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.

Style and Substance

I promised myself that this blog would focus on architectural licensure, not my own personal hobbies and interests.  But I suppose that I can allow myself the occasional non-sequitur…

I woke up Sunday morning wondering if Mad Men‘s time has passed.  After all, we haven’t seen Don and company since June of last year — it’s conceivable to think that the world has moved on, more interested in some of the other quality dramas (True Blood, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey…) that have risen to prominence in the months since.  For a show that defines itself through its high sense of style, now six seasons in, I feared that Mad Men could be in danger of going out of it.


“Just show me who you really are.” Easier said than done.

Wrong.  The show is as compelling as ever, thanks mostly to Jon Hamm’s indelible portrayal of (anti-) hero Don Draper.  Don’s inner battle with his own personal identity crisis (I won’t spoil it for the non-fans out there) is metaphoric for any of us — particularly men — who struggle to define ourselves.  Season 6 appears to find Don confronting his mortality, going so far as to seep into his ad campaign for an idyllic  Hawaiian resort.  Don’s best pitches have always been his most personal ones (I’m thinking of the lump-in-the-throat presentation to Kodak in the season one finale “The Carousel”), but this one might have strayed a little too far into somber territory.   (The client’s reaction to this pitch is as scathing of a review as you’ll ever receive in architecture school, cringe-inducing for anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of an unappreciative client.)

Mad Men’s constant focus on Creative — the department in the advertising agency that conceives of and then develops the ad campaigns for Sterling Cooper Draper Price’s varied clientele — is just one of the many things that I find compelling about the show.  I can think of very few other mainstream dramas that make the design process so riveting, without dumbing things down for the sake of the audience.  It’s not just the inside view of the craft — it’s also the personal expression that informs it.  Don does his best to hide his true self from everyone else around him, but it’s through his art that he reveals himself.  (Talk about truth in advertising!)

I think I’ll leave it at that, lest this start to become a forum for critical review of television dramas.  Safe to say, though, that my favorite excuse for a Sunday night martini has returned, and I’m more than happy to be along for the ride.

Something to Call Your Own

“Ownership” is an important concept in a design-oriented profession.  Ownership over something helps us to feel a sense of responsibility over it, which in turn makes us care about it… and helps us to succeed.  Especially when you find yourself working on a large project, following the redlined direction given by others, it can be difficult to feel as if you’re making your mark.  It’s important to try and find a piece of it, no matter how small, that you can take some ownership over, something that you can truly call your own.

Take, for example, a recent addition to Pittsburgh’s skyline, a complex mixed-use building on a triangular site, the first skyscraper to be added downtown in 20 (if not 30) years, and one of the largest projects to take place in the city in over ten.  The office that I worked for at the time had partnered with a large, San Francisco-based firm (not naming names, but it rhymes with “Mensler”) for the design and documentation of the project.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the planning, design, construction administration, or coordination of the building… nor would I ever even suggest that I did, or try and take any credit for the finished product.  But during a difficult week leading up to a pretty significant deadline, I was asked to step in and help detail the canopies at the pedestrian entries.  All four of them — at the entrances to the hotel component, the condominium component, the office tower, and the streetfront retail.  This involved the required depth of the structural framing, the geometry of the architectural cladding (your typical metal panel system, but with a custom aluminum extrusion as a “nose cone”), and the integration of the LED fixtures.  Oh, did I mention that all four of those canopies, while similar, were completely different from one another?

The building is 23 stories tall and extraordinarily complex in pretty much every regard, and the end result is a stunner.  I have an enormous amount of respect for the architects (in both offices) that brought it to life.  And, again, I would never even suggest that I had anything involvement in that effort.

But, anytime I walk past over my lunch hour, or stop by for a drink after work, when those canopies are (architecturally) allowing the building to be engaging at a pedestrian scale, and (functionally) shielding patrons from the rain, I think back to that week that I spent detailing and coordinating them.  No one else might know about it, but I had a hand in their creation.  And that’s something that I can call my own.