Quack Quack


One bright spring day, two ducks are paddling around their favorite pond.

One duck turns to the other and says “quack, quack.”

The other duck nods in approval and says “I was just about to say that.”


A giant rubber duck floats into Pittsburgh today, his first US stop after visiting places like Amsterdam, Sydney, Osaka, and Hong Kong. And he really got me thinking… If we spend all of our time in the company of our peers, never leaving our comfort zone, we’re only learning one way of looking at things. When we all speak the same language, there’s never any risk of misunderstanding… but no opportunity for any growth, either.

Get out of the office. Join a committee. Go to lunch with a professional from a different discipline — an engineer, or an accountant, or a marketing executive. Play in a city sport league. Take a class at a community college. Maybe even take a cue from a giant rubber ducky and travel the world. You’ll be a more well-rounded person — and professional — as a result.


Anatomically Correct

Allow me to confess to one of my not-so-guilty pleasures… I’m a fan of Grey’s Anatomy.. This coming Thursday marks the 10th season premiere, and I will most likely be in front of my TV when it airs. I’ve seriously watched the show since the very beginning, when it began its life as a mid-season replacement before becoming a Nielsen juggernaut and next-morning’s-watercooler television, complete with companion soundtrack(s).


Early influences: Dr. Carter…

What I like most about Grey’s is its focus on the youngest members of Seattle Grace’s medical staff — the surgical residents. They are young, ambitious, and fresh out of medical school. They make mistakes. They have career-defining successes and soul-crushing failures. In other words, they are just like us. And in spite of the slightly declining quality of the show in recent seasons, despite all of the crazy plot devices over the years (Izzie resurrects a deer! Owen stabs pigs! George gets hit by a bus! A plane carrying 75% of the cast crashes in the woods!), it’s that dynamic — the uphill stuggle that comes with being at the lowest rung of the professional ladder — that keeps me interested.


…and Dr. Dorian.

(I’ve already noted the dearth of architectural role models in primetime television, so instead, I look for inspiration tangentially instead of directly. I’m drawn to depictions of the coming-of-age story, which I feel is at the core of any internship experience. Medical series tend to be rife with this dynamic — in college, I became an instant fan of ER thanks to Noah Wyle’s earnest portrayal of John Carter, and Scrubs, which drew humor out of Zach Braff’s inexperience, was one of my all-time favorite comedies, especially during the first few years of my internship.  I looked at these guys — doctors, not architects, but equally as wet behind the ears — and in their perseverence in the face of constant challenge , I saw myself.)

But back to Grey’s, which seems to strike a balance between ER’s melodrama and Scrubs‘ tongue-in-cheek zaniness… A subplot near the end of the eighth season involved the residents … wait for it … preparing for, and taking, their board certification exam. Really. The drama came less from the exam than from seven years’ worth of interplay, seeing these characters simultaneously encouraging one another while competing at the same time. Even the results were as varied as the personalities themselves. Cristina passed with flying colors… Meredith handled the challenge competently and confidently… April failed miserably. Probably the most realistically, Alex (who was originally not even going to take the test in the first place) felt the pressure of being left behind by his colleagues, and rushed in at the last minute to sit for his exam. This arc –about a professional exam, mind you — lasted for several episodes. Imagine, for a minute, if the setting of this show was the architectural profession instead of the medical one. Would the exam settting have the same inherent drama? Would anyone want to watch? Would we have to call the show Graphic Standard?

(If there ever were a weekly series about architects, I’d hope that it would contain this kind of dynamic — the passing of the baton to a new generation, the transfer of wisdom that comes with experience. And if they need someone to play the good-looking lead character, with perfect hair, living in his Airstream trailer out in the woods… give my agent a call.)

"...I can't beleive they used to be us."

“…I can’t believe they used to be us.” (Grey’s Anatomy episode 9×08, terrible screen capture by the author)

To me, one of the most effective parts of the show has been its dedication to refreshing the cast through a new crop of surgical interns. We’ve watched the core cast develop and grow, over the course of seven seasons, into confident, experienced professionals. This past season, in their place came a new group of recent graduates — recurring guest stars last season, now promoted to the regular cast — and it’s through their perspective, their inexperience, that we are able to appreciate how far their peers have come. This was illustrated quite poignantly in one of last season’s early episodes (x9.08, “Love Turns You Upside Down,” for those of you keeping score at home), which saw the interns pull their first grueling 24-hour shift. On their way out of the hospital, physically and emotionally exhausted, they literally run into their mentors, now level-headed fully-minted physicians, acting during a triage situation.

Two groups, at opposite ends of the spectrum, with only time and experience separating them from one another. The students have become the teachers, and with a new group of interns, have an opportunity to share what they themselves have learned. The silence is broken when one of the interns exhales: “I can’t believe they used to be us.”


Identity Crisis

As an update to one of my previous posts, last week’s Twitter chat — moderated by NCARB — went extremely well, and I really enjoyed being a part of it. This being my first such chat, I have to say that it was an amazing thing to take part in an organized, moderated conversation with people from all across the United States, which really made me realize how powerful of a medium Twitter has become. I felt that I represented myself well and even made a few semi-profound statements that made me sound like I kinda-sorta even know what I’m talking about.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the permanence of that conversation. The transcript has already been published by NCARB, via Storify, and a slightly abridged version also appears on ARCHITECT’s website. As in, the magazine. Several of my tweets were featured. In ARCHITECT. As in, the magazine. Little old me, appearing in ARCHITECT? !!holycrap!!

