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.

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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.)

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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.

Liberation

It’s the 16th of the month, which means it’s time for my mid-month round of bill paying. This time around, however, there’s one less to worry about. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to start off 2014 with a (relatively) clean slate — and with the help of a small monetary gift from Santa Claus, I have successfully paid off my student loans. It only took 13 years and one month… or, in other words, 157 easy installments, plus one big push at the end. Nothing to it. (Ha.)

Shawshank-Redemption-scriptI didn’t think that this day would ever come (when I started paying the loan, six months after I had graduated, the total amount was so large that it was difficult to fathom)… and now that it has, to be perfectly honest, it actually feels a little strange. (The curse of being anal-retentive and perpetually anxious, not paying that bill is actually making me uneasy, as if I’ve forgotten something… I suppose it will feel a little more real on the 16th of next month…?) The payment has been part of my monthly routine for my entire adult life. Many things have changed in that time — I’ve owned three different vehicles, moved several times (my varied rent payments eventually giving way to a mortgage), each living arrangment with a different type of utilities and set of providers, and somehow managed to finance an engagement ring and a wedding band — and all along the way, my loan payments have always been there, ever vigilant. The monthly payment amount might as well have been tattooed into my forehead; it’s only changed twice in that thirteen year period — once, when I consolidated my five separate loans into one, under a new loan carrier (which reduced the monthly payment by half), and a second time, when that carrier rewarded my repayment with a reduction in my interest rate (a whopping half-percent, but hey, it was something). Paying off the loan balance came with little fanfare — not that I was expecting streamers and confetti when I clicked “Submit Payment,” but a congratulatory email, maybe? Farewell and thank you for your business? Remember us when your kids start college? (Update: I did indeed receive a simple yet sincere letter of congratulations from my loan provider, just over one month after making that final payment… so apparently it took at least that long for it to become “real” for them, too?)

Along the way, I’ve read countless articles about managing your debt, including some very sound advice for paying off your loans faster; some of my favorites, such as “Just pay more against the principal!” (Thank you, faceless financial adviser — you do realize that a college graduate is reading this, right? I’ll cut back on the ramen noodles this month…) and “Skip the daily Starbucks run!” (Hello?! I can’t afford to buy coffee at Starbucks, BECAUSE I’M PAYING OFF MY SCHOOL LOANS!! Sheesh…), make the issue seem somewhat trivial, as if the problem were the fault of the student, not the system. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal last year, the country’s total student loan debt currently surpasses $1 trillion, and about 9% of all consumer debt is student loans (which is an increase of 3% from a decade ago). In December, CNN reported that the average student loan debt, per person, was $29,400 in 2012. I realize that I’ve been very fortunate to have been gainfully employed since I graduated, giving me the ability to continue to make those monthly payments consistently. The economy, particularly in recent years, hasn’t been as kind to many others. It’s no mystery why student loans have become our country’s latest debt crisis — it’s relatively easy to get a loan as an 18-year-old, but nearly impossible to pay it off when you’re 23 and unemployed.

Last year, I came across an article about lobbying efforts by the AIA and AIAS for student debt assistance, allowing graduates the opportunity to exchange pro-bono design services for loan forgiveness, very similar to established programs (like the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders) for other professions. The proposed National Design Services Act would promote the work of community design centers and collaboratives in underserved areas, allowing architectural graduates the opportunity to do meaningful work and receive some consideration for their debt in return. To say that this is an incredible idea would be a severe understatement — this is just the sort of humanitarian effort that would appeal to many graduates from architectural programs, who could use their skills to make a difference in communities in need, and help with the debt issue certainly wouldn’t be anything to sneeze at.

For more information about the NDSA, including ways you or your chapter can assist with legislation in your area, click here. Or consider joining the AIA for lobbying efforts at the state or national level, where you can help by speaking directly to your elected representatives, putting a very real face to a very real issue.

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.

Be IN the Room

Tonight’s the night. AIA Pittsburgh is hosting its annual Design Pittsburgh awards ceremony and gala. The event is promoted as “celebrating excellence in (regional) architecture and design, [and] honoring those who create it.” Our chapter produces several major events per year, but this is by far the largest and probably the most well renowned. It’s become an industry-wide event, allowing ample opportunity for networking against the backdrop of design excellence in our region. I can guarantee you that I will enjoy chatting up some of my fellow professionals, some of whom I haven’t seen since last year’s event. I can guarantee you that I will likely drink more than a few “Corboozies” along the way. I can also guarantee you that I will be one of a very small percentage of young architects in the room.

This fact never ceases to amaze me. Architects — particularly young architects — are often quick to point out that the profession is dominated by “old white men.” However, the vast majority of that same demographic seems not interested in doing anything to change it. Maybe its the cost of the ticket, maybe its the stigma that the AIA just ain’t cool, or maybe it’s the thought that, as a young architect, you just don’t belong in the room. None of these things are true. Young architects are just as much of a part of the profession as the more seasoned professionals — last I checked, the words “honoring those that create it” didn’t come with any exclusions. We make our contributions in different ways, but they are no less important than those of our project managers and senior principals.

