Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The dark side of architectural firms

Anon's comments from a recent post have given me much food for thought. S/He shined a spotlight on some of the not-so-awesome aspects of our profession. Below is from his/her comments (the completion of point 1):

...This time I went to work for a large firm about a year before the recession started. Guess who was first to be laid off. Me. This was a terrible career move. I should have stayed at the small firm.

At the large firm, I had the unfortunate situation where I found myself working under a manager who was not an architect and never did IDP. This person was one of those short-sighted managers you are talking about.

This large firm did not support my goals of completing the IDP requirements at all. In fact, I mentioned at a performance review that one of my goals was to complete the IDP. The vice president, the short-sighted manager I was working under, and the human resource manager of the company all told me that finishing the IDP was not a legitimate goal to have. (I had 630 training units complete at this time and 11/16 training areas complete.) When I asked for opportunities for experience in the IDP training areas that I had not completed up to that point they yelled NO!! at me. This was even after I worked about 12 weekends for that firm that year and the forth of July. The firm as a whole saw NO value in helping me find experience in the few training areas that I was lacking.

It is the latter part of Anon's first point here that saddens me because it reveals the dark, horrible, ugly side of the architectural profession: there are firms out there that don't support IDP, don't support interns (and other employees), and run like sweatshops more than actual design firms. There are firms out there that so furiously scrutinize the bottom line that they won't look towards the long term--they treat interns like the proverbial "CAD monkeys" and make them draw without ever really teaching and mentoring them. (And by the way, it's not just this profession--investment companies, dentistry practices, spas and salons, construction firms, publishing houses...there are companies in every field that refuse to mentor and teach properly.) For these firms, it's about the profit for this quarter or next quarter. Business is about money and not about relationships (with employees or clients) or even about good service--people (especially interns) are replaceable to them, and it's profit first. I know these places exist, even if I haven't worked for them. Colleagues of mine have been laid off, or they leave for what they think are greener pastures, and they find that the firm to which they've migrated has pulled bait-and-switch at best or is full of clinical liars and sociopaths at worst.

First off, it's unconscionable that Anon's supervisor wasn't even licensed--that means no hours s/he earns can be counted for IDP, since you have to work under the supervision of a licensed architect. (There may be some loophole for that, maybe someone else would sign his/her IDP forms, but that's unethical in my book.) And that to me tells me something immediately--when the person I'm answering to as an intern isn't even licensed, is this company really serious about whether I get licensed? They obviously didn't care if my boss is, so who cares if I am? Anon, I'm curious if they told you what was a "legitimate" goal to have, if finishing IDP wasn't one? What could be better than having a high-functioning employee in your organization?

Firms are not required to support IDP (more on that in the next post), but they are required to obey the labor laws (no unpaid work, etc.). But laws only provide for minimum treatment. For example, the law requires that you provide basic care for an animal in your custody (feed and water it, prevent it from being exposed to extreme weather conditions, provide basic medical care, etc.), but the law does not require that you pet or play with the animal. But for heaven's sake, why wouldn't you? Why would you only do the basic minimum that's required? And that's how I look at firms that don't support IDP and intern training/mentorship--why would you only provide the basic level of concern for your employees and not further develop them in ways that benefit you and them? (I realize that the animal welfare thing is an inelegant analogy, but I hope the intent of the comparison is clear--complying with the minimum requirements is hardly satisfactory and isn't really in the spirit of what it is to be part of a civilization.)

Firms that don't support IDP and interns should die. Not the people, mind you--the firm. If a firm treats its newest and youngest employees like crap, then employees of all levels should leave that firm until words gets around that this is a bad firm that treats people poorly. Then it's either too understaffed to do good work, or potential clients hear the scuttlebutt about the firm as well, and then the firm goes out of business. Finis. Kaput. That's what deserves to happen to bad companies in any field, not just architecture. Why? First of all, because people and companies that just do the basics and what's required is hardly worthy of salutation. Second of all, it's like how we're told as teenagers to judge a first date based on how they treat the waiter at a restaurant--if you treat someone who is of little consequence to you as a disposable thing instead of a human being, then that attitude may get directed towards you further down the relationship road. Related to that, and most importantly, in an information economy, people are the most important resource.

