May 2, 2016

Registered Architect is now ArchitectOWL

I've changed my domain and blog to 
incorporate my new business. 

February 3, 2015

Beliefs: Special Ed to Architect

This is a guest blog post from a friend of mine, Michael Riscica, who also has a blog. We both attended NYIT at the same time, but didn’t really connect until several years later after we had both became licensed and started blogging. You can check out his website and other social media outlets below and in his profile by clicking his name at the closing. Take a read

After a long journey, last year I finally became a licensed architect. What I brought home the license not much changed in the moment, but I am now seeing, very clearly, my career moving towards being Young Entrepreneur Architect, a direction I never believed it would take.

Most of my life I struggled with believing in my own capabilities; personally, professionally and even sometimes physically. Luckily everything worked out beautifully but as Steve Jobs said: 

“...You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”

Special Ed and going to college
As a child I hated school. College wasn't even an afterthought. It was a miserable experience for me every step of the way. Very quickly everyone learned I had zero patience for sitting in a classroom learning about stuff that happened 300 years ago without any pictures to prove it. I also struggled with reading and writing and spent my entire education in special education classes, until I graduated 12th grade. 

After graduation I had extremely low self-esteem further perpetuating the idea that college wasn't for me. My high school education focused more on preventing my dropout, rather than preparing me for college. I worked several mediocre jobs and on a whim decided to give community college a try. I enrolled in an architectural drafting program after I played around with AutoCAD one day and thought it was fun. 

My whole world changed once I started to draw. I very quickly learned I loved drafting with a pencil and a computer.  I learned that I had a great ability to think three dimensionally. I ran circles around everyone in my classes with my drawings and models, too bad I was studying “Drafting”, not “Architecture”. 

The school I went to made it very clear they weren’t in architecture school. They taught drafting, not design. Yet encouraged their students to continue their education at a real school of architecture. Could I even handle architecture school? After a few years of disbelief, I decided to give it a try and enrolled. 

Going to architecture school
New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) was my first choice, despite the expense and my lack of confidence. I ended up going to Boston Architectural College (The BAC) which allowed me to work full time and attend school at night. The BAC wasn’t as much of an investment. Despite this, I wasn't sure if I would ever graduate. I believed I lacked a lot of resources to complete architecture school, and had a very little academic track record. I wasn't completely sure what I was getting myself into. 

All of my beliefs changed the more architecture classes I took. I surprised myself when I realized how my passion and excitement for the topic just kept growing. I truly fell in love with architecture while living in Boston. It went from a college major or a day job, to a personal obsession that kept me from sleeping. 

After two years in Boston and learning what I was actually capable of, I finally decided I needed to get out of this 40 hour a week work/study situation that I despised and decided to apply to study full-time at NYIT as an architecture student.  

I finished my education at NYIT and cannot think of how my architectural education could have been any better. I traveled to Europe several times with the school, worked on many special projects, rode my bicycle across America and made some incredible relationships.

Becoming a licensed architect
I felt I had proven myself having completed my degree thinking it stopped there. Becoming a licensed architect wasn't even a thought. I didn't think I could pass all those exam and jump through all the hoops. In fact, at one point I took a two year break from the process and wasn't sure if I would ever finish it. I was going to just let my exams expire. 

In November 2013, I realized that not finishing what I started was the source of a lot of frustration and pain. At that point I actually wanted my architecture license and felt that after all the projects and crap I had gone through, I deserved it. Just the last three exams were holding me back from having it. 

I readjusted everything I ever believed about the Architecture Registration Exam (ARE) and actually rearranged my entire life around finishing them. During this time I also mentally shifted my beliefs from seeing myself as “a really talented Architectural Intern” to “being a licensed Architect”. 

I started to very aggressively attack my remaining three exams. I spent the entire year of 2013 studying and taking them.  I even failed the Building Systems exam during this time and had to wait six months to retake it, but I passed my last test in October and had my license in December 2013. 

