ARE it is

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Finally, after making the decision of taking the ARE, the idea of taking the first exam to break the ice persisted in my mind for months before I scheduled the appointment. Deciding which one was going to be the first one was somewhat easy as I chose the one where I thought I had acquire the most knowledge in my short years of experience. Waiting for the right time in my life was very unsuccessful. There were always family reunions and compromises that would limit the studying time. Studying with no deadline was not enough, distractions were there all the time, and it wasn’t serious enough. I realized I just had to schedule the appointment in order to bring a sense of responsibly and trap myself in a deadline. It was comparable to ripping off a band aid. I can’t deny it was not only my “motivation” (see previous post) what made me schedule an exam appointment, it was the environment where I work as well. My coworkers were literally making me click. After all, being surrounded by great people does impact your life. As soon as I got the appointment confirmation my anxiety levels increased but I knew I could do it, at least take it. I did have a lot of experience in studying and taking exams, I had done from kinder garden to college graduation.

So there were family reunions and compromises I had to cancel or shorten or adjust. I studied as much as I could while trying to avoid getting overwhelmed with the great amount of information and payed more attention to the testing scheme. I tried to comprehend more how the examination system works. I was able to figure out answers by inferring and not exactly by memorizing. Also, I came up with an efficient sequence of steps for the vignette exercise, as I believe this is the key to pass it. The day before the exam I hadn’t been able to cover all the material, I knew I didn’t know everything, but I stopped studying at a point where I had gained enough confidence and had enough time to rest. The next day, being positive but ready for both outcomes,I went to examination center, which by the way was very intimidating. The tense atmosphere and my purpose there made me feel almost like when you are in a dangerous or stressful situation where you can only focus on one unique priority, like in ancient times when the only aim was to survive. The rigidity of the testing center rules helped me understand the significance of the following three hours of my life.

The first fifteen questions were none sense for my frightened brain. The sixteenth saved me. It was the first one that I actually understood and knew the answer, the first one of others that made me gain my confidence back. Thinking as fast as I could was my strength, which made me gain ten extra minutes to go back to the first fifteen questions. It was my regained self-assurance what let me understand this time. At least, I was able to relate the questions and connect them to some knowledge in my mind. I was very calmed and cold minded during those three hours.

Two weeks after, I found out that I had passed. The misconception of being an almost impossible task was officially broken. Passing this exam officially opened a new chapter in my life personal and professional. It brought me one step closer to becoming a “real architect” for society and closer to realizing my professional goals. It brought not only a very exciting the sense of accomplishment, but the hope that someday I will be able to perform as per my beliefs, and pass them on to society.

Are or not Are

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Architecture like many other trades requires an accredited comity to dictate what a registered architect should know in order to become a “real architect” (see previous post). It is considered fair and necessary for the safety and well being of the people. Engineers also have to pass some exams to become licensed but only architects need to pass seven exams. These along with proven working experience are basically the requirements to become a registered architect. Some young graduates start studying right after graduation, but sadly the majority take a break as it has probably taken them long exhausting years just to accomplish their bachelor degree. Eventually, most of them end up not going back to long hours of studying, and others start questioning if it is really worth it to become registered, to continue sacrificing not only the time with the family and sleeping hours but money. Seeing other young architects, perhaps colleagues who have become registered and are still in the same place might be somewhat discouraging. In addition, knowing smart and experienced colleagues who have continuously failed the exams is also not helping, it is not a secret that these exams are designed as tricky as they could be, measuring not only the talents as architects but as good cold minded students who dominate the testing system. Furthermore, seeing small firms struggling to get new projects is quite scary as it could foreshadow the future of any of those young registered architects. The responsibility that it takes to manage a studio is very intimidating.

This period of questioning the need to become registered could be quite long and life could in fact lead us to find excuses to never truly answer this question. Excuses are the easiest to find, motivation and courage are the hardest.

Now, how to find motivation? What needs to happen in the professional life? Motivation could be found when there is challenge, perhaps when life puts you in a position where you are forced to do what you don’t quite believe or approve, while having very well defined strong professional principles.

