ARE 6.0



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    Michael Lawson

    Hi William, you're bringing up a lot of varied points here so I might not address them all, but I wanted to drop my opinion in the conversation.

    On the role of an architect, I like to think of us more as composers than conductors. A composer in writing sheet music needs to have an understanding of the instruments in use, how they sound, how they sound together, and how to describe all of that (not just in notation) to the musician and the conductor. Similarly, a composer is most often bound to the client or commissioning agent. Then after all the music is written, a composer plays a role in finding a group to perform it to the audience, which then takes on many and various forms. All of that said, a composer still looks for the artistry in the work. Just as much as designers, composers don't always want to put more fluff out into the world. 

    With that in mind, my view is that an architect does need to understand the things we are tested on. If we do not have a basic understanding of structure, mechanical systems, plumbing, civil engineering, and the like, how are we able to adequately describe the end result to be achieved? Furthermore, if we cannot follow the contract as it is written or have a basic understanding of the language used, how could we live up to the expectations of the client? Without these things, we may end up designing buildings that are fanciful, disobeying the laws of physics, not allowing space for mechanical systems, or worse potentially allowing harm to those who occupy these buildings, spaces, and places. 

    Many architectural practices today are sole proprietorships. When NCARB tests us on all those things above, they want to ensure that those who go out to practice alone are prepared to do all those things without aid, and ultimately protect the health, safety, and welfare of occupants. In my office, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of staff. Some focus primarily on design, and work mostly on those things you say an architect does for the majority of their work. Some spend the majority of their time going through contract documents, and I don't just mean the drawings. Then there are some who primarily focus on the economy and accounting of the firm. In a sole proprietorship, who would be doing these things? 

    If you were to say that one would hire outside consultants, I would agree. If I ran my own practice, I would certainly not want to deal with the accounting. Still, I would absolutely want to be able to understand what my accountant needed from me, why, and how to prepare that. This kind of business management is definitely important, though it may not appear so from your current position, anecdotally. 

    Regarding BIM or Photoshop, let's be honest, these technologies change rapidly, and are made to be easy to learn and use. In the relatively short time I've been in the industry, we've almost entirely switched from CAD to BIM. In the same way, image editing software has changed dramatically, and there are a plethora of ways of getting that particular task done. These tools are just that, a tool for us to make our labor more efficient. From NCARB's point of view, there is no reason to test this kind of thing, as an adequate architect approaches them with an underlying understanding of the job at hand.

    The technology will change, there is no doubt. Basic structural and thermal protection problems will not change in the same way. The means of solving those problems may change, but if a design professional does not understand the basic principle of keeping water out of a building, or how a structural system might work, how could they be tasked with protecting the public? 

    Lastly for my points, though no doubt I missed some of yours, I would recommend looking at "NCARB by the Numbers," specifically the section on examination. You say it is nearly impossible for someone to work full time and pass, but this documentation says that the likelihood of passing the exams reaches an all-time peak when you are nearing or at the end of the AXP. Also, you said that the number of fails reflects what an architect shouldn't be tested on. By the metrics on the page I linked, it would seem that architects shouldn't be tested on Project Planning and Design, and by the same token, Project Management has a high pass rate, so the same things you say we should not cover are clearly being studied successfully. 

    Let me know your thoughts William. 

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    David Kaplan

    I think you both make great points.  The one thing William that I mainly agree with you on per your post above is I, too, feel that having us do a structural calculation for force acting on a wall or beam is unnecessary for these exams.  As is doing a photometric calculation for a light fixture.  It is this area that I think NCARB hopefully will finally realize someday is out of the architecture world and best left to the engineers.  Others may disagree, but I've been doing this for 15 years for a small firm and I have yet to encounter any of these calculations or be required to do any of them.  I have friends that are sole proprietorships that agree as well.  I think actually that, with respect to this exact item, NCARB actually has reduced the amount of these calculations between 4.0 and 5.0.  4.0 used to have an entire exam devoted to structural systems, and friends that I know took that test said they were asked to calculate reactions in the diagonal member of a truss.  I was pleased when I took the 5.0 exams that I was not asked this level of equation, and in fact, I defiantly refused to study such equations in my preparation efforts.

