The Kids Table

When I was growing up, our Thanksgiving day tradition was to have dinner at my grandparents’ house. It was always a large gathering — my dad was one of four kids, each of whom had married and had two kids of their own, for a grand total of 18 people celebrating the holiday together as a family. As most family traditions tend to go, every year was remarkably (and comfortably) the same — my uncles would hole upn the living room and cheer on the Cowboys, one of my cousins would claim a turkey leg, another (the finicky eater in the family) would eat nothing but microwaved chicken nuggets, Grandpa would get the neck all to himself… and after dinner, Grandma would discover one forgotten side dish hidden in the oven. Good times.

Grandma was fortunate to have a large formal dining room in her house, but it wasn’t large enough to seat all of us, of course. The kids always got their own table, a folding card table set up in the sitting room just off of the dining room. Close enough that our parents could keep an eye on us, but far enough away that our Thanksgiving became its own separate event — sort of the same as what our parents were doing, but different, segregated, smaller, with our own bastardized form of table manners and dinner etiquette.  As the years went on, we watched my older cousins eventually graduate to the adults table, never looking back.  After dinner, when the pumpkin pie came out, was when I would crawl up into my mother’s lap, becoming part of a conversation that I did not fully understand, a glimpse into what adulthood might hold.  I remember how nice it felt to be included, even for that brief period of time.

I frequently use the kids table as an analogy when I talk about young professionals trying to break into architecture. Often it feels like we can be relegated to another part of the office while the adults make all the major decisions and do all of the heavy lifting of marketing and business development.  Rightfully so, due to the experience and investment of those involved.  Taking advantage of the glimpses into how the firm operates, whenever and however they are offered, becomes crucial to earning one’s seat at that table.

It’s easily been 20 years since we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in that manner. We’ve all grown up, moved on, started our own traditions, celebrating the holiday with families of our own. For now, my family still fits at the same table, and I’m thankful for that — it makes me feel like we’re more integrated, cohesive. As I watch my family continue to grow, though, I wonder how much longer it will be before we are forced to establish a kids’ table of our own.

Lunch Money (Father’s Day 2014)

My dad has always been a simple, blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth type of guy.  Architecture being a profession of equal parts technical and creative, I know for a fact that many of the things that I do on a daily basis are lost on him.  But the truth is, he has influenced my career more than he probably realizes. Most of my character — and the manner in which I practice — has come from my dad.

nickelsI remember when I was about to start junior high school.  In addition to the other huge cultural shifts in my consciousness that came with my post-elementary school world, this was this first time I’d actually have to carry lunch money with me.  School lunches at that time cost a whopping 95 cents (I realize that this dates me, but we’ve already established that I’m old).  Every morning when I left the house, there was a dollar bill waiting for me on the kitchen table.  My dad had long since left for work, but that dollar bill was always there, every morning without question, making his presence known.  Through that simple gesture, my dad taught me dependability and accountability — I only saw him for a few hours a day, but I knew that I could count on him.  It was years later before I realized how much effort probably went into that simple act — not only making sure that the money was available, but also having the actual cash on hand each day (as someone who has grown quite reliant on his debit card, that fact that I’m usually scraping for bus fare makes this painfully evident).  There was planning involved to make sure that he actually had a dollar in his wallet to give to me each day, a dollar that easily could have been spent on something else, just one of the hundreds of sacrifices he made for his children.  I learned that being dependable means doing what’s expected of you, without fail, without being asked, and often without a thank you.

Each day when I got home from school, with a shiny new nickel in the “fifth pocket” of my Levi’s, he’d let me keep the change. It may not sound like much… but gradually, over the course of the school year, I watched those nickels slowly grow into dollars.  He taught me the value of money, but also perseverance… that doing anything of worth, more often than not, takes time and patience.  That you sometimes have to start small, but even the smallest things can grow into significance if given the chance.

If all goes according to plan, we will be welcoming a daughter on Sunday, appropriately enough on Father’s Day.  She will join my son as the second part of the biggest — and most important — project that I’ve ever taken on, and I’m proud to have had the role model that I did.  My only hope is that my own children learn as much from me, in the simplest ways, as I have from my own father.

