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.

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*

ARE 4.0: Structural Systems – PASS


Yesterday, February 19th. D-Day. I was the most worried about this exam and studied my ass off for almost 7 full weeks. At first I gave myself 6 weeks to study, but my first scheduled date was cancelled due to weather. I was able to re-schedule for the following week and I took advantage of that week to study. The day before the test I did a general refresher of all the material – Lateral Forces, beam diagrams, properties of steel, concrete, wood, systems and Seismic. I felt as if I had enough of a handle on the concepts that, given the reference material provided, I could reasonably get to the correct answers. The reality of this exam was much different.

First, my study materials. The usual suspects:

Kaplan Study Guide and Q&A.
Ballast Q&A
Kaplan flash cards (iPhone App)
Jenni’s Notes
Mike’s Notes (for the Vignette)
FEMA 454 Chapters 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9
Buildings at Risk – Seismic and Wind (know this)
ARE Coach Forums
NCARB Study Guide and Vignette

The test itself is two sections – 125 Multiple Choice questions and 1 Graphic Vignette. The test is broken into two time blocks – 210 minutes for the MC and 60 minutes for the GV. We all know that the time limit for the GV is always way more than enough. Just too bad you can’t roll that extra time back in to the MC section for this test. 125 questions at 210 minutes gives you an average of 1.68 minutes for each question. BUT there are anywhere between 6 and 30 calculation questions on this exam (depending on which version of the exam you get), and those equations all take time. Sometimes a lot of time, so make sure you go through a process of eliminating the WRONG answers first and only concentrate on what you’re left with as possible RIGHT answers. And, as is common with NCARB, the “right” answer is not always actually correct. It’s just the least incorrect out of the choices. Welcome to the psychological warfare that is the NCARB experience.

So, what do you need to pass this exam? Frankly I have no idea. I haven’t gotten my scores yet. But I highly recommend you read, learn and completely digest everything I listed above as a minimum. My exam was nothing like those described in the forums. I had questions that were so far afield that I don’t even know where to go now that I’ve taken it in order to find the answers I may need for the retake. Halfway through the MC section I just wanted to walk out. It was that bad. The “reference” material was useless. I couldn’t use it for a single calculation. Contrary to what is constantly said on the forums, YOU DO need to memorize formulas. Know the entire cheat sheet by heart. Be able to manipulate those formulas in your sleep. Write them down and draw little hearts around them in the margins of your paper during staff meetings. I’m not even kidding. Also, there are no standard beam calculations. But there are lots of very UNstandard beam calculations. You’ve never seen them before. They are not in the books or reference materials or study guides or sample questions. After taking this exam I feel certain I need to go back to school, become a structural engineer and THEN retake the exam and HOPE that I pass.

The graphic vignette was simple and straightforward. This is not to say it was easy. There are some small tricks they throw at you. PAY ATTENTION to the program. I almost hit the SUBMIT button without carefully looking at my solution and found a critical error that would have been an automatic fail. PAY ATTENTION and read the program CAREFULLY. My best advice here is to copy down the action items and rules of the program. Make a list on your scratch paper and once you’ve drafted your solution go back and physically cross off the list items one by one making sure that you’ve satisfied everything. Then, with your remaining time, go back and re-read the program and check your solution one last time. TIP: Your solution must be “structurally sound, economical and efficient”. Take these words to heart. This about what they mean and not just in terms of cost.

This exam is no joke. It’s a beast. The material to study and understand is a juggernaut and is not easy to wrap your brain around. This is not stuff we deal with on a daily basis. Hell, this isn’t stuff we deal with EVER, but it’s part of the ARE so figure out how to get through it and pass. I’ll update once I get my results, but I think you can glean from this post that I am less than hopeful. Good luck to all about to embark on this one. My prayers go out to you. :-\

Update: 2014.02.27 Results are in and I PASSED!!! BOOYAH Baby! 🙂

ARE 4.0: Site Planning & Design

December 16th, 2013 – the fateful day of my Site Planning and Design exam. I was not hopeful going in to the testing center. I was even less hopeful once I got through the multiple choice division. Not because I was worried about the MC section – that was no problem – but because I knew the graphic division was coming after my required 15 minute break. I was sweating. A lot.

After pacing the waiting room for about 14 minutes I headed back into the testing room to face the music and just get it over with. The countdown finally ended and I was set to begin the two graphic sections: Site Zoning and Site Grading. If you’re reading this blog you’re most likely familiar with these graphic exams, but just in case you’re not…

Site Zoning is the first of two graphic sections for this exam in which you are given a site plan usually bound on two sides by public roads, with assorted trees spread around and some sort of visual feature like a body of water. You’re given a site program and asked to place two buildings on site with some kind of public plaza and a required number of parking for the given use. Rolled into the program is a series of requirements and restrictions that will inform on how the site is developed and where the buildings and other improvements should or should not be placed.

My zoning exam, I think, was conceived by a truly evil and cruel person. While I can’t divulge the specifics of the exam I was given, I can tell you that after 45 minutes of monkeying around with the site elements and realizing that it was just not working….I hit the reset button and started over. It was hell. The site grading portion was easy peasy lemon squeezy. And thank God that it was otherwise I would  have run out of time.

In the end, with about 90 seconds to go, I quickly reviewed my solution (if one could even call it that), resigned myself to whatever fate may come and hit the submit button. To add insult to injury the next screen is a pop-up that asks “are you sure you want to submit”…..Was I sure? No. Did I have a choice? No. So, 4 1/2 hours after I sat down to begin my exam I got up and left. Again I was not hopeful. In fact I was already planning my retake 6 months down the road.

BUT as luck would have it, on Christmas Day I got an email from NCARB alerting me that my results were available for viewing. I did NOT want to look at those results on friggin Christmas Day. How cruel can NCARB be?! I mean, wtf? But, I needed to see the results, so I braced myself, clicked the link, logged in and finally made it to my results page.

PASS!!!!!!!   BOOM BABY!

So, now I’m 5 exams down and 2 to go. I failed PPP in September, so March will be my 6 month mark. Next is Structures and I’m freaked out about that one, but I WILL make it and I WILL pass and I WILL be licensed.

Good luck to all those taking their exams. My best advice for SPD is to practice the NCARB Vignettes as often as possible. Just take them over and over and over again. And each time try to create a new solution that works to get used to thinking outside of the box. And once you get into your test, read through the program carefully and then just breathe for a minute. Calm yourself as best you can and then get to work. Work quickly and efficiently. Don’t worry about making it pretty just make it work.

the ARE and the title

test schedule - 2 down, 5 to go

test schedule – 2 down, 5 to go

Over the last several years I’ve talked a lot about the profession of architecture and of architects as an outsider, as one who has not earned the title “Architect”. Sometimes I’ve been on the side of Architects and sometimes I’ve been on the side of the unlicensed designer. I’ve spoken often against NCARB and the ARE as an arbitrary and sometimes ridiculous set of hurdles that we are forced to navigate. But, at the end of the day, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, more important to me than to earn that license – to finally be an Architect.

I’m not there yet, but I will get there, and soon. As I’m testing this Thursday, April 11th, I’m sure I’ll be posting a healthy rant about my testing experience. Stay tuned. We’re two down, one scheduled and 4 more to go. Booyah!