    This being said, I cannot tell you how many times I have had to sit in project meetings - both during design and construction - to discuss at length an engineering issue.  When I first started out in this field and had to sit through a meeting like that, I prayed that no one in the room would recognize that I had zero clue what a fire pump was.  Now, with 15 years under my belt (and these exams), I confidently am able to be involved in these discussions, understand the mechanics of what is being discussed, and am able to understand the impact they have on my design.  I think architects are required and should be required to know enough to be dangerous.  We don't need to know the calculations of how to design these systems (my point above), but we absolutely need to know what they are and how the affect our work.  As well, we cannot sit in these meetings and play dumb - we just can't.  I have probably had well over 100 experiences on a construction site where an MEP subcontractor asks to meet with me, and I'm standing there without engineers but with the owner and GC at my side, and they start talking about "I can't run this pipe here because I hit this obstruction, but I want to route it this way but am not sure if that works, can you provide some guidance?"  I am able to respond to that guy intelligently and discuss different options and I at the very least know what I'm talking about.  Yes, once we decide on a potential plan I often do say at the end, "let me run this first by my engineer before I can provide final direction," but I can't imagine standing in front of my client in a situation like that and not being able at all to address the issue in any way.

    I actually think that the MEP and Structural questions on the ARE 90% of the time do NOT cross into the realm of "only an engineer needs to know this info."  For 90% of the engineering questions I had on my exams, I was familiar with the material being asked because I had encountered it in my work. 

    There are absolutely architect positions out there that are most like drafting positions.  But definitely, definitely not the norm.  I think everyone's work experience is different.  The work that you do is very different from our office - it's just the nature of the beast.  I think you have to keep in mind though that if one simply wants to do nothing more than be a drafter - why get a license to practice architecture?  Just draft - let someone else take the liability.  I think once you get a license, you're able to do much more than that.

    Best of luck man, I know you've been frustrated with this process but keep at it.

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    Kurt Fanderclai

    "Is there a chance that the ARE will change the content of the test to reflect what the AXP puts one through and what architects actually do?"

    This isn't really so much a question as a premise statement, which includes an opinion that the current ARE does not reflect architectural practice. 

    Having taken/passed all exams in 5.0, I would agree with David's estimation that the exams actually do largely reflect typical architectural practice -- in about 90% of the questions.  This is an estimation informed by exam experience -- it's still an opinion / educated guess -- so could it be 95%?...or 85%?  Yeah, probably.  But could it be 50%  or 67?..... well, no.  

    I would also agree with David that your "drafting position" premise does not represent most positions in actual practice.   

    In any case, it won't be productive for you to fret over the remaining +/- 10 percent of content in 5.0, let alone waiting and hoping for changes you'd personally like to see in 6.0.  You probably won't like 6.0 much better than 5.0.  Then what -- wait for 7.0?  ...8.0?

    All of this is really just a practical matter.  You can't control the content of the ARE.  You're either going to participate in the ARE process, or not.



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    William May

    At one point there were no tests prior to licensure.  The ARE was once a marathon test of nearly 24 hours that took place on a drafting table and a question packet.  At one point IDP covered 16 divisions, and took 5,600 hours to complete.  NCARB dropped 1,860 hours off of IDP.  People take the ARE divisions 3, 4, 5 times and more without passing.  By the numbers - 6,843 people failed passing the ARE, roughly 44%.  Let's imagine that you are a freshman architectural student who is going to spend roughly $100,000 for a degree.  And then you are told that you have a 44% probability you will fail the ARE. 

    I have a business, right now, today and have had that business for the last 16 years.  I worked with an architect who did 77 projects over 36 months.  We together did projects once every 13 days.  Of those 77 projects - 45.5% were residential renovations; 20.8% were new homes; 28.6% were commercial tenant fit outs; 5.2% was new commercial.  Of 77 projects, 66.3% were residential projects/ 51 out of 77 were residential.  Out of 77, 22 were tenant refits.  Only 4 projects were new commercial - the biggest was a 5,600SF 2 story - basically a large house.  And get this, he didn't carry E & O Insurance in over 30 years of being in business.  He paid roughly $600 a month in rent, including utilities.  He lived 3 miles from home.  I didn't have health benefits.  I got 5 days a year PTO.  When he found out I was going thru IDP and needed him to sign off on the IDP, he cut my hourly rate by $7.  