My dad also taught me how to be resourceful. The very next year, school lunches increased to $1.05. On the night before my first day of the eighth grade, he handed me a dollar bill and said, “so, remember all those nickels…?”

On the Radar

This post really needs to start with an acknowledgement of just how far OFF the radar I’ve been in the past few weeks… it really is amazing how many different things that life likes to throw at us at any one given time, and how that can wreak havoc on even the best of intentions. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I haven’t published a fresh post in over a month (interestingly enough, it was also about my bursting-at-the-seams schedule), a near-eternity in the blogosphere– in that time, I’ve packed up every one of my earthly belongings, sold my home of the last seven years, and moved my wife and son into a temporary living arrangement with my in-laws. Not to mention deadlines on three different projects, a few late nights for project interviews, a presentation for an ARE Review Session, a last-minute trip to Nashville for the NIRSA conference last week (which was something that I really want to spend some time talking about, in a later post…), and, oh yeah, trying to be a somewhat attentive husband and dad. At the risk of sounding like I’m complaining (hey, waitaminute… didn’t I recently share an article on Twitter about how saying you’re too busy is a horrible excuse for anything…!?), my airspace has been a little crowded lately… hopefully I didn’t leave any of you hanging.

radar-screen-247884-m

Image credit: FreeImages.com, shared here under the standard restrictions.

Earlier this year I was quite humbled when NCARB mentioned me in their brand-spankin’ new blog as one of the “11 Twitter Accounts that Every Architecture Student Should Follow.” (Maybe I should be thankful that it wasn’t “the top ten Twitter accounts…?”… heh.) Today I find myself humbled once again to have my blog (that labor of love, flight of fancy, and sounding board for ARE and IDP advice…as well as any other random and mildly relevant thought that might pop into my head) included in NCARB’s latest post, “The Best Blogs for Architectural Interns and Students.” Again, I find myself in the most excellent of company, which includes some of my personal favorites — Brinn Miracle’s ArchiTangent (quietly intelligent about design, sustainability, and the licensing exam) and Bob Borson’s The Life of an Architect (who has basically written the book on blogging about being an architect) — both of whom, by the way, were also featured by NCARB for their Twitter feeds — as well as Jared Banks’ ShoeGnome (forcing me to reconsider virtually everything about the way we represent ourselves and our work) and Jenny Cestnik’s AREndurance (putting a very human face to the exam process). Longtime readers will remember that each one of these has been listed in my “Other Paths to Follow” widget off to the right for as long as I’ve been maintaining this site, and for good reason — I’ve enjoyed reading, following, and most importantly, being inspired by, their work, and think that others would benefit from their words as much as I have been. (And I’m really looking forward to checking out Stuck in Studio and Just and Intern, too…!) I’m still a relative newbie when it comes to blogging, but each of these sites has impressed me with their honesty, intelligence, humor, and heart — a combination that, to me, is exactly what a blog should have.

When I started this little project, all I wanted to do was to offer some unbiased advice, rooted deeply in my own personal experience as a young architect. The fact that I’ve been included in such a wonderful group is mind-boggling (I keep hitting refresh, and I’m still listed!)… and also a little daunting, too. I may have been able to delude myself before, but it looks like I’m officially on the radar now. So, a promise to my followers, both current and new, I have several new posts queued up and ready to launch over the coming weeks… just in the nick of time, apparently. No more month-long hiatuses for me, I guess… (although I hope you’ll give me a little break when I tackle that next deadline, move into my new home, and welcome my newborn daughter… all in the next two months. Sigh…)

(Sincerest thanks — again — to the folks at NCARB’s blog for the attention… and yes, I *am* working on that post for your blog, too… it’s around here somewhere, I promise…)

In Absentia

I should be on my way to Washington right now, to take part in the AIA’s Grassroots Leadership and Advocacy Conference. Unfortunately, between client meetings for two different projects, a deadline for a third, and several other commitments, the trip to the capital just wasn’t in the cards this year. I’ve always said that family comes first, work comes second, and volunteer efforts come third, but I’m still a little disappointed that I have to miss it.

