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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daily prompt – great expectations

Tell us about one thing (or more) that you promised yourself you’d accomplish by the end of the year. How would you feel once you do? What if you don’t?

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you know that the biggest goal of any year….and every year…is to finally open the doors of my own firm. This is no small task and is always complicated by the need to have steady income to pay the bills and take care of a family. And so I’ve been moonlighting on and off for the last 6 years. While I’ve had a fair number of projects over the last 6 years ranging from providing drafting work for a log home company to designing new homes and remodels all over the United States and more than a few countries, I haven’t been able to keep enough steady clients coming to justify leaping over the cliff into full time. So every year I make my resolutions and I put “run my own firm” right at the top. Last year that was replaced with “get licensed” but now that that particular nightmare is over with, and it’s time to refresh my list.

This year I am setting my goals more simply. Instead of the huge goal of “running my own firm”, I’ve decided to break that off into little chunks that are easier to chew. The first chunk was the license – DONE. The next chunk is rebuilding my media presence and filing the paperwork with my state – this week’s task. Once that is done it’s time to file paperwork for my Arkansas state license – next week’s task. Once that is done it’s time to start the marketing machine. I’ll shine my shoes, put on my best bow tie and hit the town pounding the pavement until I get those first projects that will pay the rent.

This is the one thing, the one goal, that I’ve always had; even at the beginning of my first internship more than 10 years ago. I never wanted to be just an intern, or just an associate, or just a project architect. I’ve positioned myself in firms over the last 10 years that would provide me the tools and knowledge I needed to run a firm successfully. I’ve learned many lessons on my own as well. The list of “don’ts” is far longer than the list of “do’s”, let me tell you. And now it’s time.

How will I feel once I finally step off the cliff and begin running my own practice? Elated, ecstatic, empowered, intoxicated….pick your description for immense joy and terror all rolled into one. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it because I’ve spent my entire life preparing, learning and now it’s time to take a step.

architectural rant

Ok. So I get into the office this morning and there is a brand new stack of magazines in my inbox to read….or rather to add to the other stack of magazines that I still haven’t read. Included are the latest copies of Arch Record and Architect. On the cover are the latest and greatest shiny projects for all us monkeys to drool over.

I HATE THESE MAGAZINES.

Seriously. I can not stand the over dramatization of architectural design and the friggin “Starchitect”. For the record, I do not like the work of Billie Tsien or Santiago Calatrava or Daniel Liebeskind or Frank Gehry or any of the other shiny new up and comers out there. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can design a great building when they have no real budget. When you’re spending over $1,000 per square foot on a project everything looks good. Why? Because it’s the best of whatever is out there. No expense is spared.

What architecture do I enjoy, you ask? REAL architecture. Architecture that has a budget, a real budget, of $250 per square foot or less. These are real projects. Real architects have designed them. Real architects have poured their heart and soul into creating a good work of architecture that will perform according to the client’s needs, stand the test of time and still maintain the project budget and schedule. THAT is successful architecture. THAT is architecture that should be celebrated in magazines and at award ceremonies.

Ugh. Ok. I’m done. Rant over.

daily prompt: necessity is the mother of invention

Imagine, in great detail, an invention that could help reverse pollution — describe for us how your invention works and how it will help save the planet.

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I have two children – a son (5) and a daughter (4). And every night, without fail, I read to them before bedtime. It’s our thing. I’ve done it for the last 3 years or so and I dread the day they are too old for me to read to them. That aside, one of their favorite stories to read is The Lorax by Dr. Suess. If you’ve never read the story or seen the movie you obviously live under a rock let me sum it up for you:

The Onceler travels to a forest, a magical place with Bar-ba-loots and Swomee-swans and Humming-fish and Truffula Trees. The trees are exactly what the Onceler has been searching for to make his new invention – a Thneed. And a Thneed is a thing that everyone needs. So, he takes out his axe and chops down a truffula tree and sits down to knit a Thneed out of the truffula tuft.

This is where the Lorax comes in. He speaks for the trees because the trees have no tongues. And he demands to know why the Onceler would chop down a tree to make this fool Thneed. You can already see where this story is going. The Onceler is in big business now, chopping trees and making Thneeds that everyone needs. He keeps on chopping and chopping until there are no more trees. This is when the Lorax gets lifted away, but not before leaving a small pile of rocks with just one word inscribed – UNLESS.

We currently live in a world on the border of crisis. And I don’t care what side of the aisle you sit on, it is an irrefutable fact that our natural resources are finite. They will be depleted eventually unless drastic changes are made now. And unless we make those changes now, future generations will suffer the consequences of our inaction. And as stewards of this one world we’ve been entrusted, INACTION is INTOLERABLE.

So, what is my invention for reversing this calamity? I don’t have one. I don’t need one. Because it’s already been invented. In fact, this one thing has been being perfected for thousands of years. And there are billions of these things all over the world. If you look in a mirror you’ll see one of them – the most amazing and wonderful invention ever conceived – YOU. And me. All of us.

You see, the moral of The Lorax is “UNLESS someone like you and me cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

specifications – why they matter

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Architecture produces a lot of paper. And I mean, a lot. And if you’re working on a LEED project?….Forget about it. You’re going to kill at least a few thousand trees just documenting your points for certification. And all of it, every scrap, is important. There are proposals, contracts, sketches, drawings, specifications, addenda, ASIs, Change Orders, RFIs, RFQs, RFPs, submittals, transmittals, memos and even emails. All of this paper is part of what eventually will dictate what your building looks like. But the two most important, other than the contract, are the drawings and specifications.