I can teach nearly anyone to run Revit decently in a month and really well in three months, but the skills that truly make a good architect--thinking in three and even four dimensions, being able to solve a problem in multiple ways, following a small change all the way through a building or project the way a ripple spreads across a pond--those skills are fewer and farther between. Furthermore, finding people that mesh well together as a team and also mesh well with your clients and consultants is a blessing. These people are not easily replaced; conversely, if you teach them well, they can replace you, the firm manager/owner, which will either give you the free time needed to go after more work or to relax, take a few days off, and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

I know that the crappy economy is likely keeping a lot of you at bad firms, but once things turn, I want you to run. Run like the wind, and find another firm. And when you get a new firm, tell your intern colleagues to stay far, far away from the place from whence you came.

In the next post, more discussion of how IDP is applied in firms. In the meantime, let me know either in the comments of via email in the sidebar if you have a question you'd like answered or a topic you'd like to see discussed. This site works best when you contribute topics, questions, etc. Thanks!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Advice is like dirt: there's plenty of it out there, but not all of it is worth something

Anonymous commented on a recent post (among many things) about taking advice as it relates to your job and your career. In his/her words below, the first of four points:

First comment. Intern architects need to beware of following the advice from someone outside of the firm and state that the intern is working. Its seems like every firm has a different attitude regarding the IDP.

I worked at a small firm that supported the IDP program and helped interns find opportunities to gain experience in most of the training areas.

Then, I made the mistake of following advice from an NCARB document that recommends interns move around to different firms early in their career in order to gain better experience. So I followed this advice, and decided to change firms after working at the small firm for a few years. This time I went to work for a large firm about a year before the recession started. Guess who was first to be laid off. Me. This was a terrible career move. I should have stayed at the small firm.

At the large firm, I had the unfortunate situation where I found myself working under a manager who was not an architect and never did IDP. This person was one of those short-sighted managers you are talking about.

This large firm did not support my goals of completing the IDP requirements at all. In fact, I mentioned at a performance review that one of my goals was to complete the IDP. The vice president, the short-sighted manager I was working under, and the human resource manager of the company all told me that finishing the IDP was not a legitimate goal to have. (I had 630 training units complete at this time and 11/16 training areas complete.) When I asked for opportunities for experience in the IDP training areas that I had not completed up to that point they yelled NO!! at me. This was even after I worked about 12 weekends for that firm that year and the forth of July. The firm as a whole saw NO value in helping me find experience in the few training areas that I was lacking.

Well said, Anonymous. This is a good point--not all advice is good advice. It is in that very spirit that I include the following words in the "About Me" section in the sidebar at the top of this page: While I don't know everything, and this blog is just one architect's opinion and experience in the profession, I'd like to share what I've learned and also find out what interns are dealing with and wondering about from day to day and overall. Everything that I say here is indeed from my point of view, my perspective, my experience. Not everything I say will be applicable or even useful to some or all or any of my readers. I include the part about wanting to find out what interns are dealing with so that I can hear from folks who had terrible experiences like Anon's, and to find out what's going on with all of you in this day and age. After all, I've been doing this for ten years and I've been licensed for four, so though I'm sorta close in age to interns (I'm 34), I've also been removed from the intern experience a bit.

Advice is everywhere, and we all--including me--have to be specious about giving and taking it. When I was first ready to take the ARE, one of the middle-aged managers in the office advised me to just take every one of the nine sections a week apart, pass the ones I was going to pass without studying, then study the ones I failed. At that time, the tests were cheaper than they are now, but still around $100-$150 each. This manager took the test back when you did take it all at one time, over the course of four days, and you indeed passed whatever it was that you were going to pass. While that advice sounded good in his head, based on his experience, it sounded like a colossal waste of time and money and energy to me. I'd rather study well for each test, budget out the cost of the tests over nine or ten months, and pass them one by one. The advice I gave myself worked for me--I passed each test the first time, and I think that's because I gave myself the time to study. Here's another weird example: I know a woman who has worked in a design-related field for twenty years, and I greatly respect and admire her. But whenever I ask her for advice, I generally do the opposite of whatever she recommends. I've found that her advice is way too conservative and cautious. And guess what? I get stunning, fantastic results every time I do the opposite of what she advises. (Perhaps I can be that person for one or more of you out there--do the opposite of what Lulu says, and get great results! And if that's the case, who cares? As long as your job and your career--and your life--are satisfying and rewarding to you, who cares if you follow my advice?)