The Profession
Ready to hear a juicy architect confession? I actually hated working in the cubicle architecture office world for most of my years as an Intern. Sure, I was a great draftsman and a great employee, but for a long time I had hard time showing up every day. 
I believed all the negative things people say about the profession. I believed the pay sucks. I believed the premise that you work for other people your entire life and if you’re lucky you’ll get into a good firm that may let you design something. 

My attitude changed when I “zoomed out” and started to understand how my contributions played out in the big picture. They changed more when I started seeing my projects get built and then they changed completely once I started taking on a lot more responsibility and having my own clients. 

I now believe architecture is a lifestyle and there’s a lot of responsibility with being an architect. It’s not just a job. I also now believe it only rewards those who hustle. I don’t know if I can change those beliefs, after what I've seen. 

Change your beliefs
People ask me all the time “When did you know you wanted to be an architect?” and I start with  “Uhhhh…” and start blabbing about community college, but the real answer is, “One day when I was 20 years old and sick of washing dishes at a stupid chain restaurant at 1:00 am.”

My story isn't unique
Shortly before I graduated architecture school, I realized one day that I was one of many who had a similar story. Several of the most talented architecture students in my program were also in special education programs and struggled significantly with their education prior to arriving at architecture school. Thankfully my education prior to architecture school had very little influence over the direction of my life. 

I share all these stories because when I changed my beliefs about what I could achieve, it unlocked so many other areas of my life. Every one of us is capable of achieving much more then we believe we ever could. 

Michael Riscica 

January 1, 2015

The End to 2014

Time, though a human function of tracking, is one of the only factors in life that cannot be altered, reversed or predicted. Whether 1994, 2004 or 2014, we should all use our time wisely or at least be productive toward society for the most part. 

There will be big change with Registered Architect Blog. I will be transitioning to a new webspace with a new custom URL as well as a newly designed site. I will also be compiling my top photography into an online portfolio. In all this I will continue to help / mentor those taking architectural registration exams and bring more exam related help to the site. 

In it all I am and will be thankful and humble to be where I am. Every step forward is one putting me in forward progress. Thank you to all my supporters. 

December 23, 2014

Submission to NYCOBA for Recognition Award- "A Lesson Learned in Architecture"

I recently won an award for my efforts to promote and help young emerging professionals attain licensure. This submission was to the New York Coalition of Black Architects (NYCOBA) part of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). I am honored to hear others speak highly of my works and give me recognition to which I am humbled. The following is the written submission I wrote which is an update to my first NCARB Architectural Registration Exam pointers found HERE.   

A Lesson Learned in Architecture (NCARB ARE)

Architecture is a dynamic creature that begs to be mastered but can never truly be achieved. Many lessons can be derived from a profession that deals with such a complex art.The Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) is a lesson ("a useful piece of practical wisdom acquired by experience or study") that lends itself to acquire practical wisdom from its laborious process. Having completed the ARE process, coupled with relevant experience, what follows is a reflection of what process I took in preparation for the exam. Hopefully, my accounts will be a helping hand and shed light on the path for current candidates seeking licensure.

Key Concentration-
There is more at play than just sitting at a desk and answering some questions. Yes, the exam is intimidating but only due to its unfamiliarity. The process that assisted me in accomplishing a successful result entailed three strategic factors: understanding your study style, momentum and consistent persistence. I believe that these factors should be approached in your own personal way and applied across the entire 7-exam process.

Making a Schedule-
This is a useful starting point that doesn't have to be detailed or lengthy.

Firstly: Briefly review ALL seven exam section guides provided by NCARB. This will get you thinking on each subject. The ordering in which you test is irrelevant initially. Think about your exam spacing and any life events that may be occurring. This may be family, work or school related which will affect your exam focus. Set aside these initial findings.

Secondly: Follow up with a more in-depth review of each section guide and the additional reference materials therein. Which topics are you familiar with? Which are new to you? Would you rather start with the unfamiliar topics and finish up with familiar ones or would you rather the opposite? When you have answered these questions, you are on your way to having a tentative schedule and exam order. Tentative, in that it is likely to change.

