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.


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.