Five Years Out: advice to my past self from my current self

Over the last month or so, I have seen numerous pictures and heartfelt posts from recent graduates flooding the social media channels. It made me think back fondly of when I graduated from architecture school five years ago and even, as shocking as it may seem, made me think fondly of being in architecture school (I guess it’s true: time does heal all wounds).

This past week has proven more taxing than most as I was reminded that I still have a long ways to go in figuring out the whole “being an architect” thing and what that entails. It brought me back to my post-graduation days of thinking that I had a firm grasp on what I was supposed to be doing and how much I actually knew about architecture. This has led me here: to the ever cliché format of “what advice would I give my younger self?” So, without further ado: here are a handful of tidbits that “five years out of architecture school and recently licensed Drew” would give “just graduated and trying to figure it out Drew”.

  • It’s okay to not be working on your dream projects. Architecture school is, more or less, built around the idea of teaching us to THINK like architects, while professional practice is where we figure out all the other aspects that make up actually being an architect. It’s hard to go from dreaming up grandiose projects in school with no client and no budget and then move into the realm of construction budgets and numerous outside sources trying to influence the project with their own priorities in mind. It takes time to wrap your head around even the simplest building projects. Be patient and try to absorb the lessons that will come at you daily.
  • You won’t know how to do everything that people ask you to do. That’s okay. People are (usually) willing to help you out because they remember how it felt to be in your situation and they would rather spend the time showing you the right way to do things than have to tell you to fix them later. I spent a lot of time afraid to ask questions because I didn’t want to bother people because everyone seemed so busy. However, once I decided to take the initiative and speak up, the amount of things that I learned on a daily basis skyrocketed (and continues to grow every day).
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from thing that are not the right fit for you. We often find ourselves in circumstances, be it jobs, workplaces, project teams, or just life situations, where we know that it’s not going to work out. If you are able to walk away from these things and better your circumstances and your own mental health, do it. Change can be frightening, but it’s even more frightening to think back on times that you wasted in situations that made you unhappy.
  • Get licensed ASAP. Seriously. You probably have as few responsibilities right now as you will ever have. Find a method of studying that works for you and stick to it. Find a person or group of people that you can lean on for support and pick their brains as much as you can. Don’t waste time thinking about getting licensed. Just go for it and don’t stop until you get to the end.
  • It will take time before people to take you seriously. It won’t matter how much prior knowledge you have on a subject, people will see that you are recently out of school and immediately assume that you know less than you do and treat you as such. It will be frustrating and at times cause you great angst, but do your best to let it roll off your back. It takes time to build up a working relationship with your project teams and clients before they trust you, so just give it time and try to take things in stride.
    • Side note: I am a white male, so if it’s this way for me, there are many others that will experience this same thing ten times over and, potentially, for much longer.

These points probably seem obvious to many if not most. However, that doesn’t make them less true. I wish someone had sat me down five years ago and vehemently made these points. On top of that, these are all things that I continually have to remind myself of even today. The learning curve is ever bending and all we can do is to try to keep things in perspective and continually grow with it.

Hopefully I won’t be writing the same thing in five more years about my current self. If so, with any luck we will have time machines by then.

What’s in a name?

Intern. The term that has been the source of debate, ridicule, scorn, and general hair pulling for years. Until this past December, the AIA regarded all unlicensed persons practicing architecture as “interns”, much to the dismay of… just about everyone. The term was seen as demeaning to those who go to work every day and put in the time and work at a professional architectural practice. It was seen as a title that should have been left behind as soon as that person walked across the stage and was handed a diploma from their NAAB accredited program. Finally, though, there is movement forward.

In December of 2016, the AIA opted to pivot away from using intern to describe all unlicensed persons working in the field of architecture. Instead, it will now only refer to those that are still in school and working at a professional architecture practice. Those that are unlicensed will now have the titles of architectural associate or design professional. I cannot speak for everyone, but it seems that this shift is a long overdue step in the right direction.

