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Trust Me, I’m a Fake Architect

Trust Me, I’m an (Unlicensed) Architect

Architect, September 2009

If you don’t have an architectural license, it’s illegal to call yourself an architect or perform architectural services—but people still do. Who are they, who’s policing them, and can they be stopped?

Michael Angelo Gideo owns a small business in Plano, Texas, that specializes in custom-designed backyards. His company installs swimming pools, builds outdoor fireplaces and patios, puts up decks, and tackles landscaping projects. The company, Backyard Architect, has a website at backyardarchitect.com.

A fitting name, right? The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners doesn’t think so: Gideo is not, and has never been, a registered architect in the state of Texas; nor is his company affiliated with a registered architect. By Texas law, one of these conditions must be met if the term “architect” or “architectural services” is used in a business name.

Early this year, after Backyard Architect came to their attention, board staff sent Gideo warning letters, notifying him that he was violating both the state Architects’ Practice Act and the Landscape Architects’ Practice Act. He didn’t respond. In March, board staff met informally with Gideo to tell him that his continued use of the term “architect” in his business name was illegal. “He gave us no legal reason why he was [still using the term],” recounts Michael Shirk, the board’s managing litigator. Gideo’s website stayed live, the name unchanged.

So in July, an administrative law judge advised the board to impose a penalty against Gideo of $200,000. That’s $5,000 a day—the highest penalty the board is authorized to assess—for each of the 40 days (or longer) that Gideo had violated the law.

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Illustration by PJ Loughran