This would have been my third Grassroots — longtime fans of my blog (both of you!) might remember my post from last year’s event, and I had also shared my experience from 2012’s conference on AIA Pittsburgh’s website. This year, I was really looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow facilitators from the Emerging Professionals Summit (by the way, check out the excellent recaps in the current issue of CONNECTION!)… and the opportunity to formally endorse the National Design Services Act by lobbying my congressmen to support the bill. Support for the NDSA is one of the major talking points for the Capitol Hill visits this year, so I will leave this in the more than capable hands of the other 700+ architects that will be attending the conference. I’ll rely on Twitter to keep getting the word out.

For the record, I’m not a fan of the concept of student loan forgiveness, but I wholeheartedly support the idea of the NDSA, and hope that it sees its way into legislation.  What I like the most about the Act is that it isn’t offering a free ride — by trading design services for loan assistance, it places value on design while offering graduates a chance to provide humanitarian aid through their skill set.  Having recently paid off my student loans, I can appreciate how difficult it can be starting out on your own with so much debt to repay… but the fact that I worked every day to pay off my lender makes me completely against the idea of a scot-free bailout for anyone.  The NDSA seems like a perfect solution to an increasingly difficult problem facing our profession… the very thing that Grassroots is meant for.

Not going to Grassroots?  For more information about the NDSA, including ways you or your chapter can assist with legislation in your area, click here.

The Thin Grey Line

Lately I’ve been noticing them as I’m getting ready for work in the morning — the first few grey hairs. They’ve started creeping in around my temples, visible only at certain angles or in certain light.  (Or maybe more visible than I think — my wife has already started clipping coupons for Just For Men and asking me if I think I’m more “Medium Brown” or “Medium Dark Brown.”)  And I know what you’re thinking… that those grey hairs make me self-conscious, feeling old. Quite the opposite, actually — I’ve found myself welcoming them. A few more of those, and the people that i deal with on a daily basis — owners, contractors, even fellow architects — are going to start taking me more seriously.

Today I celebrate my birthday, which finds me officially entrenched in my >>cough<< late-thirties >>cough<<, on the downward spiral toward the big 4-0. However, having been blessed/ cursed with a youthful appearance, I constantly have to remind people how old I am — my stock response is usually something along the lines of “older than you think.” And while everyone seems to tell me that this is a good thing, it hasn’t been much of a benefit to me in my professional career.

True story — about ten years ago, about the same time that I authored an essay on youth in architecture, I attended a series of user group meetings during design for one of my largest projects.  This level of exposure to the client, at this stage in the process, was a huge opportunity for me at that point in my career, and I took it very seriously.  One of those meetings just happened to have been scheduled on “Take Your Child to Work Day,” and one of the users looked at me, in my mid-twenties, sitting next to the 60-something project manager, and said — wait for it — “So *that’s* how you got to be here!”  Hardy har har.  Leave the jokes to the professionals, buddy.

Experience is an extremely valuable form of currency in our profession, so much so that the opposite is sometimes also true, and youth can almost be seen as a liability. I worked hard in my twenties, trying my best to learn my craft and perform well in my job. I found, though, that it often didnt matter how much research I had done, or how many hours I had spent developing that particular detail, or from how many different angles I had looked at the problem. I would make my recommendation to the owner/ contractor, and they would turn to the grey-haired gentleman sitting next to me and ask “is that right?”

Every grey hair that I find these days is another step closer to credibility… My technical ability and skill set have grown by leaps and bounds in the 14 years that I’ve been at this, and my appearance is starting to catch up to my words and thoughts.  I’ve begun to cross the Thin Grey Line, and I wear it as a badge of honor.  For now, anyway, the Just For Men can stay on the shelf .

Tracks

An architect, a contractor, and an owner were walking through the forest when they came upon a set of tracks.

The contractor said, “those are deer tracks.” The owner shook his head and said, “no, those are elk tracks.” The architect held up his hands and said, “you’re both wrong, those are moose tracks.”

They were still arguing when the train hit them.

The moral of the story — sometimes it doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong. Sometimes all that matters is knowing when to get out of the way.

20140212-234930.jpg

Photo via Flickr.