Study Style-
How well were you during high school and college taking exams? What factors were necessary for you to do well? Did you procrastinate? Organized sessions or sporadic? Did you read repeatedly, listen to audio books or make personal flash cards? These questions pose the relevant dialogue you should have with yourself. Understanding the manner in which you learn is key to "ingesting" the massive amount of information the ARE encompasses. I was able to read study guides & reference guides repeatedly while making my own notes. My most important note taking was during and following practice exams. You should be honest with yourself about topics or questions you don't grasp during the study process. Review them and note where you went wrong. Seek out additional materials if you still have trouble.

I did not "cram" for any of my exams and I do not recommend you do so either. "The quicker the information comes in, the quicker it goes out." Remember this exam is a learning tool; you will not retain much information if you just memorize. If your passion is architecture, knowing every word is unrealistic but understanding the topics and concepts will help you beyond your exams. This is uniquely important for the structures and building systems exams. Most would think there's no need to delve deep into these topics since I have engineers to handle this in real life. Yes and No. Architects need to be knowledgeable on many facets of buildings, design and construction; sort of a 'jack of all trades'. This Renaissance man mentality was very apparent during my study sessions. Understanding the principal concepts of basic structures and their loading is just as important as understanding heating, cooling and drainage.

A physics term which has two applicable meanings as related to the ARE:

One: A mass in motion. Consider yourself to be the mass and the completion of one exam as motion. In order to create motion, you have to start. It's understandable with exam topics, procedures, software, all of which is new, for this to be daunting. The famous phrase said it best "half the battle is showing up." Procrastination is not your friend. I found it necessary to bite the bullet and get started. If you are slipping during the process, make sure to reassess your schedule.

Two: The more the mass is in motion the harder it is to stop. Once you start, do not stop! I got into a groove of testing across the 2.5 years it took me to finish. Then the task doesn't seem as difficult but just a necessary middle man to an achievable goal. This was especially important for me having passed all seven exams straight through without stopping.

Consistent Persistence-
Though partly related to the aforementioned factor and somewhat expected, these are equally important aspects of completing your ARE. After setting a schedule and starting, you have to remain consistent with your study routine; a routine which will be dependent on each individual. I also felt it necessary to study every day in order to remain persistent. The material remained fresh in my mind and I built on top of that information in every subsequent study session. I did not take too much time off or it would have felt like I was starting all over.

About the Exam-
The exam itself is broken down into a multiple choice portion and a graphic vignette portion. Multiple choice is exactly what you'd expect; choosing the correct word answer(s) from four to six options, fill in the blank, true-false and graphic/picture selection. The biggest help for me during preparations was taking as many different practice exams as possible. I recommend you take a wide variety of exams from different testing material publishers. I'll warn you, I only took each practice exam twice at the most. Any more than that and you run the risk of memorizing the correct answer as opposed to learning why the correct answer is correct.

Unfortunately, the graphic portion utilizes a truly un-user friendly software. It is quirky and time consuming if you aren't accustom to it. There's only one solution to mastering this program and that's usage time. In the beginning I would start using the program at my midway study point. Towards the end of my testing I could wait until the latter since I was very proficient using it. Familiarity aids in time management which is a major learning curve to overcome. Generally, the vignettes are not difficult but put under a time constraint coupled with the software nuisances, they do become challenging. For multiple choice and vignettes, my review materials consisted of Kaplan & Ballast/PPI study guide systems, Norman Dorf's Solutions vignette guide, NCARB guides, select reference text and various free online study resources.