Speaking of bad advice from others, Anon, I would love for you to send me that NCARB document or website (if it's still available and/or you can get our hands on it) that advises you to change firms early on in your career. That sounds almost unconscionable to tell someone, and if they indeed say that, then I have a bone to pick with NCARB. Changing firms is helpful if you feel stuck where you are or are being treated unfairly, but just for the experience? I suppose it depends. In the nationwide survey of interns that my colleague and I did for our presentation at the AIA Convention this year, we did find that most interns wanted professional development (i.e., wanted to learn the business side of running a firm) and would be willing to leave a firm to get that experience. Still, though, the quality of experience an intern gets is not necessarily based on variety of firm environments--it's based on quality of whatever environment s/he is in. If you're in a good place, like Anon was at his/her first firm, the small firm, then that can be good enough. Any hours lacking could be picked up through a mentor outside of the firm (which is what Anon is doing now, a creative solution to the problem).

We do have to be careful with the advice we receive and give. I don't post anything here that I feel is irresponsible, but I also know that m advice is hardly one-size-fits-all. Tell me in the comments--what's the best advice you didn't take?

I want to address Anon's last paragraph there in the next post.... In the meantime, let me know if you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here, either in the comments or via email from the sidebar. Thanks!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Internship: you get out what you put into it, Part 2 of 2

Internship is a process in which you have to be fully invested. In order for it to work, and in order to get the hours of experience you need, you'll need to call attention to the experience you have missing. But internship is a two-way street; if you've clearly asked for the experience, it behooves your boss and your firm to make sure you get it, as it gets you that much closer to being licensed and to being more useful at the firm.

You do indeed have to ask for experience you're missing. Don't make the mistake of waiting for someone to ask you if you're missing hours or if you'd like to do something--ask for it! One of the parts of architecture school that's missing from architecture work is the frequent reviews and feedback, like you would get from your professor. Instead of waiting for your once-a-year or even twice-a-year performance review, sit down with your boss more regularly to ask how you're doing and explain what you need or are having trouble with, perhaps after each milestone deadline, or even once a month or every other month. Regular feedback keeps small performance issues from becoming big problems, and it keeps you from being blindsided by criticism at that ever-important official yearly review (you know, the one where your raise, if any, is decided).

How you ask for this additional experience is important. Sure, you'd like the hours so you can finally wrap up IDP, but for some bosses and firms, this sadly isn't a good reason to help you get those hours. Sometimes, bosses and firms are shortsighted and can only see what's good for the firm short-term: how can we save money on this job, for the next two months? When this happens, try framing your request in the service of the job or firm: how can you getting experience on this help your boss/the project/the firm? It can be as simple as you seeing a faster or more professional way to produce a document or promote something, or you may appeal to your boss' humanity: "Kelly, you seem so frustrated--your phone's ringing off the hook from the client and you're trying to get this spec section finished. How about I use the spec from the Xxxx Project to edit this project's spec for you so you can calm the client's Chicken-Little nerves?" That last sentence is important, because it includes a specific action that can be done, not just an open-ended (and easily deflected) "how can I help you?"

If you can't appeal to your boss' humanity or to the service of the project or firm, try talking to another manager in the office (if yours has more than one manager). A simple "I need 24 more hours in bidding and negotiation, and Karl doesn't have anything right now to really give me in that category--do you have something coming up that would help me polish off those last few hours?" will allow you to ask others for opportunities without laying blame. (And frankly, if Karl is a jerk, chances are the other managers know it already.) If there's nowhere else to go, that's a sign that you may have grown all you can at this firm. Find out if you can gain some supplemental education hours through NCARB, and then as the economy allows, start looking.