As architects, or even as human beings, challenging and adverse situations are present every day in our life; there are plenty of moments where the circumstances obligate to take the quick easy way but the not so great solution. It could be common to find yourself voiceless, in a an environment where no one seems to cares about what you think or care at all, or they do but they have given up already. Nevertheless, for those of you who have strong well defined ideas, you will probably have a strong voice inside that is screaming at you exactly what you believe should be done. It is in this moment, after time trying to speak up and not making any improvements, that you grab onto that voice in your head and turn into motivation to get licensed. The best thing about it is that it is a source of motivation that will be strengthened regularly for sure. And it is definitely yourself answering the question that has been on your mind for a long time. It is not warrantied that you could actually be successful if you get licensed but there is no doubt it takes you one step closer to perform as per your beliefs. It is a very personal choice to decide to listen to the voice in your head, or let it fade with the years.

What is a real architect?

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“Architecture is a state of mind” Santiago Aranegui

Architects have to be highly motivated and passionate to actually become a “real architect”, since the very first moment they decide to go to architecture school, they start the really long and painful path of becoming a real architect or licensed architect with a practice, as society calls them. It is really their passion for architecture what truly keeps them focused and their source of energy to keep moving forward, doing almost physically impossible acts, supporting themselves mostly on the foundation of a very genuine and somewhat naïve believe of what architecture should be.

When applying to school, they have to go through a process of competitive selection, then if they finally make it into one accredited school they get to experience the best and worst years of their lives in school studio. Becoming and staying an architecture student throughout the whole program is really challenging, that is why many change majors or never finish. It is a sacrifice that not many are willing to make, some have it easier than others but in the end it is a very arduous major, mentally, physically and even socially. Many architecture students have health issues due to lack of sleep, stress and improper eating habits, this is without considering the financial situation and how expensive the architectural books and materials are. Architecture school could leave consequences such as insomnia, additions and grey hairs to say the least, but a great feeling of accomplishment. Nonetheless, after the graduation day and the celebration, they start to realize they cannot call themselves students anymore; however it is still too soon to call them architects.

Lots of very original innovating architecture related job positions are created due to this phenomenon. Firms are not following the AIA standards and are being really creative with their job titles for recent graduates, to a point where there is no real definition of responsibilities of a particular job. The recent graduates can consider themselves very lucky if they find a decent job in architecture with no experience required and just enough to become independent financially and of course to pay the student debt. They indeed are very fortunate and they value so much their job that they continue to do whatever it takes to prove they can be real architects and to learn as much as possible. The majority of them continue the same school lifestyle staying overnight, not eating correctly, and having too much caffeine. They still don’t find the time to spend with their family. Some of them go through a life crisis where they ask themselves “why they studied architecture” and some are able to successfully answer and keep focused on their career with the hope for better times, and others switch to related fields such construction and real state. This is the second moment in their lives when they have to reassure their beliefs and those who stay are perhaps who still think they can make it and most importantly the ones that believe it is all worth it.

Then, the process of realizing they don’t really know anything about the real world of architecture strikes them, they start taking on more and more responsibilities at work just to be exposed to the unknown things and learn about a wider variety of subjects and all the phases of design. Hopefully, the firm is willing to offer all these learning opportunities. If so, after a while they decide it is time to start taking the board exams. In the end that is all they need to become a real architect, or at least that is what they think. They start studying at night, after work, again sacrificing themselves and their families in so many ways. After a couple of years some of them, the ones that stayed focused, the ones that knew exactly what they are doing and where they are going once having the license, pass the exams and become registered. However, sadly most of them give up trying. Therefore only those who had that unbreakable passion and truly uncorrupted believe stay. It is almost like a filter that has many layers that get tighter and tighter as you advance.

The next layer, starting a practice, takes not only a license, but lots of connections and good amount of money to start, which is almost ridiculous as architectural related jobs are one of the worst paid in the country. The ones that come from a prosperous family have a really good chance of making it. Then hiring the right people and using the most efficient software, can lead to a prosperous architectural practice, even to become locally well-known and to have a voice in the community; again taking a great amount of effort not only from themselves but from their families and colleagues as well. But somehow, it is then when they seem to forget the reason why they started this painful and meaningful path. They start being architecture machines, most of them do not get involved in the AIA, which is the only political force that they have to truly make a change on the community, just like how they use to dream as young students.

At this point when they have become a real architect or licensed architect with a practice, as society calls them, but can they really call themselves architects? Are they truly doing architecture? Are they being truly passionate about what they do? It is almost better to say they had been architects all the time during the painful path and now they just forgot what it was all about. Sadly most of them by this time have started ignoring their own believes, that is why they should try to go back in time to realize or remember all they have sacrificed to truly answer the question of their lives, “why being an architect” or even further, are they real architects?