NCARB Tom-foolery – a manifesto

On May 30th NCARB issued a press release outlining a desire on their part to develop and implement a program that would allow architectural licensure commensurate with graduation for college students in the US. You can read the press release on the NCARB website as well as a little blurb on Archinect.

I’m not sure there are words strong enough in the English, or any other, language to adequately describe just how horrible of an idea I think this is. And I am sure that there are more than a few of my colleagues out there that would agree when I say that architectural education is woefully behind the curve in preparing young graduates for professional practice, let alone being fully licensed upon donning cap and gown! And this is because there are three essential components required for practice as an architect and two of them you simply do not and can not get in college: Experience and Mentorship

The typical architectural academia focuses on theory and history and the art of craft, not on professional practice or budgets or detailing or contracts or….you know…GRAVITY. And I can say all of this because I’m not so far removed from my college years that I still have a clear picture in my mind as to just how clueless and unprepared I was when I entered the Labyrinth that is Professional Practice. And the only way to learn the difference between your architectural rear-end and the proverbial hole in the ground is through experience and preferably under the guidance of a mentor – An architect who will guide you and push you in the many different directions of practice that you will never learn in school.

How can NCARB, in their infinite wisdom, completely disregard these two FUNDAMENTAL components of the architectural education leading to licensure? What is going to happen to these young architects when they graduate from college fully licensed and run straight out into the world and begin their own practice? How is this in any way in the interest of the profession? Just having more licensed architects does not help the profession. Having QUALITY architects who have dedicated themselves to a process of study and practice and have learned from and been guided by their peers into a more full knowledge and understanding of the built environment and construction – THAT is what helps the profession.

Why isn’t NCARB instead coming out and requiring more strict rules regarding mentorship and IDP experience? Why isn’t NCARB working with the AIA and the College of Fellows to encourage more interaction, collaboration and mentorship between the older and newer generations of architects and interns? Why isn’t NCARB working on ANYTHING OTHER THAN THIS as a way to improve and enliven the profession?

Now, I’m the first to admit – I bitched and moaned and ground and grumbled for nearly 10 years about the A.R.E. and NCARB and IDP, etc. And it’s not a perfect system, nothing ever will be. But at least there is a set of rigors in place that requires a level of dedication that you have to have in order to survive in this profession. An architect hasn’t just passed some tests and gotten a certificate in his/her morning box of wheaties. An architect has endured the process of education, endured internships of long hours, late nights and little pay hammering out toilet partition schedules and roof details and stair sections and handrail details (oh the HORROR), they’ve carefully logged their hours and begged, pleaded and bribed there way into client meetings and onto job sites and coordination meetings to gain the experience they need to finally take a set of exams that will test their sanity before finally FINALLY becoming a licensed architect. And through all of this, their education did not stop.

The path to an architects license is long and it’s difficult and many give up, unwilling to keep pushing forward. Those are the one who shouldn’t be architects. Because we are responsible for the Health, Safety and Welfare of the public. We build communities, we build cities, we build the world we live in. It should be no less than the most difficult, frustrating and maddening thing we ever do in our lives because what we do is important and should be reserved only for the most dedicated men and women.

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4 thoughts on “NCARB Tom-foolery – a manifesto

  1. I have to say, there are a lot of assumptions going around regarding this whole thing. I skimmed the official announcement, but I didn’t see anywhere that it said experience would no longer be a requirement. It will undoubtedly require a huge change in the way the educational system is set up, and how experience is gained during school (seems daunting, at best), but the requirement remains intact thus far, as far as I can tell. I think you paint a clear picture of why this sort of change is actually a necessity when you point out that interns have “….begged, pleaded and bribed there way into client meetings and onto job sites and coordination meetings to gain the experience they need to finally take a set of exams that will test their sanity.” <This is why we need change. There is absolutely no reason why anyone should have to do any of this in order to get a license. There is no responsibility on the part of the firm to get interns licensed, and it falls to the individual to 'request' experience rather than experience being part of the normal process towards licensing. If we really need more licensed architects, then we need a holistic model that incorporates more structure and responsibility across all aspects of the journey, and none of them should leave the burden of experience on the individual when they have no decision making power in the work they get to do. Many firms are happy to keep interns unlicensed, to keep fees down, to make sure they have CAD monkeys, and the like. What a disincentive to licensing! What if instead of begging, pleading, bribing to get the experience we need, it was properly planned for us? What if instead of exams testing our sanity, they tested our competence? I'm not sure if NCARB's new proposal is the best way to fix things, but it still needs fixing.

    • I agree we new change. But licensed architects right of college is not an answer. Requiring better mentorship, yes, that is a solution. Fostering better partnerships with fellows and changing the firm culture from a grassroots perspective, that’s an answer.
      The biggest problem is NCARB is being so vague and aloof about the “plan” if you can call it that. It leaves so much room for interpretation and has so little detail associated with it that no announcement should have been made at all.
      I definitely hear you and agree that we need change. But change for the sake of change, as this seems to be, is going to hurt not help. I personally don’t think we need more architects. We need better architects.

  2. Pingback: to be, or not to be an architect. that is the question. | r | one studio architecture

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