April 22, 2014

Proximity to Mahattan

Click photo for Hi-Res - Flickr
Working in and around New York City, I have a way of using Manhattan as point of reference. On rooftops I look for the all too familiar New York Skyline. Sometimes it is large and right in my face and other times it is not and I can barely make it out. BUT it is still there. I have to say I have great pride in the city that I was born and raised in.  

April 16, 2014

Color Selection

Click photo for Hi-Res - Flickr

Color Selection. A tough task when it comes to presenting possible colors to a owner. In the above photo a prominent landmark building has undergone construction repairs to the exterior. From the public sidewalk the most noticeable change is the brightly painted blue fence. Traditionally these fences were sometimes a very dark grey color but most of the time they are black.  

Lesson Learned: Clients and Architects don't always fully agree. In this case, it is not a life safety issue therefore it is easier to document the issue and move on. Working cohesively with your clients is essential. On to the next fire that needs to be put out!          

Jared W Smith, R.A.

April 10, 2014

An Essay of my Architectural Journey

Thinking about my journey through architecture, it has been filled with many bumps along the way. I remember after graduation, wondering if this was the right path for me, with the rolling clock in play, job market crash and heavy debt trailing.

It took me nearly three years after graduating with my Bachelors of Architecture to essentially step back into the lifestyle that I always knew I belonged. The biggest struggle that seems to fall into many people’s mind is “is it worth it? All this struggling, all the hard work, can I do something else with my life?”

Three years after contemplating these thoughts, I have completed more than half my ARE’s. I’ve learned that this isn’t a journey any person can tackle alone. Whether it’s the encouragement of those around you who say how proud they are, or peers who are as determined as you to see you and themselves succeed, it takes a lot of love and determination to press on.
There are several factors that continue to resonate in my mind from the day I decided I was ready to test until every exam I apply for.

First, these exams are incredibly difficult and expensive, it seems to be the biggest fear factor in everyone considering to apply. Just remember, nobody is ever 100% ready, there WILL be questions that you could not even guess the answer to.  Be confident in yourself, use the forums, read the guidebooks, ask questions. These are your best tools to prepare yourself.
Second, what order do I take the tests in? Well, that depends, you have to get a basic idea of what each section contains and gauge for yourself what you feel comfortable taking. For me, I chose one I thought would be simple to get a hang of the exam format.

Third, what if I fail? What if the failures don’t meet the rolling clock deadline? Simple answer that I’ve received, most people fail. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off.  This goes back to “what order do I test in?” I decided to start off easy, with Site Planning and Design, and continued with what I thought had significant overlap. I also chose to test what I considered most difficult, saving what I was comfortable with toward the end to justify the 6 month wait between retesting periods.

Finally, School meant nothing. That’s right, I could have bought the books and studied for this test and felt as prepared or unprepared as I do now. School teaches us how to be designers, to be creative. These tests in my opinion test you on how to test. Sure there is some basic knowledge and experienced based questions, but I find most people struggle on the way these darn tests are worded. NCARB tends to screw with you. Many people have had complaints about their procedures, the difficulties in speaking to a live person about what they screwed up on and what other way they’ve chosen to screw us interns over with. I have my personal gripes with NCARB, constantly changing their rules and costing thousands of dollars throughout this internship experience in one form or another.  As many people have said, their testing standards today do not gauge a persons’ ability to successfully practice architecture, and yet, they are the national standard for what we are to prepare for. I believe many things I have learned in preparation for the exams are invaluable to life as an architect. However, their merit for the exam can be laughable.

In the end, I cannot tell you how you should study, or even if it is a path you would want to partake. This decision is yours. I chose to take an exam once per month which many would advise against, however, I have been able to study at a pace of 30 hours per week. I felt the information was fresh in my mind each time I stepped into the exam room. With SPD, CDs, PPP and Structures out of the way, I see the light at the end of my tunnel. These exams aren’t the most difficult thing you will encounter in your future practice of architecture, they are a hurdle that inducts us into a society. For me, after walking away from this profession, I discovered that it was what I want in life, a discovery that reinvigorated my desire to complete the ARE. All I can really say to you is: "Good Luck on your journey. Keep fighting."

Ron Kunateerachadalai

April 8, 2014

I'm a Registered Architect, now what?

It has all sunk in now. I am a licensed and registered architect. Now what? Though the exams experience was challenging, I am grateful for the experience. It expanded my knowledge and understanding of architecture. It also inspired me to research, learn, read, travel and perfect my craft (if that's even possible). This is a profession that not only lends itself to continued learning & education but one that cannot be completely mastered. Even the greats such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe would all say the same.

Being a young architect, I have much to learn in the coming years about the accountability of being a design professional and business itself. I have amassed a great deal of experience already but I hope to absorb even more from the talented architects that surround me on a daily basis.  

