Texas Society of Architects

By: Joel W. Barna

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: February 1, 1996

Architecture as a profession in Texas dates from the 1880s, when the first professionally trained architects came to live and practice in the state in sizable numbers. During the preceding period of the "master builders," there had been no attempts to set professional standards for education and experience in Texas, largely because architects who had passed through a recognized educational curriculum and apprenticeship were all but unknown in the state-indeed, they were rare in the entire nation except on the East Coast. Although much has changed since the 1880s, issues involving education, standards of professional practice and experience, and legal validation have continued to be central concerns for Texas architects and those seeking to join the profession. The first professional organization of architects in Texas, the Texas State Association of Architects, was formed in 1886. The group, with twenty-two charter members including Nicholas J. Clayton of Galveston, Jasper N. Preston and Oscar Ruffini of Austin, and Alfred Giles of San Antonio, elected J. J. Kane of Fort Worth as its first president. TSAA was affiliated with the Western Association of Architects, a Chicago-based rival to the older, East Coast-based American Institute of Architects. According to the group's charter, TSAA's goal was to "unite in one common fellowship the architects of Texas; to combine their efforts, so as to promote the artistic, scientific, and practical efficiency of the profession; and to cultivate and encourage the kindred arts, and to correct unprofessional practices." Among the organization's first acts was to propose passage of a state law that would regulate the practice of architecture in Texas by instituting a state licensing board and requiring that persons "desiring to pursue the occupation of architect should have to apply to the board and stand for examination." TSAA and a number of successor organizations, including a Texas chapter of the American Institute of Architects (formed in 1913), passed in and out of existence over the next several decades. All lobbied for regulation of architecture by the state, arguing that protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the state's citizens required it. The professional organizations also worked to pass laws granting architects liens to enforce payment of their fees and protecting them from having their designs used without compensation.

Nevertheless, not until 1937 did the Texas legislature pass a registration law for Texas architects, set up the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners, and begin requiring those entering the profession to pass a state examination. In later years, as architectural education developed in Texas and nationally, the requirements for obtaining Texas architectural registration became tougher, eventually specifying that candidates for licensure be graduates of accredited university architecture programs and that they have several years of professional experience under the supervision of qualified practitioners. One thing the 1937 law did not do, however, was regulate the practice of architecture: the state law prohibited those without licenses from using the title of architect, but left the legal right to sell architectural-design services open to anyone who wished to do so.

The modern era of the profession started in 1939, with the foundation of the Texas Society of Architects, first as an independent organization and later as a state-level component of the national American Institute of Architects. TSA started with forty-seven charter members and grew to more than 5,000 members in the middle of the 1980s; in 1996, still recovering from the slump that followed the building boom of the 1970s and 1980s, the organization had just over 4,000 members organized in seventeen regional chapters statewide. Nearly half of the approximately 8,000 registered architects residing in Texas belonged to TSA. The chapters are located in Abilene, Amarillo, Austin, College Station (Brazos Chapter), Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, McAllen (Lower Rio Grande Valley Chapter), Lubbock, Longview (Northeast Texas Chapter), San Antonio, Beaumont (Southeast Texas Chapter), Waco, Midland (West Texas Chapter), and Wichita Falls. Since the founding of TSA, Texans have played a prominent role in AIA affairs. Texans John M. McGinty and Benjamin Brewer, Jr., have served as AIA presidents. William W. Caudill, founder of the influential Houston-based architectural firm Caudill, Rowlett and Scott, was awarded the institute's highest honor, the AIA Gold Medal, in 1984. Charles Moore, who resided in Texas for the last decade of his life, won the AIA Gold Medal in 1994. One of TSA's earliest goals was to convert the state law governing the practice of architecture from a title act to a true licensing act, which would limit the practice of architecture to those certified by the state as qualified to do so. Although TSA worked for this change in nearly every session of the legislature after 1939, the measure did not pass until 1989. Texas law now requires that a registered architect's seal be on the drawings for structures intended for public use that have more than 20,000 square feet in floor area. Lien laws and copyright protection have also been considerably strengthened over the years in Texas and nationally.

Architectural education in Texas started in 1904, when a department of architecture was founded at Texas A&M College. A department of architecture was instituted at the University of Texas in 1910. Other architecture schools were later developed at Rice University, the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Prairie View A&M University. All of these programs are accredited by the national Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and their graduates are eligible, after serving the required internship, to sit for the state's architectural registration examination. See also URBANIZATION.


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Joel W. Barna, “Texas Society of Architects,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 19, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/texas-society-of-architects.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996