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.

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.

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.


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.)


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.


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.


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…