Short-sighted managers are everywhere, but most bosses in architecture are good people who would be glad to help if you ask. Showing them that you want to finish off those hours is a good way to show initiative, and it's even better when you can explain how you getting those hours helps the firm as well as you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Internship: you get out what you put into it, Part 1 of 2

My last post prompted a great response by reader JD, which deserves some response in its entirety. (And JD, you've asked some great questions lately for which I need to get answers--now that the Convention is over, I can finally get to them.) For now, I'll address the first part of his/her response, which was this:

I tend to agree that the "I'm just a monkey, nobody cares" crowd often wins the perceived "state of an interns life" battle. How many people really write/say they had a good experience? For many, it's just another series of hoops and they just want to move on. What I've found is that internship is what you make. Yes, there are bad firms. As you've noted, more often though I'm guessing the experience is good and if it's not, you might have to ask yourself "What is my role in this and who do I talk to make it better?".

JD: thank you. I'm glad you picked up on that part of the internship experience, because I'm not sure that we as a profession are doing a good job of conveying that to interns. IDP is a program that the intern and firm need to take seriously, but let me be clear about the dynamics of IDP from the firm and intern's points of view. An intern wants the IDP experience because it will (ideally and hopefully) provide them with a better understanding of the profession and more fully prepare them for not just the ARE but for that profession overall. Because IDP is designed to (again, ideally and hopefully) prepare an intern to be a better, more knowledgeable and experienced architect, it behooves the firm to make sure they acquire that well-rounded experience so that the intern can be more useful and productive in the firm.

But what happens quite often--and more often than we'd all like--is that an intern's development gets sacrificed to the bottom line, the fee. The business side of architecture can frequently push out the professional development side of architecture. Firm owners and project managers may reason, and rightfully so, that it's not a big deal: I know how to put together a proposal, what goes into a DD set, what the dynamics are of the upcoming client meeting...I just need these bright, young, capable people to execute my vision and knowledge. But the point we hoped to make at the Convention to the firm owners and project managers is that when you take the time up front to invest in an intern's development, you suddenly have a more fully-trained and more useful--and dare I say cheaper!--person who is capable of helping you more with your job.

Remember that no matter what you do for a living, it is your job to be your own PR person. What that means is that you will have to take some amount of responsibility for any IDP hours you lack. Managers and bosses don't know what hours you still need, so bring it to their attention: "Hey, Alex, I'm missing some Bidding & Negotiation hours, and that's all I need to wrap up IDP, so if you've got anything coming down the pike like that, I'd love to help with it!" The second thing you can do is something that JD touches on at the end of his/her quote above: How am I involved in this, and how do I make it better? You can make it better by actually trying to get more involved. Ask questions: why is there so much text on this slide? Why are we highlighting this part of the plan? What are you trying to convey to the client? What do you want this drawing to do for the contractor? If that's the case, can I show you better/faster/easier way to make that happen and get the same effect?

Next time, we'll talk about what happens when you're not getting the support and hours/experience you need. As ever, if you have a question you'd like asked or a topic you'd like to see discussed here, feel free to ask me in the comments or email me at the address in the sidebar. Thanks!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good news from the AIA Convention

I got back earlier this week from the National AIA Convention in Miami Beach, where a colleague and I co-presented a seminar on mentoring interns. The seminar fostered some fantastic discussion amongst the attendees, and it received some pretty good reviews and comments at the end. After spending a couple of days processing the comments from the crowd, and then after spending a couple more days getting caught up at work, I finally have the presence of mind to share some good news with you all.

Managers and firm owners get it. Not all of them, but some of them understand how good, solid mentorship of interns is good for their firm and our profession. They understand that spending time with you to really teach you and show you how to do things and why we do what we do trains you to answer questions and work through problems in their absence. They understand that incorporating you into the design teams and into design meetings with clients and contractors makes you more knowledgeable and useful on a project. They acknowledge the hard work that you do, and if you need to stay late some night or for several days to finish a project that you get a five-day weekend in return. They appreciate now knowledgeable you are about CAD and Revit and Illustrator, and they acknowledge how much more you know about printing and drawing these days. They know how useful you are and how hard you work, and they're willing and interested in giving you opportunities to learn and grow and do and be more.

