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.

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.

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.

Toward 5600: Healthy Competition

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

Interns: Not spending any time doing design work in your office? Tired of feeling like a faceless component in a larger machine? Looking for a way to put all that design talent to good use, on a project that you can truly call your own? Maybe a design competition is the answer! (There’s certainly never a shortage of them — check out sites like Death by Architecture or the aptly-named Competitions for some options… your local AIA component might also be sponsoring a competition or two this year.)


A decidedly UNhealthy competition. Also, one that’s not eligible for IDP hours.

Emergent professionals could earn up to 40 hours (up to a maximum of 600 hours) in each of the Experience Categories (any of them except “Leadership and Service,” that is) by entering Design Competitions. The experience could apply to any of the Experience Categories, particularly those in the Pre-Design and Design categories. (If any of you manage to find a competition that applies toward “Business Operations,” kudos to you.)

As usual, the experience is subject to the Reporting Requirements (ie, the Six-Month Rule), measured from the competition’s deadline. Since this only applies to competitions that are entered independently (outside of work — any effort toward competitions that your office might be pursuing wouldn’t be considered Supplemental Experience), it would be your Mentor, not your Supervisor, who would approve your Experience Report for this activity. (You *do* have a mentor, right?)

There’s always a catch: The competition needs to be a “formally structured competition with specified submission requirements,” for a “building” or “planning” project (which means that an event like CANstruction, while extremely charitable, wouldn’t apply for this credit). It also needs to be sponsored by a recognized business entity, governmental agency, or professional association, and you must be appropriately credited on the competition entry. Your mentor (seriously, you *do* have one, right?) would need to oversee your work in order to verify that you actually did participate… and who knows, they might have some great over-the-shoulder comments that could help you to win! Since the credit could be earned in practically any area covered by IDP, your Mentor could also help you to determine which Experience Category this particluar competition most closely aligns.

The upshot is that, with enough time, ambition, and perseverence, you could enter several competitions during the course of your internship, earning an additional 40 hours of experience for each. Spreading your wings, making a name for yourself in the design community, and earning IDP hours at the same time? Sounds like a true winner.

Toward 5600: A Trip to the Moon

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

Each of the various ways of earning Supplemental Experience that we’ve looked at so far have one thing in common — they’re all ways of cramming more eligible hours into a set timeframe, those 47 working weeks in any given year. Another way to do that is to simply work more hours.

If this photo means nothing to you, go out right now and rent Martin Scorsese's delightful film "Hugo."

If this photo means nothing to you, go out right now and rent Martin Scorcese’s delightful film “Hugo.”

Many a young architect turns to side work, aka moonlighting, as a way of making a little extra money, as well as spreading one’s wings outside of the daily grind of the office (where a typical day might consist of picking up someone else’s redlines and not much else). This work can be easy to come by — you’ve probably already had a friend or family member ask for your help with a small master bathroom renovation, or maybe a coworker has some side work and needs some assistance — and its hard to say no. We’ve all been there — the idea of a project that can completely be your own is sometimes too tempting to pass up. It’s also easy to find yourself in over your head, if the demands of the project become more than your experience can handle. Buyer beware.

If this work is performed under the supervision of a licensed architect or another member of the design and construction industry (ie, you drafted for this individual on your own time, outside of the office setting), it could be eligible for up to a maximum of 930 core hours under Design or Construction Related Employment. The work has to adhere to the Duration Requirements (which shouldn’t be a problem, since you’re already getting a 40-hour week in on top of it) and, of course, must be reported according to the Reporting Requirements (that basement family room you did for Uncle Albert two summers ago wouldn’t qualify). Also, since your supervisor needs to approve your Experience Reports, it would be a good idea to be up-front about this work with them. Your office might have a specific policy regarding moonlighting, or could forbid you from doing it altogether. Best to know that before you get 100 hours deep into the project…

The flip side: any moonlighting that you might do solely on your own isn’t eligible for IDP credit — you can’t self-supervise, and even if you could, your supervisor isn’t registered. (Zing!)

