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Oregon Supreme Court Holds That The Practice Of Architecture Includes The Development Of Master Plans

In Twist Architecture & Design, Inc. v. Oregon Board of Architect Examiners, 361 Or. 507, 395 P.3d 574 (Or. 2017), the Supreme Court of Oregon ruled that the “practice of architecture” includes the preparation of master plans drawn to scale for the development of a project, even if construction drawings or specifications are not ultimately produced. 

Twist Architecture & Design, Inc. was hired by Gramor Development to provide services described as “concept master planning design services” for three different projects in Oregon.  Twist was not a licensed architect in Oregon at that time.  Twist provided Gramor with technical drawings of the property, entitled “schemes,” which showed site and building renderings, locations of parking, surrounding streets and included various levels of detail on the buildings.  Twist did not produce construction drawings or specifications and two of the three projects were never constructed at all.  The third project was constructed, but was not based on the schemes developed by Twist.

The Oregon Board of Architect Examiners determined Twist had unlawfully engaged in the practice of architecture, unlawfully represented its principals as architects and unlawfully used the term “architecture” in the firm’s logo on the master plans.  In making its determination, the Board discussed the role that master plans play in the development of commercial projects.  The Board determined that because Twist had created master plans, including renderings of buildings and detailed data, they had engaged in planning and designing in contemplation of the construction of those projects.

Twist appealed and argued master plans, which they referred to as “feasibility studies,” were never intended to be used as a basis for construction.  The Court of Appeals reversed the Board’s decision, finding feasibility studies did not constitute “the practice of architecture.”  The Board appealed to the Supreme Court of Oregon, which reversed the Court of Appeals.

The Oregon Supreme Court began its review by analyzing the Oregon legislature’s intended meaning of the “practice of architecture,” as defined in ORS 671.010(6). The Court observed that it necessarily requires planning, design, or supervision of a structure that the parties actually contemplate building.  However, the Court noted that practice of architecture does not depend on whether buildings are built. 

Ultimately, relying on specific requirements that an architect must meet when preparing “drawings and specifications,” the Court concluded the the level of “planning” required for Twist to develop the master plans rose to the level contemplated by legislature when creating the statutory definition of “the practice of architecture.”  Without a valid license in Oregon, the Court found Twist unlawfully participated in the practice of architecture.

The Court’s ruling that the “practice of architecture” includes master planning, even if the plans do not ultimately lead to construction drawings, should be considered any time feasibility studies are conducted.  Architects should be careful to verify licensing requirements prior to conducting such studies or they run the risk of disciplinary action.