When you were a child did you ever play with Legos, Lincoln Logs, Blocks, or even K’Nex? For me, this first spark of inspiration came from a grandparent who was a general contractor in Maryland. He built projects such as the Hippo House at the Baltimore Zoo, buildings at Mt. Saint Mary’s College, as well as many houses and churches in the Maryland area. It also was fed by parents who were part-time real estate agents. I have fond memories of driving around during the weekends and look at all the new condos or homes being built and for sale in Ocean City, seeing how they were laid out, the views they had, and experiencing the feel of newly designed spaces. At this point, I still had no idea what it took to become an architect or what it meant to be one.
My first taste of what the field of architecture and engineering was came in high school. I took a two-year vocational class that covered hand drafting and computer aided drafting, commonly known as CAD. We would draw floor plans of houses, components to engine parts, and even make hand-built models from foam core. After those two years of drafting, I knew I wanted to attend architecture school in college. After applying to a few schools, I decided to go to Fairmont State University; a small school in West Virginia. This school provided a 4-year bachelor’s degree in Architecture. However, then and at the time of publishing, Fairmont State’s Architecture program was not accredited by the NAAB (National Architectural Accrediting Board). Before graduating from Fairmont, I found out that I would need to obtain a NAAB accredited degree to become a licensed architect. To do this, I would need to attend graduate school and earn my master’s degree.
After applying and reviewing the offers I had, I ultimately selected Miami University in Ohio and planned to graduate in two years. For some this might be a big commitment to attend additional schooling beyond the normal 4 years. For me, obtaining a master’s degree after a traditional undergraduate degree was a great experience. I gave myself great opportunities to mature as an adult as well as gain a great education that was much more personalized. I also benefitted from going to a smaller school where there were only two main architecture professors and a handful of adjunct professors.
For anyone looking into wanting to become an architect, I would highly recommend researching the requirements before selecting a school and program. As having to go to an additional 2-3.5 years of schooling to reach your goals, could be a deal breaker for many. There are a few other paths as well that prospective students can investigate. One option is to attend a NAAB accredited undergrad program. These programs are usually 5 years long and they allow you to graduate with all the requirements needed to be able to sit for your exams. There is a new option called Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL). This degree option offers an additional, accelerated path for students who are in a NAAB accredited degree program to also complete the Architectural Experience Program (AXP) and Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) at the same time. Another common pathway is for someone to earn a bachelor’s degree in another field such as Art, Math, Interior Design, or other related fields and then attend a Master program offering a NAAB accredited degree.
After graduation, I then started to work in the field to learn from other Architects, designers, and other professionals. Once graduated, many will start the process of getting registered with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). They are the organization who tracks a design professional’s work hours, exam, and educational history, among other items required to become licensed.
Once registered with NCARB, a design professional will need to become licensed. Many states have different requirements for design professionals. To do this, I had to obtain a minimum number of hours worked per category of job experience as part of the Architectural Experience Program (AXP). Most states require a minimum of 3,740 hours divided among 6 categories*, but others may require that you work under a licensed architect for three years, or they may require an interview. Once the design professional completes all the hours and other requirements set by NCARB and the state, they are then one step closer to being a licensed architect.
As someone who has worked at larger and smaller firms, it can be difficult for design professionals to complete their minimum hours due to firm dynamics. At larger firms, people tend to have assignments in certain phases of the design process such as only completing the construction documents, renders, or even just designing bathrooms. This ‘assembly line’ approach means that many design professionals don’t get the full spectrum of going to meetings, emailing clients, and managing projects. Many may even never get a say in the actual design process itself. Because of this, I really appreciated working for Desmone while going through this process.
At Desmone you can wear more hats and do more project types, usually from start to finish. Working at a smaller firm allowed me as a designer to learn so much more about the process and profession, as well as fill my hours faster.
After graduating and starting to work, many also start the process of taking their six exams that cover all phases of what is required to be an architect. Those six exams are Practice Management (PcM), Project Management (PjM), Programming and Analysis (PA), Project Planning and Design (PPD), Project Development and Documentation (PDD), and Construction Evaluation (CE).One of the most difficult things about the exams is not the exam itself, but the preparation required to pass them. A select few can read the material once and be fine. Most others might need to study 2+ hours a night for 5 days straight and then 8+ hours on the weekends just to learn and better understand the material. The study process also is typically a month to two months long before taking each exam. This daunting amount of time is often done while also working 40-50+ hours a week, along with the time and effort of daily life. These exams are an extremely difficult process, with an average pass rate of 55%**. However, they are necessary and useful, and studying for them allows you to better understand the real-world aspect of what an Architect does.
NCARB tracks data on the users testing and going through school and in 2017 the average person takes approximately 12.5 years from the time they enroll in school until the time they were a licensed architect, with the average age being 32 years old. At the end of this educational, testing, and working experience journey one can finally call themselves a licensed architect!This title is more than just two words and designing pretty pictures; it’s protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public and being able to have an impact on the fabric of the community we live and work. The work we do will go on to affect the community for many years to come!
HELPFUL LINKS AND STATS:
*Architectural Experience Program (AXP) requirements:
Practice Management: 160 hours
Project Management: 360 hours
Programming & Analysis: 260 hours
Project Planning & Design: 1,080 hours
Project Development & Documentation: 1,520 hours
Construction & Evaluation: 360 hours
Total: 3,740 hours
**2021 Pass Rates (According to NCARB)
PcM: 53 Percent
PjM: 63 Percent
PA: 52 Percent
PPD: 47 Percent
PDD: 53 Percent
CE: 62 Percent