Toward 5600: Capital Improvements

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

If you haven’t noticed, our profession is rife with acronyms. Look no further than the average industry business card, which can resemble cleanup after a raucous game of Scrabble. Ever get the impression that whoever retires with the most letters after their name wins? Not really, of course, but it might seem that way.  The reality is that each one of those series of letters represents an increased level of credibility, the proof that the individual has spent the time improving upon themselves and expanding their knowledge.  NCARB has recognized this, as well; interns can earn 40 hours toward their Core Hours for earning additional credentials, such as the USGBC’s LEED accredited professional (LEED AP) or by becoming a Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA) or a Certified Construction Specifier (CCS), both of which are administered through the Construction Specifier’s Institute. Earning CSI’s Construction Document Technologist (CDT) credential will earn you another 40 hours toward Elective Supplemental Experience.

(The nitty-gritty: The credit is earned by uploading a PDF of the certificate to NCARB’s Online Reporting System. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to prepare for the exam, or how many times you have to take it in order to pass — the equivalent of 40 hours are earned. Experience is reported under Experience Setting “S.” Now, back to live action.)

I’d venture a guess that practically everyone reading this is familiar with the LEED AP credential, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you already have it under your belt (and if you do, I hope that you earned IDP credit for it). You might not be as familiar with CSI’s programs. In a nutshell, where LEED’s focus is on sustainability, CSI emphasizes competency in the development of construction documents. Earning the CDT qualification means that a professional has “comprehensive knowledge of the writing and management of construction documents,” and acts as a prerequisite for CSI’s other programs (CCCA and CCS).

The CDT credential is gaining a great deal of traction here in Pennsylvania, largely due to the efforts of the Philadelphia chapter. Throughout the month of February, Philly’s CSI will be producing a 5-part series of CDT prep classes for Stantec‘s Philadelphia office, with another series planned for New York’s Kohn Pedersen Fox in March. Along with his partner Cliff Martin, David Stutzman, AIA, of Conspectus, has been working directly with the staff at Stantec to develop this series, which condenses the CSI’s standard 10-session course to a weekly series of 5 classes; even more bold, instead of expecting participants to come to CSI, David is taking this CDT training directly to the architectural community, making it that much easier to participate. Stantec’s management has been promoting this series to their in-house staff, going as far as to make it mandatory for their interns, using IDP credit as a bonus for participating. The five-part course promises to prepare candidates for the CDT exam, which is offered yearly between March 31 and April 26. As many as 30 individuals are expected to take part in Philadephia, with nearly double that amount in New York.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I severely geeked out over this concept when I first caught wind of it over Twitter last December. First off, as I mentioned in a post from early last year, I’m a huge supporter of anything that reinforces an intern’s practical knowledge and understanding; technical competence, to me, is what truly separates an architect from a designer… but with the emphasis in school (and practice) so heavily focused on design, formal programs that train and encourage such competence are few and far between. The fact that Stantec has recognized this, and is encouraging it as a tangible benefit to their interns, will go a long way toward increasing their technical comprehension, as well as their confidence in detailing construction projects.

Secondly, the sheer amount of collaborative effort involved is awe-inspiring; not only has an architecture firm openly promoted another organization’s credential, but by offering IDP credit as the carrot, they’ve shown that they’ve recognized the impact and importance of Supplemental Experience within the IDP process.  This program effectively bridges three organizations, and gives me hope for a truly collaborative and integrated future for our profession.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this is truly a win-win(-win) scenario: Stantec gains a crop of interns with increased technical understanding, CSI gets an opportunity to expand awareness of their programs, and the interns end up with additional letters after their name… and an additional week’s worth of time shaved off of those three years spent in the IDP process.

Interested?  You can learn more about CSI’s CDT credential and other advanced exams here.  Better yet, take this to your local AIA (or CSI) chapter and see if a similar program can’t get started in your area, too.

Left Turns

It’s hard for me to believe that, after over two months of planning, the Emerging Professionals Summit has come and gone. With it, my first visit to Albuquerque, a fact that met with some bemusement to my family and some of my friends, the ones that cut their teeth on the same pop culture classics as I did, for whom the city will always be associated with Bugs Bunny and his famous lack of direction. (Plus, I have to admit that I was pretty psyched to visit the setting of one of the greatest pieces of television ever made. No, not Breaking Bad… I was referring to that timeless coming of age story, High School Musical.)

