how I became an architect – a not so short story

On the morning of April 2nd I checked my online account and discovered that the board had still not approved my license to practice architecture. By chance I checked again about 30 minutes later and they had approved and issued my license number. I am now a fully licensed architect in the state of Florida. To say I was excited, relieved, elated, overwhelmed and just…..like WHOA, would be an understatement. And so I thought I’d write a post about how I got here, my own personal journey of How I Became an Architect.

Counting the time I’ve been in practice, this day has been 10 years in the making. But if I’m truly honest, this day is really 30 years in the making because I first fell in love with architecture at the age of 3 during a day trip to New York City. I was 3 or 4 years old and all I recall is sticking my head out the window starring up at those amazingly tall buildings all around me. I was fascinated and fixated. That is, until my mother yanked me back in the car and told me never to do that again. Parents are big on the whole “heads and bodies in the car at all times” thing. Pssh. Whatever.

But anyway, back to how I got here and the road I took.

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I graduated college in 2003 with a Masters of Architecture from the Savannah College of Art and Design, but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2004 when I began my first internship in Jacksonville, Florida. I was, looking back, incredibly fortunate to be hired on at KBJ Architects, one of the oldest firms in the state.

This being my first time even setting foot in a real life architecture firm, it took very little time to realize I knew nothing. And the shear magnitude of the nothing that I knew was staggering. So, I latched on to whomever happened to be sitting next to me and I asked every question that I could think of that had anything to do with whatever task I was performing at the time. And I payed attention to every answer I got. Soon I realized that I finally knew some stuff. I was still closer to nothing than I was to something, but I was moving in the right direction.

I left that firm for a few others in Jacksonville, with a brief stint in McLean, Virginia before finally getting my act in gear and beginning the IDP and ARE process. Once all my paperwork had been processed and my record was officially established it took another year before I took my first exam. This was in ARE3.1. I passed the first two and felt really good about my progress. Then the next two I failed back to back and was completely deflated. That feeling was compounded by the letter I got from NCARB informing me in a very pleasant tone that I was being rolled in to ARE4.0 and was so very lucky to start over from scratch. All my previous exams were null and void. Thanks for that.

So, once I got done yelling at everyone that picked up the phone at NCARB I sucked it up and scheduled two exams in a row – ones I knew I could pass because I had already taken them: Construction Documents and Services and Building Systems. BAM – Pass and Pass. Then signed up for my third. Fail. Back to defeated and deflated.

Fast forward 3 years and I’ve still got 5 exams to take and pass. Then I get another letter from NCARB. “Oh, by the way your rolling clock runs out in 2014.” It’s not the beginning of 2013. Time to get serious otherwise I get to start over with the exams AGAIN. No thank you. So, I set a schedule and got busy. I basically haven’t had a life for the last 8 months as I hurried to finish the last 3 exams: Site Planning and Design, Programming Planning and Practice and Structural Systems.

But now I’m done. I’m free of the ARE. And now the only thing I have to stress about is maintaining me record (pay money), maintaining my license (CEUs and pay money) and choosing which states I want to practice in (pay more money).

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t be a slacker. As soon as you’re able and allowed start taking exams. Keep up with your IDP and get it over with as soon as humanly possible.
2. Don’t take no for an answer when it comes to experience and mentorship. Your boss should be actively involved in your development and helping you move through the NCARB nightmare. If not, find a new boss.
3. If you see the word FAIL (and yes it’s always in big bold caps like that) take it as a challenge, a call to action, something that drives you forward instead of holding you back. This profession is not for quitters.
4. Do not let “life” get in the way of finishing your exams. Excuses are just that – excuses. Push forward and get it done. You’ve got the rest of your life for everything else.
5. Get licensed as soon as you’re allowed. If I had followed this advice I’d be in my 5th or 6th year of license practice instead of my 5th or 6th day.

Becoming an architect starts with a calling. The decision is made young, sometimes even if we’re not aware of it at the time. But that calling has to be followed with a determined action and a resolve to see it through. Becoming an architect is not the end. It’s the beginning.

Time to get to work.

daily prompt: one of these days, alice!

It makes me crazy when people wear their shoes in my house. What habit/act drives you crazy? How do you prevent it from happening?

you have to know how it works in order to design it

you have to know how it works in order to design it

There are so many things that drive me nuts about practicing architecture. There are egos to deal with, interns, engineers, contractors, building officials and inspectors. On a given project there are literally hundreds of opportunities to send your blood pressure straight to the moon, just like Ralph always promised Alice in The Honeymooners. But the one thing that sends me over the top is a phrase that should be forever stricken from the English language:

“But that’s just the way we’ve always done it.”
or
“But we did it that way on the last project.”

You can feel it can’t you? The blood boiling, the face turning 50 shades of red, fists clenching and hair being pulled out at the root. It just drives me absolutely nuts to hear these very common phrases come out of someone’s mouth in our profession. It suggests an unwillingness to learn, to grow, to experiment, or simply to look at a problem from a new perspective and see if what “we’ve always done” is actually doing the job right.

More than that these seemingly innocuous sentences will keep a good architect from becoming a great architect. An illustration of this is in a recent interaction I saw on Facebook between two architects I know and respect. The image being commented on was a sketch of some detailing that was being worked out for a glazed wall. One of the questions that popped up was “why are you wasting time on standard details?” To which the proper response was given – “I don’t ever use standard details.”

This simple interaction tells me something very profound about each architect. The one is most likely more concerned about using products to make his/her project look good, relying on the ability of the manufacturer to produce a good product or system, while the other is more concerned with using particular materials to achieve a desired aesthetic result while also focusing on how those materials will perform together as a system.

