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Thoughts on Architectural Licensure

About a month ago, I applied for a scholarship that would have covered the cost of my architecture license (including the cost of exams and registration, approximately $2000 total).  Unfortunately, I was not selected.  I would like to thank everyone who helped with my application, including my colleagues at work and my fellow board members of Silicon Valley Odyssey of the Mind.  I really appreciate the time you took to provide me with recommendation letters and support for my application!  Next year I will no longer be eligible, so this was my one shot at the scholarship.  I am still planning to go ahead with my license, so I hope no one thinks this has discouraged me.  In fact, there are many reasons I think licensure is important, and I wanted to share the essay that I wrote about it as part of the scholarship application process.  The essay prompt asked us to consider the role of the architect in sustainable design.

Essay for the California Architectural Foundation's 2014 Paul …

From the Architectural Archives: Decoy Houses

Did you grow up with a "haunted house" in your neighborhood?  It turns out that some buildings that look like houses aren't really houses at all, but are instead the haunts of infrastructure.  I first learned about these decoy houses from BLDGBLOG (Geoff Manaugh's excellent and thought-provoking blog) and found the idea too fascinating to pass over.  Hidden among the ordinary houses in ordinary neighborhoods, buildings that look like houses to the casual observer are actually power substations, water pump stations, subway vents or exits, and more.  Some have been built this way from scratch in order to appease neighbors.  Others are ex-houses, converted from real houses into shells in order to conceal infrastructure or preserve the historic character of a neighborhood.  All of them are a bit spooky.  Here are few for your consideration.


58 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY
This is an ex-townhouse, built in the late 19th century as an ordinary house, and converted during…

Rejected from McSweeney's: Fantasy Architecture Film Festival

So you know how sports people are always talking about "fantasy football" or "fantasy baseball" or whatever?  It turns out that they aren't talking about a sports team filled with characters from fantasy novels or films.  (That would be so much more awesome, I know!)  What they mean instead is that they are "fantasizing" about the best team ever, in which they select the players for the different positions from any team.  (Or something like that, the specific workings escape me.)  Well, in the spirit of these fantasy sports enthusiasts, I would like to propose a fantasy architectural film festival, which would include all the films I'd like to show, if I had infinite time and an extremely patient audience.  Here we go!

Obviously
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home
Blade Runner
The Truman Show
Metropolis
Labyrinth

The Heroic Architect
The Towering Inferno
Inception
The Fountainhead*
(ok, yes, it's a short category, we aren't very heroic.)

The…

A Completely BS Exam

My arduous journey through the land of NCARB continued today with the Building Systems (BS) exam.  So far, it's been Caroline: 3, NCARB: 1, and I'm waiting now for the BS results.  I'm feeling quite ambivalent about this one - not as despairing as after Structures, but not at all sure that I passed.  There were quite a few questions that I simply had no idea how to answer.  Nothing to do now but wait.

Since my last ARE-related post, I passed Schematic Design, which, as expected, wasn't too difficult.  I practiced drawing the two vignettes over and over until I was satisfied with my speed.  Even then, I managed to make a mistake on the exam that I only caught after completely finishing my building design, which caused me to have to re-draw nearly from scratch.  Fortunately the practice paid off, and I had enough time to re-draw without too much hyperventilating.  I'm glad that one's done!

My study routine has continued to be: (1) Read all the relevant chapters …

Women in Architecture: An Individual Perspective

I have a bad habit of reading up on a topic, getting excited about it, starting a blog post, and then dropping it.  Time passes, the issue may start to feel resolved, and then my post begins to sound passé or irrelevant.  What can I possibly add to the conversation that hasn't already been said?  I'll delete my draft, or just let it sit there.  But sometimes, the issue hasn't really gone away, and I see it pop up over and over.  This is one of those times, and here is one of those posts.