Without doubt, these two titles will not please everyone. In my own experience at work, the title “associate” is used to describe someone that has been elevated within the firm to a position of leadership, so using that term will most likely not work for our office or a great many other offices. The term of design professional indicates a level of professional aptitude, but omits any reference to architecture, so is inherently vague, which is possibly by design so that it encompasses those not directly working in the field of architecture.

Each term has its own positives and negatives, but all in all, the move is a positive one. A person that is forty years old and has been practicing for fifteen years, moved up within the profession, and is highly regarded by their peers, but never got around to taking their tests should not be referred to as an intern the same way that a twenty year old student with three months of experience is. It defies logical reasoning.

Regardless of how the architectural community responds to the change, it is a positive step for the AIA to be taking. The organization has taken its share of backlash over the years and even more so recently. However, the American Institute of Architects still holds, and will continue to hold, major sway in the architecture community, with government entities, and with the general public. The name carries with it major influence and represents a wide array of members. While AIA may be a bit tardy in catching up with the shift away from outdated terminology, steps are being made to set things on the right track. That being said, I will leave you with this: the best way to ensure the AIA is representing architecture and all members is to continue to stay engaged, demand accountability, and to relentlessly push forward on the issues that matter. This change would not have come about if not for a strong push from members. It’s a small step, but it is indicative of the influence that members have and will continue to have.

Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach To Architecture


Audrey and Alex Worden, recent Boulder transplants and multidisciplinary designers

Is Boulder the new Brooklyn?

I had to ask myself this question after my first meeting with recent Colorado transplants and designers, Alex and Audrey Worden. Co-founders of the Boulder-based design firm, Studio TJOA, Alex and Audrey left their jobs at Enclos in New York and moved West after Alex landed a job with Studio NYL, a progressive structural engineering firm based out of Boulder, Colorado.

With hopes of finding home in a new city with the presence of an emerging design community balanced with a tangible ease of living and creating, in the few short months since their move Alex and Audrey have already become contributors to the design, parametric, and maker communities that continue to grow rapidly both in Denver and Boulder.


Lily pad by TJOA

With Alex’s background in architecture and Audrey’s education in product design, Alex continues to explore the synergies between architecture and structural engineering for NYL, while Audrey continues to explore design, fabrication, and representation through a wide range of scales and media.

Having both explored alternative career paths than their traditional architecture and design backgrounds might prescribe, Alex and Audrey serve as co-authors of this week’s post, exploring the benefits of multidisciplinary architecture and the opportunities it might provide…

Thanks Alex and Audrey! – Beth Mosenthal, Assoc. AIA

 Guest Post: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Architecture

by Alex and Audrey Worden

Entering the field of architecture requires years of study, beginning with a foundation comprised of core classes followed by a concentration in art and design, culminating with an intensive focus on architecture. Through this process, the general field of vision becomes narrower and more myopic. Following undergraduate studies, designers generally join firms whose focus is not just on “architecture” in a general sense, but rather a specific practice area such as commercial, residential, transportation, healthcare, etc., design. As a result designers tend to become more specialized.

However, what many students of design education are learning is that there are many career paths that can be launched from a design education.


“ExpressGlam” product design

The skills learned in an architectural degree program are transferable to many different disciplines. These can include engineering, construction, industrial design, animation, fashion, graphic design, or manufacturing to name a few.

With a wider skill set, designers can be more flexible, often finding meaningful work outside of the traditional architecture practice. For example, after graduate school Audrey worked for a few years as an industrial designer for a branding firm, practicing skills in packaging, product displays, digital and CNC modeling, photography, and photorealistic product rendering. This opened up the opportunity to design a perfume bottle. Such a chance is widely valued by designers and architects of all kinds, but it all came about through the skills Audrey had fostered after studying architecture and digital fabrication.

TJOA_LilypadIn graduate school, Alex took a different approach to his studies. In his thesis, he proposed that the textile technique of crochet can be a perfect analog to the digital parametric tools architects have begun to use and explore. Alex then used the skills he developed from his research of integrating textiles and tools like Rhino and Grasshopper to join a facade contracting firm, Enclos. The experience gained as a facade designer has not only allowed him to gain an in-depth understanding of building enclosure systems but see how parametric modeling can aid in the optimization of the whole construction process from design through field installation.

