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Setting out...
by Matt Arnold on 11/08/10 @ 02:20:37 pm
Categories: Architects, Applying to Grad School | 667 words | 1033 views

I remember back in August of 2008 I got an email from my state AIA government affairs liason, asking if I was willing to participate in a survey of yellow pages advertisements. Architects from different areas of the state agreed to assess the advertisements in their local yellow pages of individuals and firms advertising their services under the Architects heading. We pitched in eagerly, and checked our phone books against the state registry of licensed architects. About 40% of the advertisements were from licensed firms and individuals, the others were not.

Contemplating the value of this edification, an idle thought crossed my mind: what percentage, I wondered, of the faculty of the Architecture schools in the state were licensed architects? Web searches of our three NAAB-accredited programs provided me with a list of 175 faculty members; 31 of these appeared on our state roster – almost 18%.

I was astounded. What other profession has standards so low that it would allow circumstances in which more than 5 in 6 faculty members to teach without demonstrating minimal competence in their field? Cosmetology comes to mind, or tatooing… but no, these honorable pursuits are taught by licensed practitioners. Engineering? Hardly. Medicine or Law? The idea is entertaining, but there is no spark of truth in it. This statistic is a reproach and a shame to the profession, to the institutions that allow it, and most of all to the dilettantes and poseurs who presume to be addressed as teacher without submitting to the discipline of practice; whose ideas are so diaphanous that they vanish when confronted by the puff of wind; dissolve at the kiss of the morning dew; or evaporate at the first glint of the Sun’s golden rays.

I have come to learn that my state is an aberration, and contrary to my initial perceptions, the national average of practitioners in the education field is much higher – in fact almost double. In fact, according to the National Architecture Accrediting Board, in 2009, the ratio of licensed architects to non-licensed individuals among the faculty of our schools is one in three (see page 20).

Actually, I exaggerate. This statistic refers to those who are registered in some jurisdiction in the US, not necessarily practicing as they teach. This is something, perhaps a small thing, but we must be careful that our assertions are supportable as we move through the thickets and swamps on this journey; like Lewis or Clark we must set our foot upon a rock in the midst of the torrent and test if it is stable before we put our full weight on it. If, in your reading of this post or any subsequent ones, you encounter an assertion that you disbelieve, I will be gratified if you would pause to bring attention to it, that I (or you) may be corrected.

Here are some figures to contemplate; while you consider these I will put some thought into the telling of the tale of the next stop on my journey to make pictures (and perhaps some sense) out of the story of what it is to become an architect in the US today…

In 2006 there were about 50,000 applicants to arch schools, 22,000 acceptances (I think most people apply to more than one place), and 7,200 graduates (this from here). I’ve heard that the enrollment numbers are up since then. I believe there are something like 3,500 newly licensed architects in the US every year. there are now about 105,000 licensed architects in the US, the profession employs something closet to three times that amount of people. The US Dept of Labor considers that segment too small to track all by itself, so our employment figures are lumped in with engineers. I believe the AIA claims between 40,000 and 50,000 members.

My name is Matthew Arnold, I’m a licensed architect, practicing since 1983. I went to school in New York and did my internship in New Jersey. You can get in touch with me at matt (at), or through the comments around here. I’d love to hear from you.

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places where you could probably learn more about designing and building in just a few days than I did after a year of grad school

Know of some others I can add here? Let me know. Have you already visited some of these places...or planning on it? Let me know and I will feature your story and your photos here!

I am starting a new kind of architecture school. Unlike most architecture schools, you wouldn't have to submit GRE scores or good grades or letters of recommendation. You wouldn't have to put the rest of your life on hold for 3 to 5 years. You wouldn't have to accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt. At my architecture school, anyone could come for a few weeks and learn how to build a house with their own two hands. My teachers would take skills and concepts from some of these other workshops I've listed above... except classes would be held year-round to make it easy to fit into your schedule. I would have a number of different campuses around the country that would teach building designs appropriate to the local climate. And I need your help. Can you donate land for a campus? Can you dotate books for a library? Can you teach a workshop? Can you provide start-up capital? Let me know.

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