If you're not familiar with the "issue" of women in architecture, here's the general gist:  50% of architecture students are women, and have been for some time, but only 18% of licensed architects are women.  That leaves a "gap" of 32% (see: http://themissing32percent.com/), who are women who leave the profession or otherwise fail to get licensed.  In case you prefer your content in infographic form, I've got you covered.  This topic is now all the rage, an…

Visiting Los Angeles

Back in February, over President's Day weekend, we visited my sister in LA and spent a couple days seeing the city.  This was my first visit, and only my second trip to southern California.  Here's a map of the places we visited (or wanted to visit).  We drove down along the 5 at night - a pretty boring drive - and stayed in an Airbnb in what I think was West Hollywood.  On the first day of our visit we walked around Hollywood, seeing Grauman's Chinese Theater (home of the Star Wars premiere in 1977, among many other movie premieres) and the Capitol Records Building.  The area near the theater felt like a smaller, slightly more subdued version of Times Square.






We then took the subway a short distance just to see what it was like.  The subway stations we visited were remarkably clean and interestingly-decorated, although since we only took the train one or two stops, I can't really comment on the overall condition of the system.  The station at Hollywood & Vine was…

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

- Robert Frost

In Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon-ho gets to have his ice and his fire, too. I'm a big fan of the apocalyptic action thriller, especially when it involves a focus on questionable science (see also: The Core, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon), but I did not enjoy this film. I don't enjoy gory or overly violent movies, and had to close my eyes during violent episodes throughout the movie. So with that caveat, I have a few comments.  For a more general review of the movie, check out the NYTimes' review.

The film has some scenes of beauty, both of the train's interior and of the frozen tundra outside.  What's left of the world is snowy, but not with deep enough snow to hide the frozen forms of the destroyed cities and sh…

Visiting Detroit

A few weeks ago I visited Detroit for the first time while in the area for a friend's wedding.  We hear so much about Detroit these days, as the poster-child for urban decay, that I must admit I was pretty interested in seeing it for myself, and wondered what I would find there.

My impression is that it's a fairly small city, with a small, well-developed core but extensive, decaying suburbs.  We drove a short ways out to visit the Heidelberg Project, and saw some of the crazy inner-ring suburban emptiness near there (countless vacant lots, overgrown fields that used to be houses, etc), but most of what we saw in the downtown area wasn't too shabby.  We missed getting to experience the Eastern Market by arriving about an hour too late, which was disappointing, but instead got some very tasty ice cream at Neveria la Michoacana.  That was definitely an adventure for us and really fun!


All around the downtown area we saw signs of new buildings, construction, and city pride, s…

ARE We Done Yet?

The lateral forces of destiny have continued to make my free time shear torture, as today I took the Structural Systems portion of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE).  Let me get a few allowable loads off my chest.  I had planned to write a witty review of my time studying for this massive and inflexible exam, a review that would have been full of puns about mental strain and bending over backwards to learn this stuff, but I'm just too stressed.  (See what I did there.)  The tension of waiting for my results is practically unbearable.  (The compression isn't great, either.) When I couple the forces of failure with those of success, the net outcome seems... indeterminate, like a beam fixed at both ends.  It's like there's an overturning moment with roughly 1.5 times the dead weight of my emotions, and I can't decide if I'm more angry or more depressed at how it went.

Anyway, as I've been telling myself, Structures is over now for at least the next six mo…

Rejected from McSweeney's: An Open Letter to a Prometric Test Center

Dear Suburban Prometric Test Center,

It's me, an ARE candidate, who's visited twice already and expects to be back at least 6 more times.*  Let me say straight off that I do appreciate your convenient location near a major highway interchange, although the anonymous office park in which you are located is a bit confusing and makes you hard to find.  And let's be honest, getting to you at 4pm on a weekday can be extremely frustrating, what with crazy traffic, and having to leave work early, and your lack of nearby food choices when I'm going to be visiting you for at least 5 hours and would like to bring some dinner with me.  (I'd come see you at a different time, but you never seem to have any other free time available.)  But truly, your staff have been nothing if not pleasant while wanding me with the metal detector, and have been practically apologetic when asking me to lift up my pant legs & sleeves and to stick my hands in all my pockets (even in the tiny …

