I may be the oldest of my group of fellow bloggers (or awfully close), as it is hard to believe I took the Architectural Registration Exam over twenty-two years ago, but the details of that week are still fresh in my mind. Furthermore, if you are an Emerging Professional on the fence about the test, you won’t find any solace here other than a single-minded person who will insist you take the exam – and soon. I’ll be your biggest cheerleader and share your joy when you pass.
Before I share my story, let me ask you this – how much do you want to be an architect? That’s the key phrase; that’s what it boils down to in any discussion about the A.R.E. For those of you reading this, who have been sane enough to elect another career, bless you, I can only apologize for the rest of this post. (Maybe you’ll appreciate your architect more once you hire her). It’s no secret that I’ve shared on blogs, podcasts and countless conversations, that I’ve always wanted to be an architect. I must preface that by saying that “always” started around the time I was eleven years old, but now that I’m 50, that’s close to always.
Somewhere around 1979, I’ll guess my twelfth birthday, my mother found a wooden drafting table and gave it to me as a gift after seeing my interest in drawing houses, perspective drawings (yes, I figured that out by reading books…remember books?) and other technical drawings. There was no internet, nor computers so I have no idea where she found it. It came in a box, or a series of boxes, and I assembled the myriad of pieces together myself, not knowing where the knack to build things ever originated, not having a father growing up or someone to teach these types of skills. I had a single-mindedness about things and if I wanted to do it, I did it, even if I made mistakes along the way or broke something. I could see the pieces, there were screws and wingnuts involved and the rest just came together. There were no nifty IKEA like diagrams in those days with weird shaped people supposedly sharing construction methods with some cryptic, but universal language. I wasn’t sure exactly what an architect was or what one did, but I still wanted to be one. So, it was settled. I dragged an old dining room chair into my room and I was set.
Today is about my story, so I promise not to regurgitate my past drivel about licensure and my noticeably strong opinion about how every architectural graduate should become licensed, but I still don’t understand why someone who has made it through school – alive – would even consider not taking the exam, even if they go on to other things. I’ve heard the excuses; I’m not sold, but I can accept my opinion is not commonly shared and I’m not up to debate today.
This desk I mentioned was a place I could be found most nights, as I spent so much time of my childhood in my room. I did my homework on it, I spent endless hours drawing on it – not always drafting but drawing anything and everything while my turntable spun the original vinyl records. Looking back at the drawings I’ve shared in these images, I’m not sure I was that good. Nevertheless, I started architectural school with my beloved desk in 1986 (I spent a previous year at Cedarville College taking general education classes before I transferred to Kent State in 1986). I can even remember learning about a thing called a parallel rule (Mayline to some of you) that didn’t require the user to hold onto the T-square all the time. What a cool invention. I bought one and yes, installed it myself. I can’t remember if that was before or after I started college.
Did I ask how much do you want to be an architect?
Anyone who has made it through architecture school can attest that it may be the hardest thing they’ve ever done, at least before they turned twenty-five years old. I can’t remember what caused my sister to think I was unhappy with my desk, but somewhere around my third year at Kent, she bought me a new desk. This one was white laminate with black metal legs – quite modern and considerably more stable than that other one. No offense, Mum, but I’m going to use the new desk. It’s lighter and easier to transport home for the summer. I still have that desk my sister bought, but I removed the legs I still use it to this day as a table top desk after I added fold down legs and a handle to it. This desk ushered in a new era, but the usefulness of the original desk had not yet concluded.
In 1995, four years after graduation, I had finally completed my IDP requirements. I was a bit irritated that I missed finishing them in 1994 – my three-year goal, but somehow the credits were a bit shy and the exam was only offered ONCE a year – yes ONCE a year in those days. I would have to wait until the next year to take the test. During that busy year, I completed the IDP requirements, left the job I started upon graduation and was working at an office in downtown Pittsburgh. My paperwork (yes paper) was complete, I scheduled the exam and was ready to go in late June 1995. The strict daily study routine for the past six or eight months was over and it was time to face this giant. Notice how quickly I had moved things along; remember my original question?
My wife and I had not even been married for three years and here I go to spend a week away from her alone in a hotel room in Pittsburgh. I can even remember it was the Ramada over on Sixth or Centre Avenue, perhaps it’s a Doubletree or something like that now. I just remember it was behind the USX Tower. There I was, sequestered in a hotel for four nights so I could walk to the former D.L. Convention Center each morning to take the A.R.E and then return to study alone. It was a four-day test; the first three days offered eight-hour, multiple choice tests with those weird fill-in-the-circle sheets where the questions were purposely arcane with answers like:
- all the above
- none of the above
- both a and b
- something else you’ll never guess or,
- why not shoot yourself now and get it over with?
So much for thinking multiple choice was easy.
On the last day, there was the design exam – the Queen Mother of all exams. Twelve straight hours of design and drafting and no ability to leave except to go the bathroom. I had my art-bin with all my drafting tools and inside was the lunch and dinner my wife packed for me. Did I mention we couldn’t leave? In those days everything one would need had to be brought in as the only thing they provided was the vellum sheets to take the exam. Don’t screw them up, there were no other ones – seriously. The test was broken down into a few sections of vignettes, but the bulk of it was still a building design. Those crafty test makers thought it would be fun to introduce a multi-level gut-renovation for a witty change my year instead of a blank site for a new building. Who does that? Fortunately, I had a plan, I had a schedule down to the minute for how I would make it through, leaving an hour of course for checking my work. I’ll have to share the rest of that story another time.
Are you thinking that to draft our work, we needed a drafting board? They only had 8’ tables scattered about the vast room where we spent the day alone in a group of test takers. Guess what drafting board I took with me? The wooden legs never got reattached after my sister brought in the new model, so that wooden drafting board with a parallel rule still attached was a mere drafting desk top that could be transported with the handle I attached. There I sat for twelve long focused hours taking the very test that would be my Super Bowl moment; the very test that was the gate to the goal I had established over eighteen years earlier. The decision was clear, I would take the A.R.E on my very first drafting table – the one I had learned to develop my drafting and drawing skills on as a kid. It was like an old friend coming with me through a challenging time. I passed all sections first time. Now I am an architect; it really wasn’t that easy I must say.
So, I ask you again, how much do you want to be an architect? What are you willing to do to pass it?
If you liked that story, here are a series of other stories my friends wrote today. I hope you find them refreshing and discover a variety of other ways of looking at this issue.
Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
What is the Big Deal about the ARE?
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Take the architect registration exam, already
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
ARE – The Turnstile
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
the architect registration exam
Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
The Architecture Registration Exam
Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
What is the Benefit of Becoming a Licensed Architect?
Kyu Young Kim – J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Every Architect’s Agony
Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
To do or not to do ?
Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Test or Task
Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Passing the Test
Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
How to Become a Licensed Architect in Italy
Jane Vorbrodt – Kuno Architecture (@janevorbrodt)
Seven Years of Highlighters and Post-it Notes