I was really relieved and pleased to see the group of nearly 100 architects--mostly project managers and firm owners--did not buy into the "all these kids today with their iPods and their texting are no damn good" hype. Quite the opposite, they were finding that you and your intern colleagues are motivated, ready to learn, and ready to contribute. It gives me some relief indeed to know that I'm not tilting against windmills with this blog, and I'm excited to know that some of the managers out there are interested in giving you just the positive internship experience that you need.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Encore post: One thing that will make your job (and life) better

(Note: I'm on my way back from Miami, so I'm rerunning posts from last year. Back at the end of the week! --Lulu)

I just returned from a long weekend across the country, where I visited my family and gave a guest lecture for a longtime friend and colleague. My colleague is a college English professor with a deep interest in architecture, and every spring she teaches a class on the connections between art, architecture, and literature. And every spring, I fly to her town and give a slide show and talk even more about architecture and culture and how they influence each other. It's nice to put on a resume, sure, but moreover, it's just fun to teach. It's fun to talk about the things that interest me and answer questions and explain things that I take for granted but others might not understand.

Architecture is an insular profession. We spend most of our time with other architecture majors in college because our classes, especially studio, are so time consuming that we have to make friends with the other folks in our major and classes. By the time we get to the workplace, the habit has been ingrained--we work with almost nothing but other architects, so we seek out and hang out with more architects and do architecty things with them. We talk about how hard we work and how little sleep we get and how do you make CAD/Revit/MicroStation do this or that or how crazy our bosses or contractors are and so on.

Do me and yourselves a favor: stop.

The best thing you can do for your mental health as an architect is to get outside of architecture. Join some clubs, talk to your neighbors, find a volunteer activity, just do whatever it takes to do things that don't involve architecture. Go meet people that aren't architects, that aren't even interior designers or landscape architects. In the past nine years, my circle of friends has expanded to include a psychologist, a cardiac nurse, a physical therapist, a TSA security screener/agent, a librarian, a truck driver, a special education teacher, and two English professors. While the majority of my friends are still in the design and construction industry, I get to hang out with people that talk about other things and broaden my horizons. By hanging out with the psychologist, I now co-teach a communication class with her. By hanging out with the English teacher, I started volunteering at a no-kill cat shelter. By taking some classes several years ago, I got into stand-up and improv comedy. Even though I occasionally lecture on architecture and I still work in architecture every day, I carve out time for non-architectural pursuits. It does two things for me: one, it keeps me from being utterly boring (who wants to hang out with someone who only talks about one subject?); and two, it gives me a break from my passion and profession that leaves me more refreshed and motivated to get back into it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Encore post: Every boss is crazy 'bout a sharp dressed intern

(Note: I'm still off in Miami at the AIA Convention (or rather, recovering from it), so I'm reposting some articles for your enjoyment. Back at the end of the week! -- Lulu)