20140130-225434.jpg

Albuquerque — and more specifically, the gorgeous Hotel Andaluz — was the site of the AIA’s 2014 Emerging Professionals Summit. Sixty professionals representing the AIA, as well as the various collateral organizations, gathered there to discuss future directions for the Institute, and ultimately the profession, in the interests of avoiding the somewhat dystopian view of our future (or any version of it) that I shared in my previous post. Our discussions in Albuquerque (graphically recorded for posterity’s sake) will form the basis for the next three to five years’ worth of initiatives that the AIA can undertake in order to strengthen the profession for emergent professionals. Bold ideas were encouraged, maybe even challenged, by AIA leadership (including CEO Robert Ivy and 2014 President Helene Combs Dreiling), and in response, bold ideas were proposed. Our conversations focused on four main aspects of practice — Education, Licensure, Career Development, and Firm Culture — with the expectation of more than just talk. Our primary responsibility for the weekend was to be demonstrative, ensuring that tangible, actionable results would be able to be derived from our discourse. It was a hefty charge, one that I’m proud to have been a part of.

Hefty charges, of course, often bring with them a fair share of self doubt. There will many, I’m sure, that will question our findings, asking if we should have zigged instead of zagged, made a left turn where we decided to go right. Perhaps we should have taken that left turn in Albuquerque. Only time will tell. The point of the exercise was not necessarily to pose a solution, but to chart a course. The destination is for all of us to find, together. I’m looking forward to seeing where we go from here.

Make Your Mark

The AIA’s 2014 Emerging Professionals summit takes place later this week. Between Friday to Sunday, 60 professionals from across the country, representing the AIA and the other collateral organizations, will gather in Albuquerque to discuss the future of the profession, in order to position us for the next 20 years of practice. Late last year, anyone interested in participating was invited to submit an essay answering the question “In 2033, what role are architects playing in society?” In honor of the summit, I’ve decided to share my submission here. (For another emerging professional’s response, click here.) Join the conversation at epsummit.mindmixer.com, and follow the Summit on Twitter at #2014EPSummit.

March 14, 2033: I find myself celebrating my 56th birthday with our company in the last stages of a corporate buyout. Next Monday, I will begin the last phase of my career, acting as a consultant for a global construction management entity that has chosen to incorporate our staff into their local Real Estate Development group. Our offices have shared a long history of collaboration — as a small general contractor, they built many of our designs, giving them a foothold in the industry that allowed their business to flourish as ours, ironically, continued to grow smaller — and out of respect, our firm was acquired for its skills in space planning, programming, and code analysis.

The last time I packed up my workstation – fifteen years ago, when we moved to a smaller, more efficient tenant space – was a cumbersome undertaking, but I’m finding it surprisingly easy this time around. Our fully-integrated building models are entirely cloud-based, with changes uploaded instantaneously to the field model in the construction trailer, making the clutter of paper documents a thing of the past. Most of our digital information was already housed on our new partner’s network, making my move to their office no more complicated than syncing my tablet. It’s a seamless transition, especially since we had already adopted the contractor’s document management process years ago, in the interests of a more integrated delivery system. Following their paradigm was more cost-effective than creating our own.

With no paper documents to sift through, the focus is mostly my personal belongings, including some well-worn books and my stamp — which, having been used only a handful of times, looks as pristine as the day that I received it nearly 30 years ago. Hermetically sealed in a small glass display case, a gift from my wife when I was named senior associate, the simple inscription upon it still rings true, figuratively if not literally: “Make your mark.” It’s been a museum piece, a marvel to the paraprofessionals in the office, not only because the idea of putting ink on paper seems as dirty as it does antiquated, but because the act itself no longer has any meaning. By accepting all of the risk on a building project, the construction manager’s virtual signature, digitally encoded into each document, has physically and legally replaced the architect’s stamp.

