If not an intern…what? 

It feels like recently NCARB is changing everything from IDP to AREs and even the name of our licensing advisors or more historically known as IDP coordinators.  At the 2015 convention in Atlanta NCARB made an even bigger announcement. They have eliminated the term “intern” from their vocabulary. 

What does this mean? NCARB states that “The new term? There isn’t one. Just don’t use ‘intern.'”

“Architects are those who have met all the requirements to become licensed in states and jurisdictions throughout the United States,” said NCARB President Dale McKinney, FAIA, NCARB. “Everyone else is not an architect. But their status also doesn’t need a regulatory title such as ‘intern’ or any similar reference. This has become a term that has been perceived as negative by many in the architecture community and a term that really does not fully value the work that aspiring architects bring to the profession.”

So now that we can’t be called architects or interns, what are we? 

We are…designers, leaders, activists, coordinators, project managers, and so much more. I believe this change is positive.  The confusion I have faced when telling someone outside the profession that I am an intern is disconcerting. We have worked hard to be where we are. For some of us, we have a long way to go. For others, they have been in the profession for years. They are running firms, owning firms, designing major projects.  Some even reside outside of the traditional realm of architecture. All of the above are invaluable people to help better the built environment. Let’s stop watering down their work and the value they bring to the profession by calling them “interns”. 

I am well aware this topic has been debated excessively in the past few years. But the day we stop debating these changes and furthering the profession in our constantly changing world is the day we become irrelevant as s profession.  The world is a constantly changing place. I heard on the radio today there are now more millennials than baby boomers. We will discuss the millennials in a future blog post, but it’s a telling sign that the profession and the changes NCARB keeps making are thoughtful and relevant to the world we now live and work in. 

If you feel lost without a title, take this opportunity to talk with your firm leaders and your local AIA office on what is appropriate. Personally, I am a Project Coordinator and using this term is so much more rewarding. I hope to call myself an architect one day. But for now, I am celebrating I don’t have to be classified as an “intern”. 

The Value of Outreach

If we think back to when we were ten years old, what did we believe architecture was? What about in junior high or high school? What was the point at which we believed we had a basic understanding of architecture and what it meant to the world we live in? Or, when did we decide architecture was more than what we found out from George Costanza? Did we ever grow out of that state? For some, the answers to these questions are simple and straightforward. For others, there may not be exact answers to them.

Recently, our office had the opportunity to help with some of these answers via the Cleworth Architectural Legacy (CAL) program. CAL is a program organized through the Denver Architectural Foundation in Denver Public Schools where we attempt to teach a basic understanding of architecture and the process of creating our built environment to a classroom of young children. We had the opportunity to work with a group of fourth grade students at University Prep in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver to create “space architecture”.

Because the idea of “space architecture” is such an abstract one that continues to fuel speculative and fantastical designs from even the most world renowned architects, it seemed like a great opportunity to allow the students to delve into the world of planning, three-dimensional space organization, and abstract concepts. While most students had a great time with the multi-week project, some did not see the point of creating something so impractical. After all, seeing the value of designing buildings and neighborhoods down to the stairway that you ascend every morning isn’t always readily apparent by using sticks, marshmallows, and plastic wrap to create colonies on Mars.

photophoto-2

That all being said, providing an outlet for fourth grade students to think about a community in which they imagine themselves living helps to provide a lifelong lesson, even if it is only over the course of few months. If we were all given the opportunity to imagine and physically create, even abstractly, the ideal environments in which we would like to live, would we still be living in the same environment today? Or would the value of design have been rooted deeply within us to demand higher standards?

This is all a very far-reaching claim to make from a few weeks working with fifty students in a single city. But, I can’t help but wonder what our buildings would look like if the public at large was more informed about architecture and held it to a higher standard from a very early age. I would venture to say that we would demand that our buildings perform at a higher rate, be more user driven, and push the envelope as far as possible in regards to aesthetics and a cohesive urban environment.

Ultimately, the point of architects reaching out to children is to help further the understanding of the value of architecture and design within the every day lives of every person. It may turn out that only a couple of these students pursue architecture as a career path and it may turn out that none do. What is an invaluable message, though, is that the spaces and places that they inhabit were (usually) carefully planned and that there is a tremendous value to fully thinking about the spaces in which we occupy and move through everyday.

Otherwise, most people may just end up sitting around a diner with a few friends speculating on what architecture is and the fanciful and out of reach possibilities of such an industry.

george costanza - architect

Shameless plug: if you would like to get involved with  programs like CAL, please reach out to AIA Colorado or the Denver Architectural Foundation for more information.

The Art of Unplugging

image

I am not sure whether it should be a whispered confession or a exclamation shouted from Colorado’s highest peak: I let my cellphone die. And did not recharge it for three days. Yes, three whole days without phone, email, text, Facebook, or Twitter.

My children, ages 2 and 4, have been known to walk around the house with calculators or old cellphones making “important” calls or sending “work emails”.  That should tell you that my husband and I both pretty much work around the clock thanks to technology.

When my phone died on the way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, I started to reach for the charger then saw my children I the back seat gazing out the windows. I should spend time gazing out the window too. So I put the phone down.

We had a wonderful time. We got dirty. We played in the water. I felt more present than I had in months.

Imagine my surprise when I got back to my office, and my technology, and discovered that the world hadn’t come to a halt because I wasn’t digitally tethered to it.  My clients hadn’t jumped ship, either.  In fact, we had some very nice, personal, conversations when I confessed to the I had taken a vacation.