During a committee meeting earlier this year, we were discussing this particular phenomenon. One of my former colleagues put it very adroitly: whether or not you see any value in belonging to a professional organization like the AIA, whether or not you think that the ticket is too expensive, if you care at all about your career, “sooner or later, everybody has to decide that they need to be in the room.” You need to be perceived as a part of the collective.

I will openly admit that I was very apathetic as a young professional. My first few years out of college, I rarely took advantage of these types of opportunities. My biggest reason? I didn’t feel that I had anything to offer. It turns out that I was completely wrong, but I didn’t find that out until much, much later… and I wish that I could have some of that time back. My involvement with the AIA has made me feel like much more of a part of my local architectural community, as well as the national organization that we belong to. It’s shown me that there is much more to the profession than just the three walls of my workstation, or the project currently in my browser.

This post is not meant to be a “bang the drum hard for the AIA” type of post. It’s not even necessarily advocating one the form of community involvement over the other. But it is about taking part in the community, and growing beyond your comfort zone. It’s about choosing to see the value of being in the room. (And yes, there are many other ways in which to do that, not just through the AIA, but this is the one that I’ve chosen.)

Whether or not you join us tonight, no matter which projects win our awards, I can tell you one thing for sure: It’s going to be one heck of a party, a celebration of our collective achievements over the past year, in a room full of talented, creative professionals. I’m proud to be in that room. If you do join us, seek me out, and let’s marvel together over the incredible community that were fortunate to be a part of. Let’s be in the room together. Might as well grab another Mintamalist while we’re at it…

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.

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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.

Time Flies

As I get older, I’ve noticed that time seems to be moving faster… 2012 has gone by in the blink of an eye.  I’m already seven months in to my stint as the State Coordinator, and five months have passed since my first stab at blogging about all things licensure.  2012 was one of the first years that I can systematically point to a series of events, each building upon the last, that had a profound impact on my career, and for that reason, I can’t let the year go by without a quick look back.

grassrootsThe year began with me passing the torch of AIA-Pittsburgh’s Young Architects Forum to our vice chair, looking forward to the next big thing, whatever that might be.  Turns out that I didn’t have to wait long to find out.  In March, I  joined my chapter’s executive director and board president in attending my first Grassroots Conference (over which I waxed philosophic, in a column for AIA Pittsburgh’s website).  Through advocacy at the national level, for the first time, I experienced the bigger picture of our profession, and the small role that I could play in it.  “Come as you are,” the marketing for the event asked, “leave inspired,” and I certainly did both.  (I also left with two small souvenirs from the AIA Bookstore — a copy of “Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice,” for me, and “Iggy Peck, Architect” for my son.  Both have been read and re-read several times since then, each offering sly humor and  deep inspiration that I never tire of.)

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Directing traffic… (photo courtesy of the YAF Facebook page)

2012 also marked the 20th anniversary of the Young Architects Forum, an event that was celebrated earlier that same week by a gathering of 60 young architect leaders and emergent professionals from across the United States.  The event was called YAF Summit20, and, like Summit15 before it, was intended to shape the direction for the next five years’ worth of YAF focus and initiatives.  The bulk of the summit, and ultimately its main focus, was the identification of the top six issues facing young architects in the current state of architectural practice.  One of those six, the Value of Licensure, seemed to permeate the discussions of each of the other five, and for good reason.  Some of the underlying themes from Summit – including the introductory presentation by Marsha Littell (who, at the time, was the director of training and talent management at HOK) on the generational shift in the modern workplace, and, more specifically, my breakout group’s discussion on the “Value of Licensure,” one of the six issues that we explored at Summit — have influenced nearly everything that I have written, discussed, and thought about in the months since. I also made some great friends that have extended my network far beyond my little corner of the world.

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Occasionally, I actually look like I know what I’m talking about… (photo courtesy of the YAF Facebook page)

The generational shift would play quite largely into a presentation that I was in the midst of preparing for Build Pittsburgh 2012, our chapter’s annual educational conference.  Titled “(Not) Just Another Day at the Office,” we looked at shifting attitudes toward the traditional office landscape, which have largely been driven by technological advancements, but also increasing numbers of Gen-Ys in the workforce.  We were speaking in general terms, of course, and focusing on an architectural response to the most mundane of spaces… but I found myself fascinated by the implications into our own profession.

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Opening act: Pink Floyd.

In mid-June — my mind reeling with thoughts of generational issues, work-life balance, toilet room details, mentorship, record-high unemployment, career detours, intrepid second-graders, and the future of our profession — I accepted the position of IDP State Coordinator for Pennsylvania.  I saw the position as a way of addressing some of the issues facing the profession, in a manner best suited to my interests, skills, and mindset.  Less than a month later, I attended my first Coordinators Conference, and in October, I performed my first two school visits, literally within days of each other — visiting with Pitt’s AIAS Chapter on Friday, October 19, and Penn State’s Department of Architecture on Monday, October 22 — with a trip to CMU scheduled for early 2013.