Summer is upon us, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the office. Sleeves are shorter, pants go from wool to cotton, skirt hemlines are higher, boots have been traded in for sandals, and hair goes up into ponytails. But it's summertime that highlights the importance of dressing well in the office because it's the time most interns (and office employees in general) show too much skin and make regular attire faux pas. With a few exceptions, the workplace in general has become less formal with regards to dress code. It's something of a carryover from making our office discourse less formal; when "Mr. Swenson" becomes "Dave", it seems odd for him to still be wearing a tie, cotton/wool slacks, and super-shined shoes. However, less formal does not mean casual or even schleppy. First, here is a list of things that should never be worn in an office. Like, ever.
  • Camisoles and tank tops: ladies, if there isn't at least a cap sleeve on it, save it for after work. And fellas, if I hear of any of you wearing a tank top outside of the gym, you will answer to my wrath.
  • Flip-flops and hiking sandals: if it's a shoe you wear while doing summer water sports, save it for those water sports.
  • Shorts: a couple of years ago, women's fashion magazines were flogging "formal" shorts to go along with those lacy camisoles-as-shirts I mentioned above. Shorts are shorts, ladies. No one needs to see that much of your leg. If you wouldn't wear a skirt that short, then don't wear a pair of shorts of the same length. And fellas, there's no reason to ever wear shorts to work unless you're only going to be there for a couple of hours, and then you're going hiking/camping/golfing, in which case just go have fun and quit rubbing it in our faces.
  • Bare tummies and cleavage: regardless of gender and physical condition, no one wants to see your bare midsection, not even a one-inch sliver of it as you walk to the copier. And with the low-cut shirts and low-cut pants (for both genders), it's really important to think about your frontside and backside cleavage. When you sit down, can anyone see that much of your behind? It's not just women with the low-cut shirts, though; fellas, button every button on that shirt except for the top one or two.
The list above doesn't put that much off limits, so what should you wear? First, let's review what business casual means. It generally indicates that you wear at least khakis or nondenim pants or skirts, shirts that usually have some kind of collar like a polo or tailored-looking shirt (mostly this rule is for men), skirts that at least touch the top of the knee when standing (that goes for women). and polished or clean shoes. Obviously there are exceptions to these admittedly broad rules. Here in Colorado, the combination of cold and snowy weather with an outdoorsy culture makes fleece tops and closed-toe hiking shoes acceptable workplace attire. And granted, as architects and design professionals, we have some creative leeway with our clothing. It's almost expected that we'll dress a little more daring or interestingly, but there's still plenty of room for creativity to coexist with some professional modesty. It's also possible to wear jeans in a way that they look professional, or at least grown-up. Get some that fit well and don't look like you've been working in the yard in them. In general, whatever you wear should be clean, ironed if it looks like it even remotely needs it, and with no holes or rips or major stains.

Some interns might say, "who cares? I never see clients, and I should be comfortable while I'm working." Fair enough, but you can be comfortable without looking like you just rolled out of bed. Allow me to sound a bit like your parents for a moment: you're not in college anymore. You're a grown-up and a professional, so dress like it. Remember, you're working with a lot of people (some of whom you're working for) who came up in a time in which you dressed nicely to go to the store, much less to go to work. There are plenty of affordable clothing options that aren't a scruffy-looking t-shirt and jeans. It's called Old Navy. And regarding the I-never-go-to-meetings excuse, never say never. One day when I was an intern about two years out of school, a mechanical consultant came to our office for a meeting that my boss had canceled and had forgotten to tell this fellow. My boss was gone, and so I was called to the reception desk to deal with this fellow, with whom I'd spoken on the phone several times but had never met. I was wearing a nice silk skirt and dressy shirt and heels that day, and after I informed him that the meeting had been canceled, he asked, "Well, can we meet? You might be the person I needed to talk to about these duct layouts anyway." Another time, I was working along when I heard a familiar voice near my desk. Turns out that a client I had met with a couple of times was in the office to meet regarding another project, and he had stopped by my desk to say hi. These are just two of many small and large run-ins I've had with consultants and clients for which I was fortunately prepared appearance-wise. You never know.

But even more than this, remember what it is you do for a living. You're an architect in an office with a bunch of other architects. You spend eight or more hours a day in a roomful of people who have an extremely refined sense of sight. We are a very particular bunch about how things look, about color and texture and proportion. Add this observation to the fact that sight is thesense that takes up more of the human brain than any other sense, and you begin to understand how much your appearance matters. Your bosses are looking. Your colleagues are looking. They notice if you look like you're always hung over or that you put thought into where you're going in the morning.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Encore post: Getting hired in a down economy: good ideas and sneaky ones (?)

(Note: I'm at the AIA National Convention in Miami for some continuing ed, some networking, and some vacation time, so I'm rerunning a few posts from 2009. Enjoy, and I'll be back in about a week! -- Lulu)

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal section of the 6/28/09 Sunday Denver Post regarding how to get a job in a down economy and a market flooded with applicants. One of the interviewee's comments sounds like a good idea to me, but the other left me feeling a bit like I needed to wash my hands.

