Truly Frightening

Halloween is the one time of the year where we actually welcome a good scare, the rush of adrenaline that comes with fright.  The fun comes from the fact that, deep down, we know that there’s no real risk involved… just some good-natured fear in the pursuit of little candy.

Halloween 2012, however, has been met with some genuine horror, thanks to what some wit had cleverly labeled “the Frankenstorm.”  Like much of the eastern seaboard, New York — considered by many to be the greatest of all American cities, a marvel of American architecture and engineering — has been cowed by the power of Mother Nature.  To those of us that have made careers out of the conceit that we have control over our environment, this is a truly frightening sight, indeed.

The statistics are staggering — 6.8 million without power… at least 55 dead… countless others missing — but it’s the images of devastation that have come forth in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that serve as a stark reminder of how powerless we really are.  The subway system has been flooded, with weeks of dewatering required before it could even begin to regain operation.  A fleet of yellow taxis, an iconic image of the city, stands stranded in rising floodwaters.  The construction crane at the heralded One57 Tower, snapped under the gale-force winds on Monday afternoon, its pose suggesting submission of the construction industry to forces of nature.  Somehow the most poignant, those same winds ripped the facade right off of an apartment building on the Upper East Side, turning what were once private residences into a full-scale version of a dollhouse, exposed for all the world to see; the basic function of architecture — the sheltering of human activity — rendered completely useless. 

Like Katrina before it, this massive weather event has, of course, given architects an opportunity to pontificate on how the built environment needs to respond in order to avoid future disasters.  Much will be made of this in the coming weeks, I’m sure, and much of it will be solid, thoughful discourse.  But none of it will do anything to change the fear that must have been felt — and is still being felt — by those that stared directly into the face of a true monster.

To those of you across Pennsylvania (and into New Jersey, West Virginia, and Maryland) that have felt the brunt of this storm, my sincerest condolences to you and yours.  It may sound somewhat hollow, coming from someone whose idea of storm damage is a leaky basement, but I wish you the best for a speedy recovery effort.

Anyone wishing to donate to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts should look into the AIA’s partner organization Architecture for Humanity, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, or the American Red Cross.

For Whom the Clock Rolls

Errata: Pennsylvania has apparently amended its licensure code to more closely follow NCARB’s model (beginning their five-year rolling clock with the first passed division of the test, not the candidate’s Authorization to Test)… effectively rendering the details of this post to be null and void. (Of course, I only learned this after mentioning it in front of 200 people. Open mouth, insert foot.) I’ve decided to keep this post a reminder to all ARE Candidates — be sure that you understand the rules and regulations for the jurisdiction in which you intend to receive your initial license.

Let’s talk for a minute about an intern named Joe (who isn’t a real person, mind you — just a figment of my imagination, used to illustrate a point)…

Joe started working for a mid-sized architectural office in 2005, right out of college. About two years into his internship, he felt ready to start testing. He formally requested that a copy of his NCARB record be sent to the state board, received his Authorization to Test letter in June of 2007, happily filed it away for safekeeping, and immediately began preparing to take his first division of the ARE. Then Joe went on a two-week vacation in July, and came back to a mountain of submittals from his current project. A few weeks later, around Labor Day, Joe was assigned to a new project, on a fast-track delivery system with some very aggressive milestones, so that foundation work could be completed before the winter months. Next came the holiday season, followed by another round of deadlines for the next phase of Joe’s project.

Joe had been studying off-and-on during all of this time, but couldn’t build up enough momentum with the material to feel comfortable committing to an exam date. Despite his best intentions, Joe finally scheduled that first exam in May of 2008… nearly one year after receiving his authorization to begin testing. A few weeks later, Joe received his Score Report, and was excited to discover that he passed. One down, six more to go. Joe’s girlfriend good-naturedly sticks the score report on their refrigerator door for a little while, but that document is also filed away for safekeeping.

We all know what happens now — the clock has started ticking. From the day you take (and pass) your first exam, you will have five years to complete the other six. If you don’t complete the other six in that timeframe, you will lose credit for the first exam, and will need to retake it. NCARB calls this the Rolling Clock. Let’s put things into perspective here: five years seems like a long time — most of us earned our degrees in architecture in five years. When you put it that way, seven little exams is nothing. But life — and work — has a tendency of getting in the way.

Fast-forward a few years. It’s now October of 2012. Joe and his girlfriend have gotten married, bought their first house (a modest fixer-upper with a lot of potential, which has kept Joe very busy on the weekends) and are expecting their first child in the spring. Joe finished up with IDP over two years ago, and has taken a grand total of five exams; he’s set a personal goal of finishing the last two before the baby arrives.

No sweat, right? After all, Joe passed his first exam in May of 2008… so his Rolling Clock still has another seven months left on it. Right?

Wrong. Joe’s eligibility actually expired two months ago, back in June. Why? Because Joe’s jurisdiction measures eligibility five years from the date of his Authorization to Test, not his first passed division. Oops.

Moral of the story: get to know the requirements for licensure in the state in which you intend to get licensed. The state board issues you your license, and as such, their requirements trump NCARB. Maintaining a good rapport with the state board is always a good idea, too… they might be able to help you out of a bind, like they did for Joe, reopening his eligibility to test so that he could finish as planned.

Yard Sale

Well, not really… it just looks that way.  This is what happens when one of the administrative assistants cleans out some of the office cabinets to prepare for a looming renovation project…

25 cents each… three for a dollar.

The long and the short of it is this:  the CEO of our firm is registered to practice architecture in a whopping 38 distinct jurisdictions.  (Two more, and he gets a free sandwich on his next visit!)  But seriously, folks… I found this to be pretty impressive.  It took not one, but two, cardboard boxes to hold all of his stamps.  That’s a lot of architectural authority.  For a firm like ours, one that has carved out a near-nationwide practice with our higher education work, that level of licensure has been invaluable.

Admittedly, this is an extreme case, and the vast majority of us will probably be very happy being licensed in a single state.  However, if you plan on practicing in any other jurisdiction beyond the one in which you receive your initial registration, you should look into reciprocity.  Reciprocity is the term used when an architect applies for registration in another jurisdiction, by certifying that their intial registration meets that jurisdiction’s requirements.  Considering that a license to practice architecture is administered by the state board, and that each state board’s criteria can vary (sometimes wildly), it helps to have a way of leveling the playing field.  One way of doing so is the NCARB Certificate.  The NCARB Certificate signifies to all member boards that you have met “the highest professional standards established by the registration boards responsible for protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public.”  More to the point, by serving as a near-universal credential, the Certificate can streamline the reciprocal registration process in other jurisdictions.

Coincidentally, NCARB has recently offered a significant reduction in fees for reactiviting a lapsed record, which can equal some pretty significant savings for anyone who might be a little delinquent in their fees.