Don't let things get you down-
Failure is a principal we come to terms with at an early age. No one is perfect and we cannot let the possibility of failure deter you from accomplishing your goal. The ARE is no different. Prepare for the exam accordingly and give it your all. Be positive and confident. This was my testing ethic. After starting my exams I hit a stumbling block. My first exam came back as a FAIL. I was upset and distort. Reading the letter almost brought me to tears. Getting back on the horse per sae was not an easy task, but I did and passed all seven after that. I urge you to take advantage of the given score report as well as an evaluation of your feeling during the exam and try again. With the new 60 day wait period, don't be fooled into rushing into a second attempt. Make sure to prepare accordingly.

Get the Paperwork done-
Despite my heavy focus on studying and getting through the exams, I did not forget about the documentation process. I was sure to stay up to date on the completion of all NCARB and state license requirements. In a lot of states you are allowed to test concurrently with completion of the IDP. In my state, NY, this is so. These requirements can vary greatly, so be proactive. For example: I've seen NY require more than the NCARB minimum experience hours. NCARB sets the basis but your state is the final determining factor. I felt it was prudent to complete the backend items so my main focus was on the only outstanding requirement: the ARE. In a two (2) week span of time I was able to get my last exam pass, attain my license number from the state and receive my formal & official hard copy certificate, license and registration. Next to the day of my marriage and the birth of my two children, that was a glorious moment! The ARE is challenging but it is far from impossible. Stay positive from day one. Set up a plan and stick with it.

Bringing it all together-
Gaining momentum while being consistent and persistent is key but you also have to work within your limits understanding what works for you. Be cautious as to who you confide in about your journey through the ARE. There will always be that bitter person that complains about every aspect of the exam or makes excuses as to why you shouldn't start. Attempting to stay positive in your own path can be derailed with these "Debbie Downers." There's enough pressure with completing the exam itself. Strive toward completion and remember "That which is worth having isn't easily attained."

Jared W. Smith, R.A.  
I am now on Facebook and Instagram. Please Like and Follow me! 

December 2, 2014

Instagram, Architecture & Photography

I recently entered the world of Instagram, a little apprehensive but open minded. It's been almost a month and I can say for sure: there are a lot of people on there! I'd be happy if you'd follow me @RegisteredArchitect.

Amazing to see the exchange of those with a love of creative expression. My initial reaction to be interested in the expected architecture related post but that has crossed over to art and general non-architectural Photography. The following is phrases as well as lessons learned from my journey trickled with some of my recent post. Mind you I am a self taught Photography still learning my way around this complex world. 

It is fairy easy to capture a photo on a cell phone, use a filter and post it.

The manner in which you go about capturing that photo is what will differentiate a good from a great instagramer.

Framing and composition is just as important as the subject matter being shot.

Apparently likes and followers can be bought and sold.

There are some extremely talented people on Instagram.

Exchanging of photos from all over the world in real time is pretty awesome.

I am more likely to be drawn to a perfectly composed photo of an iconic building or a hand drawn sketch than the other nonsensical things posted.  

Though started with mainly iPhone photos, I will gradually incorporate my DSLR photos also.

I am in agreement with those that feel the average person's snapshots in Instagram aren't 'real' Photography but there are some exceptions to the rule.

With little control over my iPhone's camera, at times I cannot capture the photo the way I want.

I would rather achieve 1,000 real followers than 10,000 fake followers. 

Instagram makes you think about your surroundings more.

There's a whole host of useless users, in my opinion, on Instagram just like other social media.

Architecture is not always about just seeing the whole building or project but also its details that make it interesting. 

Facebook and Instagram have a different mix of people that frequent them. 

One thing's for sure, I wish I had joined years ago!

Instagram is addicting with so much to explore. 

I love photography almost as much as architecture. This feeds my passion and inspires!  

I shoot exclusively with my iPhone 6 and my Pentax k5 & kr bodies coupled with several lenses. Being a hobbyist photographer I do not shoot (my DSLR) ever day or even every week but it is never far from my mind & hand. With Instagram it has encouraged me to seek out opportunities with my mobile and DSLR to capture good moments in time. I hope to improve my skills and gain genuinely interested followers.

There is much more to come in the future. You can check me out on Facebook at and on Instagram at