letters stand for and do you pronounce them like words?

3 Types of Designations You Need to Know:

Generally, these initials fall into three categories:

1. Membership in an Organization

In many cases, the letters are acronyms for professional associations.

The letters AIA, for example, stand for the American Institute of Architects, the organization that helped architecture become a licensed profession in the United States. AIA members may use a variety of designations—AIA suggests that this person is a licensed architect who has paid hundreds of dollars to become a member; FAIA is an honorary title given to a select group of AIA members. An Assoc. AIA is an associate member who has been trained as an architect but does not hold a license, and Int'l Assoc. AIA include architects licensed outside the US.

Other organizations for professional architects include the Association of Licensed Architects (ALA) and the Society of American Registered Architects (SARA).

Architects may join a professional organization for networking, support, guidance, and professional growth. Often a professional organization will act as a lobbying arm to defend the interests of the group.

Also, membership in an organization suggests that the architect has agreed to uphold professional standards.

However, a licensed architect who does not belong to an organization such as the AIA may still be well-trained and highly experienced. Membership dues are expensive, and some architects opt not to join.

Sometimes only the principals of a firm become members.

2. Letters That Show Education

Many architects also teach, so you may see academic degrees after their names. For example, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava earned a doctorate, which entitles him to put Ph.D. after his name. Pritzker Laureate Zaha Hadid put AA Dipl next to her name, which means she earned an Architectural Association Diploma from the prestigious AA School of Architecture in the United Kingdom. The additional letters "Hon" mean the degree is not "earned" through coursework, but is an "honorary" degree given by the institution in recognition of the person's success.

3. Letters That Show Licenses

Sometimes the letters after a professional's name indicate that the pro has passed exams or met other important requirements for licensing or certification. An RA, for example, is a Registered Architect. A Registered Architect has completed an internship and passed a rigorous series of examinations offered by official architectural registration boards in the United States and Canada. Members of AIA and ALA are usually RAs, but not all RAs are members of the AIA or ALA.

Confused? Don't drown in the alphabet soup. Our glossary has definitions for some of the most common acronyms, initials, and abbreviations used by architects, designers, engineers, and other building professionals.

Before you hire a building professional, check out this helpful list.

Glossary of Letters You Need to Know:

Do you pronounce these letters like words? For this profession, the answer is usually no. Acronyms, by definition, are pronounced as words (for example, "computerized axial tomography scans" are often called CAT scans, as if they were grown kittens), but initialisms are pronounced as individual letters (for example, we say C-D for "compact disc").

AA
London, England's Architectural Association School of Architecture. An added "Dipl" means a diploma from the school. A non-graduate can also be a member.

AIA
Member of the American Institute of Architects. Also see FAIA.

ALA
Member of the Association of Licensed Architects

ARB
Architects Registration Board, the United Kingdom's regulatory organization established by Parliament in 1997

ASHRAE
Member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers

ASID
Member of the American Society of Interior Designers

ASIS
Member of the American Society for Industrial Security

ASLA
Member of the American Society of Landscape Architects

ASPE
Member of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers

BDA
Bund Deutscher Architekten, an association of German architects

CBO
Certified Building Official. A CBO is a municipal building code enforcement official who has passed certification exams. Some parts of the United States require that code enforcement officials hold CBO certification.

CCCA
Certified Construction Contract Administrator. To be certified, the construction professional must have passed CSI (Construction Specification Institute) tests to demonstrate ability in administering all phases of construction contracts.

CCM
Certified Construction Manager. This person has education and work experience that meets the criteria of Construction Manager Association of America.

CCS
Certified Construction Specifier. To be certified, the construction professional must pass examinations offered by the Construction Specification Institute (CSI).

CIPE
Certified in Plumbing Engineering

CPBD
Certified Professional Building Designer. Professional building designers, also known as home designers, specialize in designing single family homes, light frame buildings, and decorative facades. The CPBD title means that the designer has completed training courses, practiced building design for at least six years, and passed a rigorous certification exam. A CPBD is not necessarily a licensed architect. However, a CPBD is usually qualified to design an uncomplicated, traditional home.

CSI
Member of the Construction Specification Institute

EIT
Engineer in Training. Graduates of engineering programs who have passed licensing exams but do not yet have the required four years experience to be a licensed Professional Engineer. In New York, EITs are commonly called Intern Engineers ." In Florida they are called Engineer Interns.

FAIA
Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. This is a highly regarded honorary title granted to only a small percentage of AIA member architects.

IALD
Member of the International Association of Lighting Designers

IIDA
Member of the International Interior Design Association

LEED
Leadership in Energy and Environment Design. This title indicates that a project or a design professional meets standards established by members of the US Green Building Council. Accredited LEED architects have passed examinations that demonstrate their understanding of green building practices (environmentally friendly) and concepts.

NCARB
Certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. To be certified, a registered architect must meet rigorous standards for education, training, testing, and ethics. Not all licensed architects are NCARB certified. This is one of the few acronyms in the profession—pronounced en-karb.

NCCE
Member of the National Council of Engineering Examiners

NCIDQ
National Council for Interior Design Qualification

NFPA
Member of the National Fire Protection Association

NSPE
Member of the National Society of Professional Engineers

PE
Professional Engineer. This engineer has completed the training, exams, and field work required to be fully licensed. PE certification is required for any engineer in the United States who works on projects that will affect the public.

PS
Professional Services. Some states, such as Washington State, allow licensed professionals to organize their businesses as professional service corporations.

RA
Registered Architect. This architect has completed an internship and passed the Architect Registration Examinations (ARE). These challenging exams are offered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and are generally necessary for architectural licensing in the United States and Canada.

REFP
Recognized Educational Facility Planner, a professional credential of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI). This designation has been replaced with the Certified Educational Facility Planner (CEFP).

RIBA
Member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a professional organization in Great Britain, similar to the AIA