My college diploma is next to be packed, another relic from a time gone by. Ten years ago, when academia standardized a “licensure at graduation” model, the need for practical experience was eliminated. A formalized internship program vanished, leaving us with no established method of training. The sense of entitlement — that a credential need not be earned — crippled the profession, breeding an entire generation of talented designers with little technical ability; an architect’s license lost its value. The backlash, realized in a huge drop in enrollment, forced several universities to drop their architecture programs, including my own. With no carrot to strive for, the younger professionals that remained lost their competitive edge. Many sought more challenging (and lucrative) work elsewhere, leaving the mid-range professionals like me with fewer resources to draw upon. The clout associated with the term “architect” — that the AIA had fought so hard to protect, for as long as I can remember — crumbled from within. We had spent so much time and energy worrying about how we were being perceived outside of our insular culture, that we neglected to focus on what was happening inside of it.

My afternoon will be spent in the file storage room, an archaeological dig through record documents and yellowed rolls of paper. It’s strange to see the names of former senior principals on these documents, proof that they did indeed deal with the daily mechanics on projects in the same way that I have. Having known them solely in marketing and business development roles, seeing their signatures on RFIs and change orders strikes me as odd; they always seemed to exist in different realm, separated from the rest of us by strategic planning, budgets, and spreadsheets. They have long since retired, taking their professional relationships and business acumen with them, leaving the next generation of leaders to essentially reinvent the wheel. It’s no surprise that, when given the reins, many of us struggled, and some failed; when the phone stopped ringing, the lack of mentorship at all levels of development in the profession became painfully evident.

I set the lid in place, the last remains of my formal career in architecture neatly boxed, musing inwardly that it didn’t have to be this way. A profession full of creative, intelligent, passionate individuals, we had the ability to change the course of events twenty years ago. By placing appropriate value on licensure, while still embracing non-traditional paths in practice. By fostering open collaboration with our fellow professionals, on both sides of the design community. By establishing ourselves as progressive leaders of change instead of followers, rigidly holding on to outdated ways of doing things. Most importantly, by encouraging mentorship and succession planning. By strengthening the profession from the inside, so that we had nothing left to prove to those outside of it. Simple concepts, but difficult to implement. It wouldn’t have been easy, it would have taken a collective effort from all of us, but it would have been worth it. The contents of this box deserved it.

Looking Back

2013 is drawing to a close. My first full year of In DePth has shown me that blogging on a regular schedule is, quite frankly, really hard to do. As much as I’ve enjoyed the blog, it still falls squarely into “hobby” territory… which puts it at a distant fifth place behind my family, my friends, my home, and my job. As a result, my publishing schedule was more than a little erratic — after feeling like I was running to stand still early in the year, I managed to hit my stride and publish a new post at least every two weeks over the summer (far more than I had ever imagined), but saw my productivity drop off rapidly in the last few months of the year (where deadlines and holidays might have been a factor). A tip of the hat to anyone out there that manages a blog on a weekly (or daily) basis.

My posts this year ranged from random thoughts on the practice of architecture, including some things that were tangentially related to it — my take on Ted Mosby became my second most popular post (and judging by the posts that were inspired by Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy, and even Wheel of Fortune, I watch entirely too much television). (I also wrote about a roasting pan, a hot air balloon, and a giant rubber duck. Talk about your random thoughts.) However, in the interests of making this site actually somewhat useful, I also started including straightforward essays on the exam process and IDP; 2013 saw the launch of two recurring series of posts — Toward 5600, about Supplemental Experience in the IDP process, and 4.0 Average, offering exam advice — which seem to have been very well received. (Also the hardest to write, due to the fact-checking involved — the nature of the platform makes me nervous that I might accidentally spread some misinformation.)

The blog got some great publicity at the 2013 Coordinators Conference in July, where I used it as the prime example of how I use social media to supplement my role as State Coordinator. NCARB’s support of the blog has been invaluable; in fact, my most popular posts of the year were my perspectives on NCARB’s events, such as the Blackoutand the end to the duration requirements, and the piece that I wrote after the announcement of ARE 5.0 has proven to be my most popular ever. (Timing, it seems, is everything… but a few retweets from NCARB never hurt, either.)

I also had a few pieces published on AIA Pittsburgh’s site. Two of my blog posts (my report from Grassroots, and an essay on mentorship inspired by my son) were republished there, as well as two original articles — the paths to licensure taken by five recently registered architects, and a review of a playful new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum. Feel free to head on over and check them out.

Onward into 2014… hope to see you again soon. Happy New Year to you and yours.