One Architect's Story:
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Cross talks about what inspired him to become an architect and how he completed his first step to becoming a licensed architect by getting a degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).
When and why did you decide to become an architect?
I grew up with my hands in a little of everything, from Lego bricks to rebuilding cars. During these years, everyone told me I would be an engineer, unaware of my interest and talent in art. I am not sure who suggested it first, but once the idea of becoming an architect was suggested it was never dropped.
What advice did you get about your career choice when you were in school?
I can’t say that I got much advice concerning a career in architecture from my high school, but I did get positive support from my college counselor. The summer before my senior year of high school I took an unpaid internship with the father of a friend of mine who was—and still is—an architect with his own practice. This experience was very beneficial because in helped me understand the profession, which allowed me to make a more informed decision when choosing where to apply to college.
How did you choose your college? At the time, did you know that you would need a degree from a NAAB-accredited program to become licensed?
I had been out west several times to hike and ski. After seeing a picture of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s beautiful campus hanging in the high school college counseling office, I was sold. The work hard, play hard mentality found in Colorado made for an excellent environment for college. Additionally, being three-quarters of the way across the country from my family served as a catalyst to becoming a self-reliant adult.
Like many high school seniors, my school selection process didn’t involve looking beyond college to how my intended degree would translate into a profession. I was aware that by choosing a four-year program I would be required to attend a NAAB-accredited graduate program in order to meet the licensure requirements in most states. But as an entering freshman, this did not affect my decision much because at the time my decision to become an architect was still a tentative one.
What did you like best about their architecture program?
The architecture program at University of Colorado was part of the College of Environmental Design. The program was a good mix of theory and practice, providing an excellent foundation for
further studies and professional practice. While the program was not a NAAB-accredited five-year program, it was setup to dovetail with a NAAB-accredited two-year masters program at their Denver campus.
What type of degree(s) do you have?
I earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design – Architecture Major in 2001 from the University of Colorado and a Master of Architecture from Columbia University in 2004.
The Environmental Design program at University of Colorado is a four-year program that can be a four + two program when paired with their masters program at the Denver campus. I decided to go to Columbia University to get my masters. They have a three-year NAAB-accredited masters program for students without a five-year professional degree and an 18-month NAAB-accredited program for professional degree holders. As a graduate of a four-year program, I was required by Columbia to enroll in their three-year masters sequence. I appreciate the four+ system. Doing my undergraduate and graduate programs at different universities not only provided a broader education due to the extended number of semesters, but it also allowed me to be influenced by multiple “schools” of thought.
Do you have any advice for young people considering a career in architecture?
Seek out diverse experiences, because education is not just that which you receive in school. Such advice could really be provided to all young people, but the skills and knowledge required of an architect are particularly broad. All aspiring architects should have some office experience as well as some construction experience.
Do you have any advice for architecture students?
Students interested in a career in architecture should keep in mind that to become licensed in most states they must have a degree from a NAAB-accredited program. This can be a five-year professional program, or they can do like I did and get a four-year undergraduate degree and then get a masters from a NAAB-accredited program. After that, they must also complete the Internship Development Program (IDP) and pass all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®). Becoming an architect takes dedication and perseverance, but it is well worth it!
I also think that having an office job while you’re in school is a great supplement to your education. It gives a point of reference to many of the more pragmatic courses like systems and structures. While working is very important, I don’t think students should let “real world” architecture influence their design work in school. In fact, I believe that work in a design studio can be most educational when unrelated to “architecture” as practiced. Students should learn how to design without embedded preconceptions.