The Home Stretch

So you’ve earned your degree, completed IDP and passed all seven divisions of the ARE.  Congratulations!  You’ve officially earned the right to call yourself a registered architect.  My hat’s off to you.  This is a monumental achievement in your career, and I hope that you’re celebrating (and being celebrated!) in the proper manner.  There’s only a little bit of paperwork left between you and your formal license.


Robert Redford rounding third as Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” (1984)

First, check out the Licensure Board Requirements on NCARB’s website.  Hopefully you’ve already done this at the outset of your IDP process, but this is an excellent time to refresh your memory.  This is a great resource, showing each jurisdiction’s specific requirements in a   “Nutrition Facts” format.  Very clear and easy to read.Next, you need to make a formal request that NCARB sends your record to the state licensure board.  Click “Request Transmittal” to get that ball rolling.  This does not happen automatically!  The only constant between your record (maintained by NCARB) and your test scores (maintained by the state’s licensure board), quite frankly, is you.  Don’t drop the ball here!

Then head over to the Pennsylvania Licensure Board’s website for the specifics.  There’s an application form and a small fee for this on the state’s side (which varies from jusridiction to jurisdiction — in Pennsylvania it’s $40).  Once they’ve received your application, the fee, and a copy of your record from NCARB, they will then process your request and issue you a registration number.  This could take a while, but the important part is not to let that bother you!  Remember — the hard part is behind you!  (I’d also recommend following up with a phone call — or three — to make sure that they’re received everything and that your license is in process.)

Now, how do you actually get your stamp?  Answer:  Call a rubber stamp company.  I did a quick search for rubber stamp manufacturers in Pennsylvania and was surprised at how many there actually are (note to self: if architecture should tank, go into the rubber stamp business). You should call first and make sure that they produce professional seals for registered architects.  Here in the Pittsburgh region, we use Bunting, Inc.  Give them a call and ask to speak with Cliff.  If you’re from the other side of the state, I’m sure they’d ship to you as well, but you could probably find one a little closer to you.

Word to the wise: when you place your order, ASK FOR A PROOF!  I’ve heard horror stories about mis-spelled names, incorrect license numbers, and even the wrong state seal (!!) on finished stamps.  Approve the proof first before the stamp is cast and there’s no going back.  And yes, there’s a fee for this service… but in light of everything you’ve already been through, it’s a pittance.

Storming the Hill (Grassroots 2013)

This post is being made LIVE (or as live as it gets, anyway — turns out that bring a roving correspondent is a lot more difficult than blogging in your pajamas) from Washington DC, where I’ve joined my fellow architects from all corners of the nation for the AIA’s annual Grassroots Leadership Conference. As you’re reading this, nearly 700 of my fellow architects are storming the hill — Capitol Hill, that is — to meet with our elected officials and lobby on the behalf of the AIA, architects in general, and the profession at large.


This is my second year at Grassroots; after the incredible experience I had last year (which I waxed philosophic over in an editorial for AIA-Pittsburgh’s website), a return trip to our nation’s capital in 2013 was almost a sure thing. Why, exactly, is a difficult thing to describe. A friend recently asked me why I liked Grassroots… what do I take from it, what do I think it says about the AIA, etcetera. My answer to those questions became the basis for this post.

First off, this is a conference, not a convention, and as such, it’s much more brisk and compact. The fact that its centered around an event — those Capitol Hill visits — also lends a great degree of focus. We are most definitely here for a reason. And because of that, I feel like I’m doing something *for* the profession… Convention might be about celebrating the practice of architecture, but Grassroots is about advocating for it (and hopefully doing something to improve it). I guess my personality is better suited for the latter.

Also, did I mention that it’s in DC? That alone makes it worth the trip. I’m still just a small-town boy at heart, but its difficult for me to imagine even the most cynical of Americans not being just the teensiest bit overwhelmed by the grandeur of this place. The city is large and sprawling, but still surprisingly walkable, and the height limitation (all the better to appreciate the monuments with, my dear) makes the scale feel quite comfortable. (Although, I must admit that the educated architect in me finds a little disappointment that so many of our monuments to our greatest Americans are so derivative of other civilizations — we’ve basically cribbed from Greece (Lincoln), Rome (Jefferson), and Egypt (Washington)… Which is only part of the reason why Frank Gehry’s proposal for the Eisenhower Memorial was so fascinating… although its been critcized for being overbudget and “experimental” in its use of materials, and its current prospects are looking a little dismal, it would have been an original — and an interesting — addition to all of those columns, domes, and obelisks. But I digress…)

What do I like about it? It’s a very simple thing. I’m bringing nothing to the table but myself and my own experiences (well, that, and a cute little “leave-behind” model of a house), talking to a member of Congress about my own little corner of the world. Putting a human face on an issue. That’s it. A simple thing, but powerful in its implications.