You may think either way is acceptable, but at the end of the day it’s the architects job to investigate, understand and design the interactions between each and every piece and system in a building to ensure they work together properly and achieve the design intent. No two projects are ever “standard”.

ARE4.0 – it was not-so-nice knowing you

The day has finally come. After 10 years of professional practice and 5 years of exams I have taken and passed all 7 sections of ARE4.0.

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Construction Documents and Services: PASSED
Building Design and Construction Systems: PASSED
Building Systems: PASSED
Schematic Design: PASSED
Site Planning and Design: PASSED
Structural Systems: PASSED
Programming, Planning and Practice: PASSED

All that is left is to make sure NCARB sends my information to my state board for final approval and issuance of my first license – Florida Registered Architect.

To describe to you just how I felt when I saw the final “PASS” at the end of a very long list of exam sections would require a mastery of the English language that I simply don’t possess. A weight was lifted. I felt instantly free. It just felt RIGHT. Suddenly the sacrifices of time and money that I’d made over the last 5 years, and mostly over the last 15 months, were worth it. The nights spent studying instead of canoodling my wife, the saturdays spent in the corner of coffee shops buried under stacks and stacks of study materials instead of hiking, camping and fishing with my children were major sacrifices to make, but at the end of it all I’ve now got my life back.

And, interestingly enough, at the very same time that first weight was lifted from my shoulders I recognized a new and possibly heavier weight take it’s place. I am now (or will be once the paperwork is finished) a licensed architect, a professional in the building sciences. When we talk to people and we say what we do, Architect, there is a weight to it, a profound responsibility. I’m no longer just an Intern. I’m no longer in a constant state of learning and preparation. I am now, in fact, in a position of teaching and leading. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The last piece of this puzzle is to get that funny rubber stamp in my hand, smear some ink on it and press it down to a piece of paper that will become a building. A building with my name on it as “Architect of Record”.

So, if you need an Architect, call me.

BOOM BABY! :-)

daily prompt: I got out of bed for this?!

How do you feel about your job? Do you spring out of bed, looking forward to work? Or, is your job a soul-destroying monotony of pure drudgery, or somewhere in between?

copyright Ruby Architects, Inc. 2014

copyright Ruby Architects, Inc. 2014

This is something that myself and many others have talked about so often and at such length it almost seems silly to even write this post. But at the same time, there are so many out there who do not understand WHAT an architect does, not to mention WHY an architect does what he/she does every day.

So, why did I get out of bed for this thing called Architecture? Why am I excited to get up every day to sit at my desk and suffer through design after design after detail after detail after contractor after contractor at the expense of my health and sanity? The short answer is simple….and cliche: I love what I do and don’t want to do anything else.

The real answer is not quite so simple, but no less profound or cliche. The real truth is that I understand what I do matters. I do not just make pretty pictures for competitions and magazines. I make pretty pictures that turn into construction documents that turn into a construction site that turns into an office building or a warehouse or someone’s home. I make the world around us and in so doing I affect the way people live, the way they play, the way they work, even the way they communicate. I make Architecture.

i am what i am

Jeremiah:

Simply brilliant. And the video at the end is pure genius.

Originally posted on think | architect:

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I am frequently reminded that I am made to be an architect. I don’t know what else I could do. Yes, I’ve written about this before, but it is a recurring thought as I interact with others and I discover that my interests are not the same as the “average guy.” I don’t hunt, fish or get excited about cars or motorcycles. I enjoy sports, but I mostly watch my hometown pro baseball and football team. I also am sensitive to discussions that relate to one’s opinion of their job, which is often negative. I find that troublesome, perhaps tragic – a sad way to spend your life.

This past weekend my family made a three-hour trip so my son could compete in the Pennsylvania State MathCounts Competition. It was something we were certainly glad to be part of and are more than proud of our son’s accomplishments at making…

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pop-up house : architecture : multipod studio

Jeremiah:

Beautiful. Simple. Clean. Modern. From a longevity standing I have some issue with the foundation assembly, but that’s easily solvable. This is just another example of inventive thinking in modular residential architecture.

Originally posted on openhouse:

http://vimeo.com/81180775

finally a prefab “passive house” that actually looks good. this pop-up house by Multipod Studio, Marseille in france, can be erected in just 4 days and with only a screwdriver (and a couple of hands i’m guessing) they say it is low cost and fills all the requirements for being a passive home. I would live in one without a doubt. AT.

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Daily Prompt: Contention

Pick a contentious issue about which you care deeply — it could be the same-sex marriage debate, or just a disagreement you’re having with a friend.

Licensure. The A.R.E. NCARB. AIA. These are the “contentious” issues that interns face. It is such a cock-up. First, we spend 5-6 years in school learning very little in the way of practical knowledge about the practice of architecture. Then, if we’re lucky enough to get an internship, we get to pay several hundred dollars to set up our NCARB record which is nothing more than an online account of our experience, and another chunk of money every year to AIA to put “Assoc. AIA” at the end of our name as a way of legitimizing ourselves as Interns. After 3+ years, again if we’re lucky, of tracking every working hour of our lives in a multitude of experience areas that we have to fight tooth and nail to be exposed to, we are finally finished with our formal “internship” and can sit for our tests (note: most states allow interns to sit for the exams after the first year of internship). The tests require purchasing over $1k worth of study materials and hundreds of dollars worth of seminars in order to pass on top of the $1k+ in fees required to actually TAKE the exams and that’s assuming you pass them all on the first try. It’s insanely frustrating.

All that said, I am one exam away from not having to deal with this nonsense ever again. And as I’m sitting here, I’ve noticed that I first started this blog post as a topic one year ago to the day of when my final exam will be. If that’s not some weird kismet kinda thing going on there, I don’t know what. Ok. Rant over.

March 17th, 2014 – my last day as an intern. *fingers crossed*