The Case for Licensure

Last week in Antarctica, researchers spotted a rare, nearly all-white leucistic Chinstrap penguin. Although not nearly as adorable as this penguin, I have to say that I feel a special kinship with him.


You see, I work in PECI's Engineering & Technical Services group, which affords me the opportunity to work with a lot of incredibly smart engineering and technical people... lots of fellow "numbers" people like myself.  But, like the white penguin, one of these things is not like the other:  I am NOT an engineer.  In fact, I have a professional bachelor's degree in Architecture.  And at last check, I think I am the only one in our group with this background.

What does this mean?  Well, first and foremost, it means I am a big fan of buildings, which is why I went to school to learn how to design them in the first place.  It also means that I have spent a lot of time learning how to put buildings together, both in school and in practice, working in architecture offices, which gives me a unique perspective on how to make them more energy efficient.  On the other hand, this does NOT mean that I am an Architect... yet.  

You'll see the word "architect" used a lot to describe folks that design computer programs ("software architect") or sometimes in the media as a euphemism for the masterminds of political events ("the architect of the Gulf War"), or even in The Matrix ("The Architect").  However, the American Institute of Architects, our country's oldest association of people who put buildings together - aka actual architects - is very specific about the use of the word "architect" within the profession.  So specific, in fact, that I am not allowed to call myself an Architect until I obtain my architecture license.

What does getting an architecture license involve, you ask?  Well, here's what it looks like, at minimum:

  • A 5-year (or more) professional degree in Architecture.  Most American universities now offer 4-year Bachelor's of Arts or Sciences in Architecture + a 2-year professional Master's of Architecture, although a few still have 5-year professional Bachelor's of Architecture.
  • Completion of the Intern Development Program (IDP), which is essentially like an apprenticeship.  IDP mandates that interns receive over 700 units of experience in several different practice areas, which comes out to be roughly three years of experience, if done in a straight shot (although it is almost never that simple).
  • Taking, and passing, seven different Architecture Registration Exams (AREs).  Yes, that's right.  SEVEN exams.  This step can take anywhere from a few months to several years.

Given these requirements, it is a long and sometimes exhausting road to become a licensed architect, as you can imagine.  Luckily I have completed the first two hurdles, and I am over halfway done with the third.  The thing is, even though we at PECI are not in the business of designing buildings, I am taking this long journey to get my license because it's the highest professional designation that I can get.  Licensed architects have been deemed competent by the highest standards of the building profession, and this is an asset in the increasingly technical energy efficiency industry.  I also must admit that it's a motivator when I hear that my fellow penguins, er, colleagues have passed their Professional Engineer (PE) exams.  I've put in so much time and energy, and I'd like to achieve this goal that I set for myself so long ago... even though getting to this point and then having to take SEVEN exams feels downright cruel.

Besides, if I pass all my exams (knock on wood), I get a stamp with my seal on it!  (Who doesn't want their own stamp?!)  I'll check back in over the summer to let you know if I've reached my goal.

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