Words to the wise: moonlighting isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be (check out Bob Borson’s excellent post on The Life of an Architect for some of the many reasons why). As a younger architect, I’ve done more than my fair share, in both capacities (supporting another’s projects, as well as taking on my own), and I can tell you that the extra work, added stress, and late nights often aren’t worth the fee. As time went on, I’ve gotten better at valuing my work and negotiating a fair price for it… but I’ve also earned an awful lot of other responsibility along the way. At this point in my life, as a project manager/ blogger/ homeowner/ husband/ dad, I’ve all but given up on side work — there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, and there are too many other things that I’d rather be doing with my time. (Case in point: I have a guitar, sans one string, that’s become a slightly dusty piece of sculpture, a monument to forgotten hobbies… what I wouldn’t give for an hour or so a week where I could just sit and play. That hour would be worth more to me than what any side job could earn.)

I will say, though, that I learned a great deal from some of that moonlighting, which supplemented what I was doing in my full-time job and my ARE prep, and made me a better professional in the process. (Didn’t earn any IDP credit off of it, though. If only I had known…) So, if you find yourself with an opportunity for some side work, ask yourself objectively if you feel comfortable with the scope and can handle the added workload. Shoot for the moon… just be careful that you don’t crash right into the face of it.

Toward 5600: Line of Site

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

The Intern Development Program has very noble goals — it aims to produce competent architects by exposing interns to all aspects of practice.  The ideal internship promoted by NCARB through the Experience Areas, however, is not always that easy to come by.  The reason is, quite simply, that architecture is a business, and businesses need to be profitable — assigning two people to perform the same task, which is an ideal training opportunity, doesn’t always make the most business sense.  The profitability of the firm and the development of the intern can be somewhat mutually exclusive to one another.

building tourThis can be most apparent when it comes to visiting construction sites.  It’s a natural phase shift in our basic services to go from documentation to construction administration — and with that shift comes weekly job conferences and site visits.  In theory, there are ample opportunities to visit the project while it is under construction and see, firsthand, how the vision, defined by the architect’s documents, become reality.  In actual practice, however, the project’s budget might not support two staff members attending the job conference, especially for a building with a signifiantly-lengthy construction period (where the architect’s stipulated fee needs to be stretched over several years’ worth of meetings).  The end result is that the more experienced professionals end up flying solo, and the interns often aren’t able to visit the construction site on a regular basis — if at all.

Building tours (also known as “hard hat tours” for the personal safety equipment that is usually required) are a great way to start to fill in these gaps.  They are also a great way to expose yourself to different building types, other than the ones that your office typically performs.  Interns can earn up to 40 Core Hours toward Construction Phase: Observation by participating in a Site Visit with a Mentor.

Yes, earning Supplemental Experience in this category requires a mentor, but that can be as simple as having the architect leading the tour sign off on your time.  That’s right — as long as there’s an RA on the tour with you, and that individual is willing to act as a mentor by approving your experience report, you can earn IDP credit for this activity.  This is where the concept of having many mentors comes into play; a mentor can be someone that you meet monthly for coffee, or someone that helps you out on one selected occasion.  Chances are you may never see that individual again, but that one additional credit will be well worth your time.


There’s a high liklihood that your local AIA chapter (or a companion organization like the Master Builders, or the Green Building Alliance) may already be organizing tours such as this on a semi-regular basis.  These will likely be after-work events, meaning that this time will be above and beyond those 47 working weeks.  If you’re able to participate in four tours in a calendar year, that’s another half-day’s worth of time — in one of the more difficult credit areas — toward your IDP.

Toward 5600: Let’s Do Lunch

The first in an occasional series on earning Supplemental Experience toward the minimum 5,600 hours required to complete IDP.

When it comes to earning supplemental experience, it doesn’t get much simpler than this.  Interns can earn up to 40 hours toward their Elective Hours by attending AIA-approved Continuing Education courses, many of which are offered as “lunch and learns” right in your own office.