Meanwhile here are the 3 things I've done to date: 

1. State requirement: I've researched with my state on maintaining registration, what that entails and the time frames for submissions. I even found out NYS has an Architect photo ID issued through the department of education. That's cool. I will definitely check that out.   

2. Join professional organizations: I am a part of AIA (now full fledged) and have my LEED AP certification already. I am looking into some other organization for possible joining which I am passionate about. One namely being NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects). 

3. Lastly- Look out for continuing education: They are all around me on a constant basis. Whether it is in the ARCHITECT magazine, lunch & learns in my office or seminars at large convention centers events. I do not feel any shortage of opportunities. 

Having my BArch I am wondering if it's beneficial to go back for my masters degree in a related field? Possibly a focus on sustainability, business or construction. Maybe do some smaller certificate programs. One thing is for sure, there is a code of conduct which I will continue to follow which protects the health, wellness and safety of the public. Onward and upward! What do you think?  


April 1, 2014

My ARE Experience

When I think back in my experience with the AREs I remember my first conversation after graduation with my mentor. He was concerned about the 5 year rolling clock and I remember telling him that it wouldn't be a problem. I was certain that I would be done taking exams long before the end of 5 years. Unfortunately, here I am 5 years later, still studying.

Although I haven’t finished testing there a few things that I've learned from my own experience as well as from stories from others. First, time moves a lot faster than you’d think. I start studying, then a new project or deadline comes up and I always put studying on hold. Before I know it 6 months have passed by. I think most of us are naturally procrastinators so life events make it easy to put studying on hold and without the deadlines that school and work usually impose on us, there's nothing to keep us on a set path. To avoid this many people suggest scheduling the exams before starting to study for the first exam and immediately after each one. Since it has become so expensive to reschedule each exam this will usually prevent discouragement from a failed exam or “taking a victory break" from continuing for too long.

Speaking of failing exams this is one of the main reasons why I've hesitated to test. I don’t like to loose and each time I fail an exam it hits me in two places. It feels like a shot to my self-esteem as well as my wallet.  Fortunately others, some who are licensed architects, have shared with me the number of times they've failed. It helps to know that failing one exam (or two or seven) once, twice, or even ten times doesn't matter! Captain Kirk took the Kobayashi Maru 10 times and no one cared. He got a starship. I’m learning that the only thing that matters is getting the license. Knowing that no firm or client will ever ask about my failed exams takes some of the pressure off.  In my experience most architects don't feel like the ARE's are a proper measure of your ability to be an architect anyway.

Personally I feel like the ARE exam is a crock and NCARB isn’t much better either. The whole thing is another way for someone to make more money off of us interns. Don't get me wrong, the information I've learned from studying has been invaluable. My firm has been supportive enough to take on jobs related to my topics of study so I can get more experience or apply what I’ve learned. The exam itself just feels irrelevant and nonsensical. I don’t know who writes it or where the questions come from but I often hear people saying that they thought the questions were way left field. I too have walked out of exams feeling like the information I studied was not reflected in the questions, or like I had to guess on far too many questions, but still passed. I’ve even been told not to try to make sense of it or think about how things would work in the real world. As I plan to practice in the real world, I wonder how designing for the imaginary world of NCARB will help me. But, since there’s currently no other way to test our qualifications, we have no choice. That being said the best resources that I’ve found for test preparation are the areforum.com and more recently arecoach.com, which is a little less overwhelming than ARE Forum. Some people recommend specific ARE prep courses, but reading the recommendations on the forums and going with the general consensus has helped me to know what’s worth the investment.

As for methods for studying I’ve tried organizing study groups for AIA committees, promising to study with friends who were also taking the ARE’s or with family members who were studying for other things, but I found that I talk too much and I’m better off studying alone. I’ve asked my mentor for help but ended up wasting time arguing that the questions & vignettes aren’t designed to make sense. I’ve even enlisted friends and family as accountability partners, but having my coworkers outside of architecture threatening to cut me off or not tell me about meetings and family constantly threatening to confiscate my gadgets gets old very quickly.

Currently my process involves not telling anyone when I’ve scheduled exams, not studying in front of my mentor and either waiting until everyone has left the office or escaping my home to a nearby Starbucks to study. I try to put in at least 2 hours on week days and 4 on weekends not including time on the train reviewing flash cards I make for myself in an app called StudyDroid (although I invested in like a thousand index cards, I found that I tend to leave them at home in efforts to make my purse lighter. I never go anywhere without my cell phone though!).

In the end everyone has their own system. For studying, my system is one that doesn’t involve anyone other than the anonymous, nonjudgmental people on the exam forums. For exams some prefer water, and energy bars during exam breaks while I prefer coffee and cookie stuffed chocolate bars. I’m learning that what’s important is creating a routine that works for you, sticking to it, and just getting the thing done.