The suggestion that made a lot of sense to me is that if you post your resume on a website, don't just wait for people to call you. It makes a lot of sense in a job market flooded with applicants (many of them very qualified) to tailor your application, resume, and cover letter to go after more specific positions if you have some kind of focus that others might not have. It's a way to set you apart from the pack. Let's say you have tons of experience with 3D modeling and/or graphic design--look for job openings that mention those qualities, or send your resume to firms that appear to be able to benefit from that.

The tip that felt creepy to me was to type keywords (especially if they don't explicitly come up in your resume) in white print at the bottom of your resume if you post it online so that your resume will pop up in a wider range of searches. For some reason this feels creepy to me, perhaps because the interviewee states that you type the keywords in white text so that it won't show up when someone views or prints the resume. It feels a little sneaky to me, but maybe that's easy for me to say since I'm not engaged in a job search right now.

What concerns me about interns in the workforce right now is that neither of these tips fully helps. Architecture, as I have described in previous posts, pays for experience and knowledge, not education. They want the best bang for their buck, and the right intern can give them that. To set onself apart on a resume search, it would more likely behoove an architectural intern to emphasize not just technical ability with software but also project type experience (schools, healthcare, commercial) and project phase (construction documents, construction administration).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Off gallivanting -- back soon!

I'm off to the AIA National Convention in Miami for a few days, so I'll be reposting a few of the early posts from Intern 101 (for those of you new to the site) until middle of next week. Feel free to leave comments, and let me know if you'll be at the Convention as well--perhaps I'll see you there!

Monday, June 7, 2010

More great resources for budding architects

Many of you know of my blog as a resource for those already on the path to becoming an architect, whether you're in school, almost out of school, or have been out of school and working for a while now. But sometimes I get questions from people who what to know what it takes to be an architect: what kind of education do I need? What happens after college?

There are two great resources for those just in the very earliest part of their architectural careers (or thinking about undertaking an architectural career). One is a website maintained by the AIA called, and it does a solid job of explaining the process from college to internship to licensure. (I especially appreciate that they mention that attending a prestigious school matters less than actually working, having a good portfolio, and being a decent human being.)

The original creator of that site is Dr. Architecture, who continues to answer questions at his own blog for anyone who has a question or concern about becoming an architect as well. Dr. Architecture, who in real life is the Assistant Director of the School of Architecture at UIUC, is like the A-Team of if you have a problem, and nobody can solve it, maybe he can help.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The meaning of the stamp

A recent project in my office required the services of a structural engineer to design a small metal frame indoors on an interior remodel. The structural engineer faxed the architectural project team his details to be drafted into the project's drawings. When it came time to stamp the construction documents for the city and for our and the owner's records, the project architect assumed that the architect's stamp would cover the whole set--after all, the engineer didn't issue a sheet in the drawings, and it was just a couple of sketches. Right?

Wrong. The structural engineer came in to stamp the one sheet on which an intern drafted his it should be.

An architect's or engineer's professional stamp says that the architect or engineer vouches for the accuracy and appropriateness of the documents. The architect/engineer's stamp goes on the Contract Documents, which includes the drawings (the construction documents), the specifications, and any addenda that are issued after the CDs are issued. It goes on all these documents because these are the documents a contractor needs in order to build the project, and the stamp means that everything in the drawings and specs are correct, coordinated, and appropriate for the project. For the architect to allow their stamp to cover the structural engineer's sketches is to say that the architect 100% understands and approves of what the structural engineer sketched up. Furthermore, the structural engineer needs to review how his hand-drawn and faxed sketches were drafted into the architectural set. Is the engineer willing to rely on an intern over which he has no control or supervision to transcribe his notes and markups?

Ideally, the structural engineer would issue his own sheet, as empty as it might end up being, and he would stamp that sheet as well. If the engineer insists on having the architect draft up his sketches, then he must review them as well as stamp the sheet along with the architect.