My answer to my friend’s best question — what does Grassroots say about the profession? Hmmmm… that’s a little more of a toughie, but here goes: I think it proves the notion that the profession is openly trying to be bigger than itself. Architects are commonly referred to as “the good guys,” giving of ourselves and our talents to improve the world we live in… Appealing to our elected officials is certainly no exception. Don’t get me wrong here — most of the lobbying is of direct benefit to the profession (ie “…don’t tax small businesses at a higher rate – that would hurt our bottom line…”) but each of those bills would also have an impact on a larger slice of the population-at-large. So the event is about architects really trying to change the world for the better, but in a way that goes beyond design (or talking about design). But it’s more than that, even. There is something very refreshing — exhilarating, even — about taking part in Democracy at its most basic level. This is what our government is all about, the founding principle on which our country was based… to paraphrase Mr. Lincoln, a government of the people, by the people, for the people. It’s not about being an architect — it’s about being an American citizen, one who just happens to have chosen the practice of architecture as his life’s work. And while I am not quite so naive to think my words will have any effect on a politicians’ vote, I’m also not quite so cynical that the significance of the opportunity is lost on me.

It may not be for everyone, but I’ve found myself enjoying Grassroots very much. And if any of you are asking what the AIA has done for you lately, quite frankly, this is it. I’m already looking forward to storming the hill again next year, for my third Grassroots; I hope you’ll consider joining me.

Taking the Leap

Success is an interesting thing — sometimes someone else’s success actually can be more important to you than your own.  Maybe it’s because you understand the process, the steps that needed to be taken.  Maybe it’s because you were too close to your own achievement to fully appreciate what went into it. Either way, seeing someone else take that leap can be just as exhilarating.  On the rare occasion when one can say that they might have had a small part to play in that, the feeling is very difficult to put into words.

leap-of-faithOver ten years ago, I was asked to be a mentor for a high school student, one who just happened to be writing a paper on architecture.  It was part of her senior project, and she had to choose a topic that was based on her intended major of study.  I was more than happy to help… and this being the first time I was asked to mentor someone, I took it very seriously.  Maybe a little too seriously — I returned her first draft to her literally dripping with red ink.  I tried justifying it by telling her — and myself — that I was preparing her for what was yet to come, but it might’ve been a little too much for a high school student to take.  Luckily she didn’t create a voodoo doll that looked suspiciously like me… or if she did, as an intern trying to painfully work his way through IDP, I didn’t notice.

She and I stayed in touch through her five years of college; eventually, the time came when she was looking for a job, and landed her first architectural position with the office that I was working for.  I actually had the opportunity to become a true mentor to her, especially when she was placed on one of my projects.  Of course, that meant a little more red ink — on her details this time — but I think (hope?) that by this point in her career, she at least had a better understanding of where I was coming from.

We lost touch a little when I left the firm.  The last time I saw her, at a pre-proposal meeting for a project we were both chasing, she told me that her goal was to finish her exams before her birthday.  Her most recent score reports being fairly regular, she even had scheduled her last division of the ARE so that she would receive her pass letter on her actual birthday itself — a bit of advanced planning (and ambition) that would make even the most anal-retentive architect (particularly this one) beam with admiration.

Today is her birthday… and yesterday, I received the wonderful news that she has earned her architectural license.  The fact that I celebrate the licensure of newly-minted architects is no small secret, but this one is more important to me than any other.  Even though I knew that this day was coming, I have been completely bowled over by the amount of pride that I feel.  (And to anyone who might think that the only party that benefits from mentorship is the younger one, you’re doing something wrong.)

Happy birthday, kid, and congratulations on taking the leap.  It’s been a pleasure to have been a part of your journey.  Now, hand over that voodoo doll…

The Balloonist

One of my favorite jokes… because it’s so honest.  I think it speaks volumes about the way we communicate with our fellow professionals… but more on that later.  For now, enjoy a little more industry-specific humor.

A man flying in a hot air balloon realizes he’s lost. He lowers the balloon, spots a man down below and shouts, “Can you help me? I promised a friend I’d meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man below says, “Yes, you’re in a hot air balloon hovering 30 feet above this field, which is at 42 degrees N. latitude and 60 degrees W. longitude.”

“You must be an architect,” says the balloonist.

“I am,” replies the man. “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but is of no use to me.  Your information, while fascinating, is useless and I am still lost.”

The man below says, “You must be a contractor.”

“I am,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” says the man below, “you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep and you expect me to solve your problem. And the fact is, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now it’s somehow my fault.”

Reprinted, with some liberties, from JokeBuddha: