It seems at times like the architectural profession is walking on eggshells, when it comes to the employment and regulatory crisis that continues to grip the profession.
Though not nearly as severe, a similar pall beset the profession in the 1980’s, when a puny Internet audience kept the digital disruptors in check, and top down regulatory control was an easier game to play.
Having conducted a legal research project of sorts on the profession’s regulatory affairs over a 3-year period stretching from 1989-1991, now seems like a good time to rekindle the discussion. My earlier litigation culminated in publication of The Architecture of Exclusion (1992), which was followed shortly thereafter by the National Council of Architectural Registration Board’s (NCARB) wise choice to announce a major reform of its nationally-standardized licensing exam. The treatise examined the questionable merits of NCARB’s subjective Build Design Examination, and raised larger issues about the pitfalls of professional self-regulation.
During those days NCARB conducted a propaganda campaign promoting the licensing exam that would make any fossil fuel industry or tobacco company proud.
As described in the publication, subpoenaed documents showed Building Design Exam solutions where the fortunate few who got licensed were often not the best and brightest. A number of the passed exams, for instance, had incredibly basic code violations. My conclusion (which NCARB never bothered to dispute): the grading process was hasty and haphazard since it was chiefly designed to efficiently produce a predetermined, low pass rate. Efficiency, in this case, means quickly processing many exams with few graders, not to be confused with efficacy to the advertised goal of a state of the art examination.
Twenty years later, we see that the table is set once again to enable regulatory shenanigans. The shroud of mystery surrounding regulatory affairs is large and thick. Is there funny business reoccurring? With so little information, who knows?
Wouldn’t it be nice to know the true unemployment rate for architects, as well as the underemployment rates? Is anyone tracking that?
It would also be nice to know what percentage of 2009, 2010 and 2011 architectural degree holders have found and kept jobs in the architectural profession. Of those that have not, what are they instead doing?
And while we’re at it, is anyone keeping track of the number of aspiring architects in the pipeline of architectural schools? Surely the NAAB is, but have they made adjustments?
Finally, of the minority of architectural grads who’ve made it to the point of gaining eligibility to sit for the professional exams, what percentage are passing? Are the best and brightest passing? A little healthy skepticism may be in order.
The AIA, ACSA, NAAB and NCARB have collectively failed to provide this information, and in so doing, have enabled the status quo to perpetuate the regulatory train wreck. One of the missing ingredients in solving the problem is data. Another is the participation of students, graduates and interns, who lack an independent, collective voice in the process. These are, after all, the consumers of architectural education.
On their website, NCARB does give pass rates for individual licensing exam sections, but not overall pass rates for first time examinees who take the entire battery of 7 tests in a 1-year period of time. Nor is there a breakdown by States. This leaves one very confused (perhaps by design?). There seems to be very little information provided by the State Boards on the number of newly-licensed architects.
Because the Missouri Board recently published some statistics, we know that in 2011, on the Building Design and Construction Systems section, only 5 of 12 examinees passed. Five. Period. Does that mean that only five newly registered architects were admitted in all of 2011? NCARB’s website does tell us that Missouri’s 2 schools of architecture had 50 examinees take that section in 2011, with 31 passing. Does one conclude that at least 38 of those Missouri grads took the exam in other states? Well how many grads from other states settled in Missouri?
We all know how tough these times are for those in the construction industry. Also, the digital practice of architecture has greatly reduced the need for entry level positions in the States. History has shown that economic hardship often results in societal malfeasance.
Some of you older folks may remember a Lucky Strike cigarette commercial where the determined smoker says “I’d rather fight than switch.” With the trademark black eye from NCARB and the Alabama State Board, in 1989 I decided to fight. Ironically, decades later, I have my license and I’d rather switch. Like many architects, I’ve had to reinvent myself, after 30 years in the profession. Architecture has by necessity become a nice hobby where one can occasionally earn some spending money.
My new novel, entitled the Charette Legacy, is loosely based on the regulatory misconduct uncovered two decades ago, fast forwarded into the 21st Century. It is highly fictionalized and dramatized, of course, to make for a (hopefully) entertaining read. The main character is an intern architect who gets into all sorts of trouble by knowing too much. Written under the pen name John Highsmith Adams, please see my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/mobileprotection#!/CharetteLegacy , or consider downloading a copy from: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/55817
I have also started a nonprofit devoted to smart growth and sustainable transportation, which is beginning to garner some attention (but not much revenue yet). We are attempting to do some innovative things where my D-School education has paid dividends, with lots of “out of the box” thinking.
To survive these times, you best be creative and have a sense of humor. Best of luck to all of you out there attempting to navigate these murky waters.
Bob Munger, AIA, CCM, LEED AP, is Founder of the Augusta Greenway Alliance and Co-Chair of the August Branch, Georgia Chapter of the USGBC. The Augusta Greenway Alliance is a nonprofit devoted to smart growth and green transportation. He is the author of two books, a Georgia-licensed architect, Certified Construction Manager and LEED AP.
*Mid Atlantic BX welcomes Construx Opinion page submissions from construction and design industry professionals. The articles and thoughts expressed on this page are the sole opinions of the individual author or group that expresses them and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mid Atlantic BX or Construx. We welcome comments from our readers. To send material for the Opinion page be sure to include a name, company name and an e-mail where you can be contacted accompanying the material submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, we do not publish every article submitted and maintain the right to edit for brevity and clarity. MID ATLANTIC BX.