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Commentary: Shared Values By Robert Fielden, ArchD, FAIA

May 30, 2002

Editor’s note: Education and mentoring have long been over-worked and under-used catch phrases in this industry. Just by chance, I recently came across the ArchVoices Web site. What started in 1999 as an e-mail among a few friends has become an active advocacy for improving education and internship for young, aspiring architects.


ArchVoices is looking for innovative views that pose measurable goals, identify fundamental trends, and offer realistic ideas for furthering a discussion focused on architectural internship. NOTE: The deadline for responses (there are four questions) is tomorrow, May 31! Click here to contribute.


Thirty respondents will be invited to take part in the 2002 National Summit on Architectural Internship, October 4-6 at the University of Oklahoma.


The following editorial by a “senior practitioner,” along with his responses to the questions, appeared in the May 24th issue of ArchVoices’ newsletter, and is reprinted here with permission.

- kr


Many of us who are senior members of the profession are dedicated to making architecture a greater service to society and mankind. There is also a commitment by this segment of the professional community to assist in whatever way possible to help those entering the profession prepare for long successful careers of providing similar contributions, and for seeking leadership roles in service to their communities and to the nation.


The practice of architecture today is very different than it was in the late 50s and early 60s when most of the current cadre of senior practitioners entered the profession. And it will be as distinctly different when those entering the profession today reach senior status. Not only will practice techniques be different, but the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to practice architecture will also evolve to be more complex and demanding. Demands for service quality and professional competency for architects will also rise proportionately.


Future opportunities for architects abound. Tomorrow's practice will demand that architects seamlessly integrate into the workings of a global marketplace as well as providing services at home. The rebuilding of North America's cities is well underway, and once that task is complete it will be time to rebuild this continent's suburbs – the majority of residential construction built after 1945 was not constructed for extended usage. In the global marketplace, architects will be needed to assist society in bringing the nations of the developing world into better positions of equity with the developed countries – the necessary resources to support future life on this planet are located in those regions.


Students graduating from schools of architecture today are no more prepared for addressing future issues than those of us who are senior practitioners were prepared to deal with the contemporary society in which we currently live. However, schools can prepare us for lives of change, lives of continuous inquiry, lives of commitment to the principles of this profession, lives of leadership and contribution, and lives of service to mankind.

Integrating Education into Practice


John Meunier, the retiring Dean at Arizona State University, defines architecture as the implementation and blending of the "physical and metaphysical." One must excel at both for architectural projects to be truly successful in serving the needs of the community and society.


Historically, many architects returned to the academy to teach because of a slowly developing national economy and society with few needs for professional architectural services. In these situations, practitioners served as the driving force in architectural education where attention was dedicated to the pragmatics of crafting buildings. Within a more recent timeframe the reverse condition evolved, where architectural faculty are products of the academy more than products of practice. In many instances, the Ph.D. has taken the place of the registered practitioner along with a concentrated focus on research and theory. Many of the faculty teaching in architectural schools today have never participated in the crafting of a real building project that has been constructed and used.


Also, with the current economy and a complex society in need of architectural assistance, architectural graduates are quickly absorbed into both traditional and evolutionary practice and by a global marketplace seeking skills associated with architectural education. In these times, few in practice find their way back to the academy to teach or mentor, and many academicians often fear those who do.

Progressive firms utilize entry-level professionals to link the academy and theory to practice. They utilize the young professional to bring vigor to the office setting along with a strong understanding of process, historic precedence, critical thinking skills, and an ability to conduct research. In this manner there is an integration of education and knowledge into practice.

Alternative Paths for Internship and Registration


This issue-at-hand is more a condition of convenience and economy for the intern than it is preparation and qualifications for examination and registration as an architect.


I believe that, through the NCARB, there currently exists an almost unlimited number of paths by which graduates of accredited architectural schools can follow to complete their internship and IDP requirements. It should be understood, however, that the equivalent of one year must be spent in the office and under the supervision of a registered architect. The one-year requirement is to ensure that interns have some experience in an office providing “traditional” practice services so that they are at least exposed to the comprehensive range of topics and issues on which they will be examined.


The importance of this requirement is critical to public health, safety, and welfare that architects are responsible, by law, to protect. State statutes determine whether one can hold oneself out to the public as an "Architect" – restricted to those who have achieved the minimum standards established by each state legislature. Synonymous with the title "Architect" is the legal permission of the state to initiate and seal documents as a product of professional service, prepared by a person for technical review by regulatory bodies.

Continuous Learning and Mentorship


Living in the 21st century requires one to understand the inevitability of change and respond to it as a condition of life. Continuous learning and the evolution of mindsets are critical to success and survival in the current world. Change, sophistication, and complexity open new doors to architects serving society in any role. The challenge is to continuously reinvent our profession – and ourselves – so that both remain relevant.


Mentorship serves at two levels of professional development for architects. As a student or graduate entering the profession, mentors are exceptionally helpful in guiding others through the complexities of preparing for the profession: clarifying questions and concerns one may have regarding professional skills and capabilities, knowledge, processes, and other conditions related to practice, practice experience, and the examination for licensure and registration. For the more experienced, mentorship by more senior practitioners, by consultants and other professional advisors is critical to learning and evolving professionally. Even senior practitioners rely on mentors to assist with maintaining creative, competent, and relevant practices.

Recognition of Graduates’ Knowledge and Abilities


The greatest values young graduates bring to the office are energy, enthusiasm, and passion for their work and their desires to serve society in a meaningful way. Second, new graduates use their academic experiences to bridge and link history and theory to the pragmatic, using systematic process and precedents as guides to elevating the quality of planning and design being produced in the office. Third, they bring an experienced grasp of computer technology, for both hardware and software applications, that is generally greater than most others in the office. And lastly, they bring with them the future of our profession, and all of us, as practitioners, are indebted to them for that.


Robert Fielden, FAIA, is the senior principal at RAFI: Planning, Architecture, Urban Design in Las Vegas and director of its urban design studio. The firm and its principals have received numerous state, regional, national, and international design awards and honors for contributions to planning, architecture, urban design, and practice excellence. Fielden is one of only three architects ever elected by colleagues to serve on the profession's three national collateral boards: the AIA, NAAB, and NCARB. He is a past president of the NCARB and past secretary-treasurer of NAAB, where he continues to serve as a member of visiting teams for architectural accreditation.


ArchVoices is an independent think tank on architectural education and internship that exists to foster a culture of communication, empowering the diverse and broadening architectural community through the collection and dissemination of knowledge and research.

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© 2002