Competitions, Critique, and Pop-up Tents

I've been ambivalent about architecture competitions.  As these competitions are usually run in the US, a group of some kind (usually a non-profit or a professional organization like the AIA) will openly solicit designs with a monetary prize for the winner, while requiring entrants to pay an entry fee.  Entrants who do not win get nothing, and usually the runners-up get only publicity for their designs.  On the one hand, I sympathize with those who, like my professor Paul Segal, are strongly opposed to competitions on the grounds that they take advantage of the goodwill and artistic tendencies of architects (see also: "starving artists")  to get quality design work for free.  Can you imagine engineers or doctors or lawyers paying money to their clients in order to do their usual work for free?  It's preposterous.  It's also a frustrating experience for the designer because you never get any feedback on your design.  It's equivalent to throwing your ideas out…

My Friends are Awesome

We're from the mid- to tail-end of the 1980s, and what are we doing now?  Living the dream, that's what.  Maybe it's not quite the dream our parents had for us, but it's a dream nonetheless.  Sometimes I like to sit back and think about what my friends are doing and give a tiny mental fist-pump for everyone.  Maybe because I never really had a clear idea of what I was going to be "when I grew up," I'm still not quite over the idea that so many of us have "made it" - to jobs or positions or universities where we get to do/study/research/practice what interests us.  And most of what I see written about our generation (apparently we're the "millenials") is that we're all wasting our precious youth, or having it wasted for us by the recession economy: we're working in dead-end jobs with only a fond wish for promotion, sleeping on a lot of sofas, drinking ourselves to death, and looking for love in all the wrong places.  So for…

Festina Lente (and the Architect Registration Exam)

Somehow February and March came and went, and now it's the season of Lent, a time in the Christian tradition reserved for penitence and fasting, which I'm observing by forcing myself to take the Architect Registration Exams (AREs) and by trying to write more regularly.  "Lent" means "spring," and also "long," which together describes this exam period quite well, since it will probably take me from now until the end of the year to finish all seven of the exams.  A long spring indeed.  (After that, I will also take the California Supplemental Exam, or CSE, once my internship hours are complete.)  Lent, or lente in Latin, also means slowly, which again describes the exam process quite well... and my attempt to get this over with as quickly as possible?  Festina lente.  So there you have it.  A long, slow spring of studying.

But what you really want to know is whether I passed my first exam last week, the Programming, Planning, & Practice (PPP) e…

Movie Review: "Pom Poko"

For those of you who haven't figured it out yet, I have pretty weird taste in movies.  I like action and adventure films, but I also like animated films from Disney and Studio Ghibli.  Well, this one from Studio Ghibli (more specifically, the English dub version by Disney), takes the cake for weirdness.  To quote one imdb user review, it was "very, very, very strange."

Very strange indeed. "Pom Poko" is from Studio Ghibli, but is not a Miyazaki film, directed instead by Isao Takahata.  The movie follows a group of magical raccoon dogs (tanuki but misleadingly called "raccoons" in the movie) living in the Tama Hills outside Tokyo as their forest is turned into a giant housing development project (Tama New Town), one of the largest developments in Japan.  It felt like the director was deeply conflicted about the entire subject of the film.  The tanuki of the film are the same ones of Japanese folklore, and able to shapeshift, so they do everything the…

Modes of Practice: Architecture for...?

[This post was written in spring 2013, but I was too busy to finish it then - so here it is now!]

Architecture for architects?
Architecture for humanity?
Architecture for the elite, the masses, the academy, the developer?

In thinking about my experiences at architecture school, I realize that our professors have done a great job incorporating principles of "sustainable design" (design and construction that minimize energy and materials use, carbon footprint, etc) into the curriculum, but that we have learned little or nothing about the (emerging?) field of "public interest design," design for social justice and the public good.  Perhaps architecture professors think that this is such a basic tenet of architecture, that we design for the public good, that they don't think it's necessary to make it explicit.  But I think this is far from true.  I only stumbled upon ideas about design in the service of social, economic, and ecological justice through my investig…