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DesignMind: 5 Distinguishing Characteristics of a Professional

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In June, I had the honor of preparing remarks for the 98th Annual Business Meeting of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). NCARB is responsible for the licensure of architects and has taken innovative steps to improve that process with the Integrated Path to Architecture Licensure. IPAL allows select institutions, including NewSchool, to offer accelerated programs so that students can be prepared to pursue licensure upon graduation.

Here is a condensed version of my message to NCARB:

What gives us credibility and value in the eyes of the public, potential clients, and those who will live, work, and worship in buildings and places designed and realized by architects? Over the course of many discussions with my very good friend Patrick Sullivan, former Chair of the Department of Architecture at California State Polytechnic University, we determined five distinguishing characteristics of a professional:

1. An Advanced/Recognized Education Experience

Every individual who chooses to study a profession must have the burning desire within themselves to pursue an education. The bedrock of respect that underlies the profession is dependent on a vital culture of exploration and design thought within the academy. The complexity of our time, the increasing complexity of our tools, and the rising expectations for professional service demand a rich, measured education experience. It is true that there are many alternate sources of knowledge to inform an individual. However, what is necessary is the intensely personal experience of an architectural education that has itself been rigorously assessed by a diverse group of peers from education, practice, and the public sector.

2. A Proper, Rigorous Internship Experience

There is much in practice that simply cannot be simulated or mimicked in the academy. The logistics surrounding a major project are staggering when taken out of the context of a highly qualified professional team. A rigorous learning experience within the structure of an office allows for the continuum of academy to practice to flourish. IPAL gives greater exposure to professional preparation through additional coursework that matches in-office experience. It stimulates the motivated student to complete curricular work and address the licensing exam years ahead of the present average. Because of the shadowing and internship experiences, partnerships between offices and schools are increasing, further enhancing the desired goal of bringing the academy and practice closer along the continuum.

3. The Accomplishment of Licensure Along with a Responsibility for Continuing Lifelong Learning

Many years ago, as a recent graduate, I wondered about the value of licensure. I was convinced that I could operate outside of the system. I soon learned that licensure was actually liberating. It was a capstone achievement that validated my education and it forced me to sum up my experience in practice. It became clear to me that it defined me and validated me as a professional with real responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of people. It became my proof of the value of my work to the public. Because the process toward licensure is a milestone that ultimately validates the education and practice of the individual, both the academy and the office must take responsibility for mentoring and guiding the individual to licensure.

4. Voluntary Membership in a Professional Association Along with the Voluntary Acceptance of a Code of Ethics

Voluntary membership in a professional association opens opportunities to identify and interact with like-minded peers. This is a tradition that extends well into Western history through a system of guilds and clubs. Knowledge communities work to advance the body of information available to the profession through the sharing experiences, related scholarship and case studies from practice.

As important as voluntary membership in a professional association is, it is equally important to commit to the voluntary acceptance of a related code of ethics. The ethical conduct of the profession is dependent on the personal commitment of every member to a shared system of beliefs and implies that buildings will have a powerful consistency focused on human-centered design.

5. The Commitment to Pro Bono Activity Even as it May Lead to New Forms of Professional Activity

Truly, one of the most important aspects of a professional life is the understanding of the necessity of a commitment to the less fortunate of our society. As architectural professionals, we are more than architects. We are citizen architects and designers. It is activity that broadens our understanding of the world while we see to the quality of life, the public welfare, of even the most underserved among us. I believe that giving returns ten-fold to the profession. It increases our value to society because we have first demonstrated our value. It moves us to think beyond traditional roles for our critical and creative abilities. Our commitment beyond ourselves calls upon our better nature.

The common ingredient among each of the five marks of a professional is the unyielding commitment to raising the standards of the profession. This must be our shared commitment irrespective of the perspective we bring to this discussion. It will be foundation of the respect we have for each other and it will give us reason to trust each other.

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