    I do a project, mostly residential, in 40 hours.  If I was able to do simple commercial tenant fit-outs plus the residential, I'd easily be doing 40 to 50 projects a year.  Probably more. 

    I'm sorry but while I'm not permitted to use the title or even say that I do architecture - I can and have done the work of an architect and every time clients obtain building permits and occupancy permits - I pass the test.

    The ARE isn't a fair test of skill & knowledge - I'm proof and so are many others, past and present.  Just because someone passed the ARE, that doesn't mean the public isn't at risk.  

    And as for "most" positions NOT being drafters, ya, read the AIA website job board.  There are a lot of architects doing drafting that was once done by drafters.

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    David Kaplan


    Every time I read your posts I say to myself, "why is this guy taking the ARE?"  I don't get it.  Why not just do what you're already doing?  From a residential project perspective - you're good to go, no stamp needed.  From a commercial project perspective - find an architect, maybe a solo guy who needs assistance, and just work for him and let him stamp the drawings when done.  Rather than focusing your efforts on studying information that in your opinion is unnecessary for the job, and taking an exam that you are already convinced is completely unfair and you will never pass, instead focus your time on finding THAT GUY who can hire you and do exactly as you want.  Spend all your time making phone calls, sending out resumes, going on the AIA job board, and just find that guy who does commercial projects but is too busy to take on the workload him/herself.  Essentially, be a consultant.  I know plenty of people that do this - several of them around your age by the way.  Myself, I've been working in a firm for 15 years, without my license until last year, and I've done exactly as you've described above.  I have run numerous, multi-million dollar commercial projects from start to finish, but, it's my boss's stamp on the drawings because it's their company, they have the E & O, etc..  It's all under their supervision, but, not my stamp.  There you go - just do that. 

    You have tons of experience and you can do the job - if I understand you correctly your only drawback right now is that you can't legally stamp a commercial project so you are limited in the scope that your services can provide on your own.  The process to being able to legally stamp a commercial project is in your opinion unfair, not a proper measure of an architect's ability, expensive and involves studying of unnecessary subject matter, and proves that no one should go to architecture school because that schooling doesn't matter.  So - forget this process.  Screw it.  There are other ways to do the work that you want to do without the liability, and I've just detailed above the way to do that.  Focus your efforts on that approach and I think you will be much happier with the result.  You can grow your business without taking on liability, and avoid the ARE headache and expense.  Seems win-win to me. 

    If your response to the above is "easier said than done," I would say to you which is easier: doing this approach or passing the ARE?  To me it sure sounds like the former is easier. 

    I don't fault you for your posts, and I respect your opinion - truly.  I think you actually bring an interesting perspective to this forum in that you are of a different generation taking these exams than say kids out of college, or perhaps that have only worked in a firm for a few years.  I just can't wrap my head around why you are going this route when there's another way that might be more viable for you. 

    I truly wish you all the best.  I don't think you're a bad guy.  It's just a difference of opinion here.

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    Kurt Fanderclai (Edited )


    Your argument as presented appears to be:

    This is the work William does.  Most architects do what William does. The ARE tests on things  William doesn't do.  Therefore, the ARE is wrong. 

    Every candidate could post their own specific work biography;  I just don't think many of them would be willing to make similar sweeping generalizations based on a single narrow work history.

    The projects you're describing are permit sets, which, I would agree, is drafting / production work;  it's the minimum possible work to acquire a permit, which explains your one-project-per-week mode.  Full service projects involve far more time and a larger skill set.

    None of this is a knock on what you're doing, but you are far, far off base in presuming that permit sets represent everything a typical architect will need to know.  

    I think you've talked yourself into a viewpoint that is just not accurate -- and, as I've often mentioned to you, 100% impractical.   

    Practically speaking, your arguments and posts about the shortcomings of the ARE aren't going to lead anywhere productive.  If the ARE is truly a goal for you, you should be hounding every successful candidate on this forum -- and elsewhere -- for advice on how to get you past this obstacle.     

    People will willingly help you.  But you're gonna need to hit that reset button.   


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