Except it wasn’t me. My words, of course, conveying some of my thoughts on this crazy ride we call internship, but hidden behind an ambiguous handle (IDP_PA) with an equally ambiguous profile photo, the “Coordinators” graphic that I had stolen borrowed from NCARB’s website. That red dot in the middle makes me look more like a certain omnipresent sentient computer system from some science fiction movie, instead of the living, breathing human that I am.

20130907-150636.jpgHAL: It can only be attributable to human error.

Thanks, HAL. Who asked you, anyway?

A year ago, when I started this Twitter account, I had my reasons for using that graphic, and at the time, they made perfect sense. Even though I had just taken on the Coordinator role, I was already thinking of succession planning. I knew that the position was intentionally finite, and wanted to be sure that the next person would be able to step into it seamlessly. That meant a dedicated email address for inquiries, and a “nameless” Twitter feed — each completely separate from my personal accounts.

Now, here I am, my words unexpectedly appearing in ARCHITECT (as in the magazine!), with no connection to myself whatsoever. However noble those reasons might have seemed a year ago, now they look somewhat foolhardy… and maybe even a little stupid. I mean, this was a good opportunity for some exposure, and I’m essentially hiding behind a nondescript moniker!

20130907-150636.jpgHAL: Look Dave, I can see you’re really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

Thanks for the suggestion, HAL. And stop calling me Dave. (Even my profile picture doesn’t know my real name… Sheesh.)

So, over the the course of the past week, I’ve made the executive decision to update both my profile picture and my profile name to represent me as a person, not the position that I hold. (My Twitter handle — and email address — remains the same, for obvious reasons.)

20130907-150636.jpgHAL: I’m sorry, Dave, but I can’t allow you to do that.

Well, gee, I’m sorry, HAL, but you don’t get a vote (and seriously — stop calling me Dave!). Maybe it’s too much of a change all at once, but then again, I never claimed to be a Twitter expert. Learning as I go, here, people… learning as I go.

So, thanks for representing me for the past year or so, HAL, but I’ll take it from here.

Wait — is that “Daisy” I hear…?

This post borrows very heavily from Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey… So if you haven’t seen it, you might not get it. HAL’s quotes are taken from IMDB.

4.0 Average: To MEEB or Not To MEEB…?

The latest in a semi-regular series on preparing for — and taking — the ARE 4.0.

Some interns look at their office’s “ARE Library” — which more than likely consists of a haphazard pile of Kaplan guides, old flash cards, hand-written notes, and maybe a dog-eared copy of Norman Dorf’s Solutions — and find themselves daunted. Add in a varied list of online resources, plus your own textbooks and class notes from college (you *did* keep all of those, right…??) and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material. How would anyone be expected to take a professional exam — on top of a 40-hour workweek — that requires this much reading?

An excellent example is MEEB, one of the more ubiquitous references in our industry, and also one of the most dense. MEEB (industry shorthand for Stein and Reynolds’ Mechanical and Electrical Engineering for Buildings) is a hefty tome; Amazon.com lists the 2009 edition as containing 1,792 pages, weighing in at a whopping 6.2 pounds. My copy, which I’ve held into since college, contains an entire chapter on the psychrometric chart alone. If you’re looking for some detailed information on a specific topic for the Building Systems exam, you’ll probably find it here. Reading it cover to cover, in a manner that would see you retaining even a fraction of the information, would take weeks.

derek_jacobi_bbc500x400So, to MEEB or not to MEEB…? That is the question.

In my honest opinion (and since this is my blog, that’s what you should expect), the answer is… Sort of. The book is an excellent reference, but it should be used as just that — a reference. Exam candidates would be better off relying on more concise study materials, like the Architects Studio Companion or even MEEB’s Student Companion site, in order to gain an overview of the varied content; MEEB can be used as a reference guide for any concepts that are proving themselves to be more difficult.

Personally, I rely on my copy of MEEB almost daily… as a door stop. Don’t let it keep you from moving forward.

Toward 5600: Back to School

The latest in a recurring series on earning Supplemental Experience toward the minimum 5,600 hours required to complete IDP.

Summer is officially over, and if the stream of my friends’ kids’ “first day of school” pictures in my News Feed is any indication, that means school is officially back in session. (This being 2013, it also means a few hysterical memes (like this one), but I digress…)

For many of our recent graduates (and maybe more than a few not-so-recent grads), this semester might mean the beginning of master’s degree program. Maybe it’s a planned part of your career path, or perhaps it’s a diversion from a job market that has proven to be less than favorable. Either way, post-graduates returning to school this fall can earn as many as 930 hours (toward Experience Setting “S”) by earning an Advanced Degree.

This option is a little more involved than many of the others, so I’d recommend making sure you understand all of the specific requirements that apply. First and foremost, you need to have earned an undergraduate degree — this experience applies to post-graduate work only. The advanced degree needs to be from a program in a school of architecture with NAAB (or CACB) accreditation. And, in addition to reporting the experience, you will also need to provide a transcript, similar to documenting your undergraduate degree. (You will need to upload a copy of the diploma to the online reporting system, but NCARB will only approve the experience after receiving a formal transcript from the university conferring the degree.) Then you just need to do the work, earn the degree, and report the experience.

20130906-065844.jpgHere’s the catch: Qualifying programs identified by NAAB as “post-professional” degrees are documented on a list available on NCARB’s website. The advanced degree must be on this list in order to receive credit — if you are enrolled in a program that you believe would qualify, have the institution contact NCARB directly. (NCARB will only consider adding degrees to the list that have been submitted by the university itself, not the student.)

An additional 930 hours of Supplemental Experience will take a decent chunk out of of your IDP (equivalent to one-sixth of the 5600 hours required, or roughly six months of work in a traditional setting), allowing you to continue with the program while furthering your education… and making this far from an academic discussion.