Recently licensed architect Cristianne Peschard, AIA, NCARB, shares her experience as a member of NCARB’s Re-Think Tank, tips on how to tackle the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®), and thoughts on how the profession can improve equity and diversity.
What sparked your interest in becoming an architect?
I come from a family of architects, so I guess you could say it is in my blood! Growing up, however, I thought I wanted to be an artist or a lawyer. Regardless of all the different changes in my interests, I have always been fascinated by the way the built environment affects our human experience. When I was getting ready to go to college, the idea of architecture came back to me. The prospect of taking my artistic interests and turning them into brick and mortar was exciting. While in college, I had to do a “First Year of Studies” curriculum. Taking architecture classes while following a liberal arts curriculum allowed me to explore architecture as a conduit—taking different topics and experiences and using them to inform a design solution. Being able to bring that concept into different projects has fueled my excitement in the profession even more.
What ways do you think licensure candidates can be better supported?
Firms need to better explain why it is important to become a licensed architect. It is ultimately the responsibility of the candidate to pursue licensure, but being around people who can attest to the value of a license is encouraging. Firms also need to be committed to supporting the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®), since it means placing people in roles that are new to them and providing mentorship as candidates develop new skills.
NCARB has been working on streamlining the process of becoming licensed. For people following the traditional path (get a NAAB-accredited degree, complete the AXP, and pass the ARE), the steps to be taken are clear. However, for people pursuing other paths, it can be less clear on what steps need to be taken. I believe the requirements to get licensed should be as challenging as they are in order to maintain the high standards expected from an architect. However, figuring out those steps should be reasonably easy and accessible.
How did our experience program help you with your career development?
There are many things related to the architecture profession that simply cannot be recreated in a school setting. NCARB's experience program recognizes and gives candidates a framework to understand what those things might be. Having to fulfill requirements in different areas forced me to understand how much an architect needs to learn about buildings. The AXP requirements also function as tools to advocate for myself and different opportunities in the office.
What was your strategy to complete and pass all ARE divisions on the first try?
I had been working on completing the Intern Development Program (now the AXP) for about two years and started taking my exams. I set a goal to finish all ARE divisions around the same time I expected to complete the IDP. I would schedule an exam about a month out and start studying. Once I got a rhythm down for studying after work, it seemed to go pretty smoothly. I also realized that there were a lot of resources hiding in plain sight among the people I worked with. I was working on a project with an electrical engineer who mentioned he had done some sessions for architects taking the ARE, and he explained mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) concepts to me. Learning from AEC professionals I worked with helped me understand things more clearly and also made our project-related conversations better too.
You were a member of NCARB’s inaugural Re-Think Thank. What did you gain from that experience?
It was a great experience. Being able to spend a couple of days with people who had recently gone through the licensing process helped me get a different perspective on how the process can go. Meeting other licensed architects who had followed non-traditional paths showed me that there were many ways to get licensed. Our experiences were so different that it would be difficult to compare them, but being licensed meant that all of us had achieved certain competencies—leveling out the playing field.
It was also very helpful for us to look back at the things that we thought could have been better in the process. We realized there were decisions made early, like in high school, that could affect the path to licensure—the most obvious being our decision to choose a college program that was NAAB-accredited, something a few of us did not know at the time. We also had the opportunity to take a look at the profession as a whole and participate in some great, in-depth conversations about ethics and responsibilities, as we are now part of the licensed community.
How do you think the architecture profession can improve equity and diversity?
There are steps that a lot of firms seem to already be taking, but any kind of real change will take time. It is encouraging to see more women and minorities studying architecture. However, there needs to be more effort in keeping us in the profession. Increasing the visibility of women and minorities who are leaders in the profession allows young people to see role models who look like them. The more diverse generations of architects need to continue to grow in the profession and become leaders. In order to retain these new generations, the profession will need to continue to integrate technology to allow for different methods of collaboration and work—helping architects achieve a better work-life balance and motivation to continue working in architecture.
How does having an architecture license set you apart from other design professionals?
The license is a culmination of a process. It says to others that you have achieved the competences required to become an architect. For people who might not be familiar with the steps to become an architect, it establishes that you are a professional and are able to perform the role successfully. Before having your license, having to describe yourself as an “intern” always led to questions since the word is often related to someone just starting to gain experience. When you are in a room with a client or with engineers, being able to say you are an architect makes it clear to everyone what your role is. Within the profession, I think it also shows a sense of responsibility and commitment since many still lack licensure.