Along the way, as part of AIA Pittsburgh, we continued with our series of ARE Review Sessions, performed outreach on behalf of the profession through Park(ing) Day and CANstruction, celebrated the registration of 13 newly licensed architects, and, of course, Facebooked/ blogged/ Tweeted/ Instagrammed about topics that were relevant to the future of our profession and our region (and, in some cases, both).  I suppose I actually did some real work (for the paying job) somewhere in there, too.  The end of the year celebrations brought a nice surprise… and some well deserved rest and reflection.

I am greatly appreciative of the opportunities that came my way in 2012, and hope that I’ve been able to help some of you on your own paths to licensure.  Looking forward to what 2013 will bring…

Be the Change

Nearly seven years ago, I received my license to practice architecture… to no fanfare, little accolade other than congratulatory sentiments from my co-workers.  I did not get a raise, nor did I experience any discernable increase in responsibility in my daily tasks.  My studio leader bought me a bottle of decent vodka, and I think a few of us might have gone to lunch, but that was about it.

At the time, the human resources manager was pretty good about sending congratulatory email messages to the entire office — welcoming of new hires, growth of our extended family through weddings and births, and most importantly, professional advancements.  When one of my colleagues earned their professional credentials — architects, engineers, marketing directors and administrative assistants — an email went out.  I never told anyone, but the expectation of that email was my personal motivation.  I couldn’t wait to get finished with the ARE, so that someone with clout could inform the office of my achievement.  I didn’t want or expect a tickertape parade down Boulevard of the Allies, but I did want that email message.  It sounds simple, and possibly even silly, but we have to take our rewards where we can get them. That email was my carrot.

He ended up leaving to pursue another opportunity about two months before I passed my last exam.  My achievement went largely unrecognized.  And what might be even worse, I simply accepted that, as part of the status quo, and moved on.  Turned the other cheek, if you will… but I’d be lying to you if I said that missing email hasn’t haunted me ever since.

Two years later, it struck me that being an anonymous staff architect at a moderately large architecture firm just wasn’t enough for me anymore.  I was starting to realize that there is a distinct difference between a job and a career.  A job is something you do every day, whether you like it or not.  A career goes beyond the cubicle and embraces the community, and hopefully makes a difference.  So, in search of a career, I joined the AIA.

That was five years ago, and since then, not only have I found an creative outlet beyond my 9-to-5 job, I’ve seen that I have the ability to enact change, that we don’t have to settle for the status quo.  As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world;”  involvement with the AIA has given me the opportunity to live by that mantra.  Sometimes it’s at a snail’s pace (I now understand why Gandhi was such a patient man), but it happens.

I make a big deal out of licensure, for a lot of reasons.  It’s a tremendous achievement, not only for the individual, but also their office, the local AIA chapter, and the profession at large.  Also, it’s not easy — it takes an incredible amount of work and a lot of personal determination.  The time, effort, and money involved, between the internship and exam process, is nothing to sneeze at, and warrants respect.  But quite simply, I make a big deal out of licensure because no one made a big deal out of it for me, and I don’t want anyone else to feel like I did.  I can’t give them a raise or increased responsibility, but I can at least celebrate the achievement.  If it means that I become a glorified cheerleader on the behalf of a new RA, then so be it.  They deserve it.

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2012 President Mark Dietrick, new RAs Mike Driscoll, Luke Havrilla, Emily Putas, Natale Cozzolongo, and Lindsay Reed, and 2013 President Dutch MacDonald (Not pictured: Acadia Klain)

At last night’s Holiday Party (held at Wigle Whiskey, for a definite change of pace), as we have for the past three years running, we recognized the newest registered architects in Pittsburgh — a grand total of thirteen in all for 2012.  We had to track some of them down, and not everyone could make it, of course, but about half of them were able to be a part of the evening.  Each of them was introduced by our incoming Board president, and then the chapter raised a glass in their honor, out of respect for their registration.  It’s such a simple thing, really, but it’s one that I am quite proud of.  As an architect, I’ve worked on some pretty impressive projects and created some nice spaces, but that’s my job; as far as my career goes, this is the thing that I want to be remembered for.

The toast would have been plenty, but there was more to come.  In a surprise move, I was also quite humbled (flabbergasted might be a better word, actually) to receive the AIA’s President’s Award.  The certificate, which has earned a place of honor next to my monitor, bears the following text:  “In grateful appreciation for his tireless efforts to help architecture interns obtain licensure, which benefits all architects and the AEC community at large… whose wit and wisdom is generously shared as a regular contributor to COLUMNS and through his own communication efforts… and whose good humor and passion shine through as a beacon for all of us who care deeply about the benefit of good design.” 

I don’t know what that email from HR would have said, but I doubt that the words would have been as poignant.  I finally received the acknowledgement that I didn’t even know I was waiting for, and for that, I am eternally grateful.  To everyone at AIA Pittsburgh — Anne Swager, Rachael Kelley, Erin Raff, YAF Chair Anastasia Herk, outgoing president Mark Dietrick and the rest of the Board of Directors — I thank you for including me as a part of your family, for giving me an outlet for my passion over our noble profession, and, most importantly, for letting me be the change I wanted to see in the world.