These types of diverse design experiences can influence a designer’s thought process. For example, having knowledge of structure can streamline decisions during initial design phases, thus saving both time and money as the project progresses. Knowledge of materials and fabrication techniques gained from the industrial design field can allow designers to push the boundaries of these capabilities, extend the life of the building, or make routine maintenance easier.


These facets of the design field can be learned a multitude of ways and for an infinite number of reasons. Specifically, we both deviated from the traditional approach to architecture. By working at a facade contractor, Alex had the pleasure of working on some high profile projects designed by a number of architects. The biggest benefit to working at Enclos, was having the opportunity to work with many different firms and getting a chance to help them realize their designs. By taking a M.S. Arch., Audrey could specialize in digital fabrication instead of the traditional M.Arch approach to a graduate degree. This allowed for a less rigid approach to architecture, while still being anchored in the field.


Studio NYL Wall Assembly Study



NYL Rendering

Our chosen paths have offered us the flexibility to design on a multitude of scales and explore many different mediums. Our diverse work experience has influenced our approach to design and our ultimately our decision to relocate to Boulder from Brooklyn. We both wanted to live and work in a place that is welcoming and has a community that fosters progressive thought and design. The plasticity offered by the skills we have both cultivated has allowed Alex to join Studio NYL as part of their SKINS Group and Audrey to move her practice, StudioTJOA to Boulder and begin working with groups like Boulder-based Live Architecture Network and aiding other firms with parametric and visualization needs. TJOA_HoneycombJust as the decision to go into architecture is hopefully owned by each individual, it should be remembered that each designer can choose how they want to shape their professional career and praxis. It should be noted that a hands on approach to learning the different facets of construction and design can have a more meaningful impact through practical application rather than study guides, flashcards, and exams can provide.Who knows, if you deviate from the path, you might come across something you never would have thought you would enjoy.


NCARB’s up to something.

Just when you thought the dust had settled from IDP 2.0 and ARE 4.0….

Just when you had fleshed out your IDP excel spreadsheet…

Just when your office had finally collected all the updated study resources…

NCARB goes and starts changing things.

Sure they are kinks in the system now, but why change? We know intricacies and the red tape to avoid, so why change the system and cause complete chaos!?!

NCARB’s reply? To stay relevant to where the profession is and where it is going. -Fair enough.

Hi! My name is Meg Kullerd Hohnholt and I am AIA Colorado’s former IDP Coordinator. I say former because earlier this month NCARB gave my volunteer position a new title – Architect Licensing Advisor. Fancy, I know!

Yes, NCARB is changing things and after hearing about them at the IDP Coordinator’s conference earlier this month, I am both concerned and excited. Concerned for the process of shifting mindsets to these new changes. Excited to help this process begin.

So let’s do this…

Modified Six Month Rule (Lost Hours – Found!)

You can now get credit for experience hours completed beyond six months! This is great news, especially for emerging professionals in Colorado. Why you ask? Because as of January this year, Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) will only accept experience through the NCARB’s IDP program.

More Frequent ARE Retakes (Oops, I did it again.)

NCARB will now allow candidates who have failed a division to retake the division as soon as 60 days after the previous attempt, up to three times in a running year for any one division. We went from 6 months down to 60 days for a retake. This is awesome news for those who have found the momentum for taking the ARE exams because they can not worry as much that a failed test will push back the entire process for half a year.

ARE 5.0 (Did you say fewer tests?)

Hold on to your smartphone, because here’s the BIG news. Yes, ARE 5.0 is coming and its format will completely change how candidates approach the exam. So remember the ARE 3.0 to 4.0 switch and how most the study materials still aligned to the exam sections and vignettes really didn’t change? This won’t be like that.

First of all, the vignettes are gone. The Dorf book that I told to you beg, borrow or steal for your only hope in passing the vignettes, it can now be used as a coloring book.

Second, they’ve added new question types to the test. You’ll still have your ol’ reliables of “Single Select Multiple Choice”, “Check All That Apply”, and “Quantitative Fill in the Blank”, but now you’ll have prepare for “Hot Spot” (pick a point on a drawing to identify the___) and “Drag and Place” (place the following object(s) on a drawing).

Third big change is there will be Case Studies in the tests. These will be written scenarios with context and resource documents that you’ll be tested on.

But wait!…There’s more..

The final big change is that there will be only six tests in ARE 5.0.

NCARB knows exam transition will be challenging so they sweetened the deal. For those who select to transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0, there is a way to only take five tests to pass the ARE. So should you start planning your transition between the test versions now? Not unless you want to hold off your licensure (and your career) another two years.

ARE 5.0 won’t be launched until late 2016, and ARE 4.0 is going to continue for another 18 months after that (June 2018)! For those starting to test and for those contemplating on when they will start their ARE endeavor, now is the time to dive in while the study materials and the support community (those who’ve recently taken ARE 4.0) is there for you!

More Changes are Coming!

These are just this fall’s the hot topics. Stay tuned because it has been proposed that   IDP will get an overhaul too.

The Art of Failing

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 8.45.39 PM

This past week, I was tested on many levels. Our Path21 office was moving across town (I was the “moving coordinator”), I had an important meeting with an out-of-town client (in the middle of the move), and I was waiting for my ARE Schematic Design test result, while preparing to take Site Planning on Saturday. It was one of those times where everything was moving at 100 mph and I had to keep up.

The great news is that I passed the first exam, which makes that three for three. The bad news is I did not pass Site Planning. It was my first fail when it comes to the ARE’s. This isn’t unheard of. In fact, a lot of people fail. My first instinct was to be very upset with myself. I ran through all of the typical thoughts. “I didn’t give myself enough time to study.” “If I can’t pass this one, how will I pass the last three?” “I just can’t fathom studying for this thing again!” I know this negative conversation I was having with myself would lead me nowhere and it was only one exam. My homemade Keurig coffee wasn’t going to cut it today so I decided to get a “fancy” latte and head into work early.         Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 6.10.13 AM

As I was driving, I honestly couldn’t help but to let my mind drift to this exam and the situation surrounding it. I had moved through the stages of failed ARE grief and started to remember a particular scenario when I arrived at Prometric on Saturday morning. The Prometric Testing Center is housed in an office tower and is typically very quiet on a Saturday. As usual, I felt my nerves were so loud that they could be heard. That might be why the other woman in the elevator asked me if I was going to take a test. We started chatting and continued to do so while we waited in line to check in. We discussed which tests we were each taking and how this was my fourth time at this testing center. Typical to how many people react when I tell them I have to take not one but seven exams, she reacted in awe and with a little bit sympathy. Just as soon as she had let this sympathy linger between us, she retracted it and said, “Well I suppose if you are going to be designing the buildings we are all in, I would want you to have gone through a rigorous process.” This statement is why we take the ARE’s. This statement is also the reason that I was finally able to cope with this fail. Failing one of these doesn’t mean that I am inadequate in any way. It doesn’t mean that my degrees have failed me or that I am going to have to go back to school AGAIN because I can’t cut it in architecture. The ARE is a measure of our ability and knowledge to be responsible for the health, safety and welfare of our fellow citizens, friends and family when designing the built environment. And that is an immense responsibility.

As much as passing or succeeding is a great feeling, failing teaches us just as much, if not more. We work within a profession where failure is common. We may fail to get short-listed, fail to get selected for that career-altering project, or fail to get the perfect job with the perfect firm. Herein lies the art of failing. When this occurs, the only way to move forward is to learn from these failures and adjust our portfolios, resumes or study habits for the next time.

Among other things, Malcom Gladwell has written about failure. He asks, “What do the forms in which we fail say about who we are and how we think? We live in an age obsessed with success, with documenting the myriad ways by which talented people overcome challenges and obstacles. There is as much to be learned, though, from documenting the myriad ways in which talented people sometimes fail.”