This summer, I encourage you to unplug. Turn off. Tune out. Whether it is just for an entire weekend at home or on an epic family vacation, enjoy life fully in the present for a moment. And if you don’t unplug, cut the rest of us some slack. We will respond to your email when we get back…

The Long (and Short) Of Things

A few years ago, I read a piece by David Brooks entitled “The Summoned Self” that has remained fresh and relevant as time and life continue on.  Given what I believe is a relevant message for young professionals, and  really people of any age or stage of life, this blog post is my personal reinterpretation and synthesis of Brooks’ piece, through the lens of my own life and experiences as a millennial and person experiencing rapid-fire change both professionally and personally.

_________________________________________________________________________

Having lost a parent at a fairly early age, I am constantly trying to reconcile my long and short-term goals and views, both personally and professionally. This often looks like an internal dialogue that mimics a pendulum swinging between thoughts regarding “live in the present moment and enjoy it to its fullest” to the extreme of “what do I really want to accomplish—to achieve in my lifetime?”

Having discussed these states of being with many friends and colleagues, in many different contexts and subtexts, it seems this oscillation between the quotidian and the profound, the domestic and the daring, is fairly universal.

More simply said, it seems that having to decide on the “best” decision at a certain moment versus the long-term impact this decision might have when paired with subsequent decisions is simply a necessary feat in order to live from one day to the next.

While I might conclude that there is really no option but to act on the decision that elicits the most confidence and to then proceed with unflappable conviction, I believe that perhaps one of the biggest challenges young professionals must face is how to balance the two—i.e. to accept a healthy amount of organic evolution of their career and life while still steering their ship towards long-term goals that align with personal ambitions and aspirations.

As it’s graduation season, it’s perhaps best to illustrate this idea when considering one’s initial departure from academic life. After graduating from academia, this line of dual decision-making becomes omnipresent. It is also at this time that a legible fork in the road becomes highly visible.

What does this fork look like, you might ask, and where do the roads lead?

Speaking only from personal experience, watching myself and peers figure out our own “paths” post graduation, years later these roads continue to look like two different approaches to what I still hope will be a similar outcome.

The first is the pursuit of what might best be called a “set course,” inclusive of a decided upon career, place to settle, and ultimately—a multidimensional life comprised of what one might consider “predictable” decision making. In many ways this path is the foundation of American life in the mid 20th century; a time when pursuing a “stable” career and domestic bliss would lead to known “success” related to specific decisions and actions (some might still refer to this as one manifestation of “the American dream.”)

The second path, which seems increasingly popular in this mobile and global lifetime, looks more like a Robert Frost poem. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Perhaps the first true millennial, Frost might have suggested that exploring a new path is a chance to explore and evolve, all the while not really knowing what the set outcome might be, but pursuing one decision to the next in order to find out.

At the precipice of my 30’s, I’m finding that the paths of the millennial generation, both “less” and/or “more” traveled, are beginning to converge (after a decade of what one might only describe as exciting divergence.)

While some of my contemporaries chose to settle into careers and family life shortly after school, they are now in many ways beginning their Frost-like journeys, having achieved success at an early age. Others continue to explore, waiting to see where they land. The majority, it seems, are still in the middle, starting to make decisions that might lead to less physical movement and a greater sense of investment in people and place, but all the while trying to stay cognizant of which way the scales his/her decisions might tip; short and long, present and future.

The IMPACT of Storytelling

aia atlantaI have been lucky enough to attend the AIA Convention for three years in a row now. Every Convention has a different theme with a general goal of improving, bettering and furthering the profession.

This year’s theme was IMPACT. We heard from President Bill Clinton on his work with the Clinton Global Initiative and the impact that architecture can have in developing innovative solutions. We also heard from Julie Dixon on the art of telling a story. This message resonated with me in a way that few messages have before. Not only is it important to tell a story when presenting a project or understanding a client’s needs and they way they use a building, but I see a place for storytelling in spreading the message about the value of architecture and how we get the public to understand what it is we do as architects.

ps_family_james-shanks-artspaceThe impact of how a house or a place is influences (positively or negatively) someone is much more effective than describing a “moment of two materials joining” or the “innovative structure” used to reduce impact. Julie Dixon describes storytelling as this:

“A vibrant storytelling culture means the difference between whether your organization has a living, breathing portfolio of different stories, from different perspectives, that share its impact—or just a single, somewhat stagnant story. It’s the difference between having one person in the organization dedicated to storytelling (whether that’s the CEO, development director, or head of communications) and everyone in the organization having compelling stories at their fingertips. And for many organizations, it’s the difference between investing in telling the organization’s story in a more compelling way—or not investing.”

jackson flatsStorytelling is much more than creative ways to share a project or an idea. Storytelling gets to the core of why we design great places in a way that everyone understands. For instance, Confluence Denver just wrote an article title “Three Ways to Keep Housing Affordable for Artists” The article describes a couple who has small children and needs a place to work on their art. They have found a great home in a live/work building, Artspace Jackson Flats. The article goes on to explain why the space is so great for the family and the work they do as well as the impact of the physical space. This article is not an architect speaking to the effectiveness of the design or the decisions that influenced the final parti. It is real human issues connected to a family that many people can relate to and just so happens to explain why they enjoy their home so much. And as we all know, they enjoy it because of the architecture and the care the architect took in designing this home.

jackson-flats_artspaceThe key is this: whom are you targeting for your message? We know our conversations are often insulated and difficult to understand. Today, try and think of one story and how you would share this with your mother or your best friend (assuming they are not in the profession). Speak to the importance of good architecture but relate it emotionally to your audience. It doesn’t need to be about changing the conversation, but about directing and connecting it to the right people.

Finally, go ahead and share your story! We have to be the ambassadors of the architecture story.