There are two things that the architect and contractor are concerned about when properly detailing and then pricing and eventually building a particular project: Quantity and Quality.

The drawings represent the Quantity, or the pictorial representation of the building. The site plan, floor plans, elevations, building sections, details, etc. The drawings give the contractor a visual representation of how the building should go together and how much of each part he’ll need in order to get the job done. Now, to some degree, the drawings also represent a level of quality that the contractor is to adhere to. This is mostly evident in the building sections, wall sections, details and framing plans where the architect will depict particular ways of assembly for various pieces and parts of the project. Some of these will be visible while others won’t. But they are all important.

But when it comes to the true Quality of the project, the specifications are where it’s at. And, to me, the specifications can make or break a project. And specifications, like the contract and drawings, becomes a part of the Contract Documents, which are the legally binding agreements between Owner, Architect and eventually the Contractor. These specifications outline the products to be used, the acceptable manufacturers and/or level of performance to be met, warranty information, procedures for testing and evaluation, mock-up requirements, sizes and installation requirements. So, not only do they need to look good, they need to read good as well. And, yes, I’m aware of the horrible grammar in that last sentence.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to specifications and how they are crafted – book format and sheet format. This means that the specifications are either in the format of a book type document (8.5 x 11) or sheet format in which case they are a part of the drawing set. I’m not partial to either. Each is acceptable depending on the type of project you’re working on. Though, in my office almost every specification, even small residential projects, will have a book specification that accompanies the drawings. It’s not necessarily right or wrong it’s just our preferred way of doing things.

Whatever format your specifications are in they need to be clear, inclusive of the materials and finishes necessary for your project, and they need to be carefully proof-read by more than one set of eyes familiar with the project. Lastly, since the specifications outline the quality expected on your project, they need to be READ BY THE CONTRACTOR. This seems to be a more and more difficult request lately. Unfortunate, but true.

daily prompt: truth – most can’t take it

Tell us about the harshest, most difficult to hear — but accurate — criticism you’e ever gotten. Does it still apply?

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I have to admit, when I first read today’s daily prompt as I was scrolling through all the blog posts I missed today while on the road traveling for a project, I more than giggled. I LOL’d. Because the very first thing that came to mind was a review that I had with the head of my department at a community college I used to teach at. This was my first review as an educator (part time adjunct, but still…it counts) and it was based on commentary from my students. For those of you that know me personally you know that I have a close, personal and almost sadistic relationship with criticism. I LOVE criticism. In college I CRAVED it, NEEDED it…but I’ve written about all of this before. The bottom line is, if your peers are not criticizing your work, both negatively and positively, then your work needs work because you’re not raising any eyebrows….at all. That’s bad.

But, back to the story. So, I’m sitting down waiting to hear about how my students feel about my teaching, while she trudges through the basics – grades, attendance, outcomes, blah blah blah. Finally, she flips through a couple sheets of paper in this stapled STACK that represents my faculty evaluation and gets to the good stuff.

The first few bits are nice. Mostly to do with my knowledge of the profession and Autocad (I taught beginner, intermediate and advanced Autocad courses as well as hand drafting for almost 3 years) and that the content was always good, clear, mostly concise, blah blah. This was good to hear. Then she got to the next section. 🙂

It seems my students, almost unanimously (a total of about 40 between 2 classes at the time), described me as arrogant and that I sometimes rushed through the material leaving them feeling a little lost. I actually smiled and let out a little laugh at this. And let me tell you why.

They were 100% right.

I’ve been described as arrogant on more than one occasion by friends, peers, that strange fellow I talked to at the bar that time….It’s more or less just who I am. But I don’t see this as a bad thing. Arrogance is simply an unfriendly way of telling someone they are confident in themselves, self-aware and self-assured. These are good qualities in a person. Arrogance is taking these qualities to an extreme to where you aren’t humble enough to realize that others around you may have something to offer. This is certainly not me, though I will admit I may have seemed that way then.

I certainly don’t begrudge my students for feeling this way. I was full of bravado in my youth and have tempered some since then. I’ve learned that it is often times better to listen, consider, evaluate and then speak. I’m certainly no less confident in myself or my abilities and I’m always improving. But as I’ve moved through my 30s I have learned that there is more to being good at what you do than to just be right.

daily prompt: naked with black socks

Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?

Finally, a daily prompt question I can relate to. Lately they’ve been more about writing creative stories and….well, this is an architecture blog, not a creative writing blog. BUT today, we’re talking about being naked….wait…no, we’re talking about public speaking. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

When I started college I was shy. No, seriously. 😐 I wasn’t the outgoing, energetic, ever-positive guy I am today. I was a major introvert. Anyone who has ever seen the inside of any architecture department in the WORLD knows introverts have two options:

A) drop out and teach high school art classes

B) become not-introverted REAL quick

I chose option B. It wasn’t easy and it took the first 2, almost 3, years of college before I really came out of my shell and took hold of this whole public speaking thing. And it wasn’t entirely by choice. At SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design for those who don’t know) you gave a presentation in most of your architecture courses at least once a week. Every other class at least once or twice a quarter. It was serious trial by fire, sink or swim, pick a metaphor.

So, I went from being terrified of speaking in public, even small group settings like my studios, to ENJOYING public speaking and presenting my work, or just talking to people in a crowded bar. And this is incredibly important in practice because, as an architect, you have to be able to speak clearly, calmly and confidently about yourself and your work to clients, engineers, consultants, product reps, board members, city officials, review panels, public hearings…the list goes on. You either get good at it, if you’re not already, or you will most likely find yourself behind a desk until you do.