This one is a no-brainer.  Lunch and learns are somewhat ubiquitous in our industry, and many educational seminars and outreach events offer at least one CEU for attending.  Even better, most facilitators of these events will record your participation and report it to the AIA directly, and your transcript will be updated automatically.  You’ll earn CEUs toward your AIA membership and experience hours toward your IDP at the same time — no fuss, no muss.  Best of all, this is a completely independent way of earning time; other than the AIA’s verification of your attendance, no oversight by a supervisor or mentor is required.  (Note: even though the provider is reporting attendance to the AIA, an intern will still need to self-report their participation to NCARB in order to earn credit.)

You could potentially earn these 40 hours pretty quickly — most offices host lunch and learns on a monthly basis, and sometimes even weekly — but it’s surprising to me that many people don’t take advantage of the opportunity.  I get it — the lunch hour is sacred; why spend it listening to a product rep giving a canned presentation?  I can give you a few good reasons:

One, you can earn credit — even if you attend only two such sessions a month, that adds up to 24 additional hours toward your IDP (or, in other words, and additional three days’ worth of time, in those same 47 working weeks).

Two, some of the more technical presentations can help to reinforce concepts that are helpful in everyday practice… and that you might see again in the licensing exam.  In the past six months, our office has hosted presentations on copper in architecture, which included some pretty handy information on the galvanic series (which I can virtually guarantee will show up on the Building Design and Construction Systems exam) and roof copings (which dealt with uplift and suction at the roof edge due to wind forces, a major lateral forces topic on the Structural Systems exam).

Three, more often than not, you get a free lunch.  Who says there’s no such thing?

Reminder: You will still need to include these courses in your next Experience Report, which, of course, is subject to the reporting requirements (including the Six-Month Rule.)   Not an AIA member?  NCARB won’t hold that against you — you can still earn credit for attending.  You will, however, have to request a temporary transcript from the AIA — visit the “Free Transcripts for Interns” page on the AIA website.  You’ll receive an unique 8-digit number that will be used to report your participation in the event to the AIA.  This transcript has a shelf life — it will only be valid for three years — but that should be plenty of time to earn the available credit.

5600 or Bust!

5,600 hours.  That’s the minimum amount of time required to complete IDP.  But what does that mean, exactly?  (Warning: there be math ahead.)

If a typical work week is 40 hours, that means that IDP requires (at a minimum) 140 weeks to complete (5,600/ 40 = 140).

If there are 47 work weeks in a given year (52 weeks, minus 3 weeks for the standard amount of time off, minus another 2 weeks for holidays), that means that IDP requires just under 3 years to complete (140/ 47 = 2.97).  Again, at a minimum.

I hate to break it to you, but it’s going to take you a little longer than that.

The three-year rule of thumb for internship has become something of a staple of our profession (harkening all the way back to the days before a formal IDP process was established — you had to earn three years’ worth of experience before you could sit for the exam), but of course, it assumes that every hour spent during those three years is worthwhile experience, counting toward each of the 17 distinct Experience Areas defined in the IDP Guidelines.

I’m sure that it’s possible, but the reality is that it will likely take a little longer to complete IDP.  Exactly how long depends on you, your supervisor, and your employment setting, as well as a whole host of other things that are beyond your control (economic downturns, projects being placed on indefinite hold, a lack of any current projects under construction, etc).  (NCARB by the Numbers has shown the average amount of time required to be 5 years.  Counting a summer internship during college, it took me well over 4 years to finish.)

That’s where Supplemental Experience comes into play.  There’s no way around earning the required 5,600 hours, but Supplemental Experience can help you to earn them faster than you would in the traditional 40-hours-per-week work setting.  For example, working with a mentor (or mentors!), an intern could visit a construction site or perform tasks in the Emerging Professionals Companion, which, when added to the time already spent in the office, can in turn help to complete your internship in less time.  Even better, Supplemental Experience can be earned in both major categories — the minimum 3,740 Core Hours, which every intern needs to earn in the same quantities, as well as the 1,860 Elective Hours, which allows an internship to be tailored to a paticular set of skills, interests, and professional goals.

Over the course of a semi-regular series called Toward 5600, we’ll look a little more closely at IDP’s Supplemental Experience categories.  Look for posts tagged 5600 for great opportunities to earn credit beyond the traditional work setting… and accelerate your internship.