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Tuesday, 25 August 2020


By Maggie Kirk, Associate AIA 

To best perform on the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) and all six of its divisions, it is imperative to be familiar with the exam format. The last thing an exam candidate should do is to show up on test day without any experience with practice exams. I found that, for me, half of the battle was learning the format of the exam. A great aspect of the exam is that it is consistent across all divisions. It follows the same format which promotes familiarization. Once that format became more familiar, I found myself becoming confident enough to test out strategies. 

The majority of the ARE 5.0 consists of discrete items and case studies. Because the exam is timed, many test-takers suggest completing the case studies first. The case studies involve looking at resources that may take some time. Completing the case studies first allows for getting the most time-consuming part out of the way. 

I found my strategy was to do a once-through until I got to the case studies, meaning that I would go through and answer the discrete items as I could within a certain time frame (around 20-30 seconds max). The exam offers the option to mark questions for review. If I answered a question but was not sure, I would mark for review to note that I was not fully certain in my answer. This was especially the case when I would read through a question quickly. One of the things I have learned from the exam is not to read too quickly—you will surely miss something! If a question has a lot to read, I suggest leaving it until a future pass. The exam will allow you to review the questions and go back to answer any that you skipped. It’s not over until you say it is, or until the time runs out. 

Also, consider that the exam does not start until you hit start. The appointment time is padded and if you check in to the testing center quickly, you have time before you start the exam. I usually take a little bit of time before starting the exam to breathe deep and calm my nerves. You will be given paper and a pencil at the testing center so, before you begin, you can use that to download anything that is in your mind such as concepts, terminology, etc. 

You are given a 15-minute break at your discretion to take at any time during the exam. Use it! I was in the habit of plowing through the exam, not taking a break until I realized I should take a break to relax my mind (typically after I have looked through the exam once). I would step outside, get some fresh air, and clear my thoughts so I could start again fresh. 

Remember, what works for you is what works for you—but practice! Practice exams are great for familiarizing yourself with content and for testing strategies! 

EduMind offers exam prep for all six divisions of the ARE 5.0. Click here to learn more about our comprehensive review courses and select the format that best suits your needs. 

EduMind Inc at 07:51

Friday, 21 August 2020


By Maggie Kirk, Associate AIA

There are a few certainties in life: death, taxes, and failing a division of the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®). Okay, some people have passed all the divisions on the first try (not me), but if you look at the passing rates—hovering around 50 percent, with one division in the 60s and another at 70 percent—the odds are against you. A fail is frustrating. An already long journey has become longer. It’s a sinking feeling, but don’t give up. 

Get Motivated after Failing ARE 5.0 Exam

One of the best sayings that I heard from taking the ARE 5.0 was that you don’t fail, you just don’t pass. Many will admit that if they had to take an exam again after a pass, they may very well fail. It can go either way. The goal is not to let it derail your progress. 

When you fail an exam, or even after you take an exam regardless of pass/fail, take a day or two off from studying. Go out to dinner and reconnect with the world. Blow off some steam so you are ready to get back in the ring. Give your brain a rest. I suggest (before going to dinner) downloading what you can remember from the exam to a document. 

For me, that served as a study guide for the next time around. The plus side of taking the exam once is that you have a better idea of the content on the exam. The second time around may be more familiar. The download allows you to go back and review concepts that may have been weak points. A suggestion would be to compare your download to your Score Report, which is issued shortly after you have taken the exam, regardless if you pass or fail. The report indicates competencies and demonstrates areas of weakness. 

It is important to keep going. Yes, a fail is demotivating, but it is best to get back into the groove and continue with the exams because the next ones could be passes. Don’t let one, or even many fails dictate forward progression. You are not alone in the process. I suggest that if you ever feel you are, turn to the ARE 5.0 Community on the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) website. The positive spirit, encouragement, engagement, and camaraderie reinforce that you are part of a professional community where every member is valuable and seeking success. 

Whether or not you fail, I think that motivation is needed throughout the process—and maybe more so when there is a fail. My motivation was that I wanted to understand more about the profession of architecture. I found myself connecting to the content on the basis that it was making me a better professional. I didn’t need a pass or a fail to see that transformation in the exam-taking process. 

So, remember that no matter what, don’t give up on the process because then you are giving up on your growth toward becoming a licensed architect. You got this. 

EduMind offers exam prep for all six divisions of the ARE 5.0. Click here to learn more about our comprehensive review courses and select the format that best suits your needs.


EduMind Inc at 08:52

Tuesday, 18 August 2020


By Maggie Kirk, Associate AIA 

When taking the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®), the candidate has the option to view their provisional score at the conclusion of the exam. The provisional score allows the candidate to see whether or not they have passed the exam, pending further approval. Viewing the provisional score is an option, not a requirement, so one can skip that step if desired. If the candidate chooses not to review the provisional score, they will get their pass/fail and a Score Report within a short period of time. 

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) tests minimum competency and the cut score is between 57 and 68 percent, depending upon the exam. NCARB does not issue an actual test score. Instead, they simply note a pass or fail. The Score Report is the only way to assess how the candidate performed on the exam. However, there are very few specifics. 

At the top of the Score Report, you will find the division taken, whether it is a pass or a fail, and the expiration date of the exam. If you pass the division, the Score Report lists the candidate’s progress with the exam process and results, the division statement, and the concepts of that particular division. The Score Report for a failed exam looks a little different. 

After failing a division, the Score Report notes performance levels in addition to the information on the pass report above. The role of the performance levels is to give the candidate an assessment of competency for the divisions from level one to level four. Levels three and four do not qualify for a passing competency, while levels one and two qualify. Where one’s score falls into a particular level, it is indicated by a filled circle. If within levels one and two, the circle will be blue. If three or four, the circle will be grey. 

Input on a failed section is provided with the division statements above the performance. It gives the description of the division sections and the content covered. If the candidate failed that section, they could reference the division statement to see the content of that section and focus more of their studying on failed sections. 

Should the candidate not agree with the score, they have the option to pay a fee and have their exam validated. The charge is $100, and an NCARB staff architect will review all questions and performance. There is a limited amount of time to request this verification. Should the feedback from NCARB not be accurate pending the review, NCARB will refund the exam and verification fee and the score report will be adjusted. 

An exam review is another option for the candidate. In this case, the jurisdiction for the exam will review the exam. Questions missed will be issued but their answers will not. It is up to the local jurisdiction to challenge and it also involves a fee. 

EduMind offers exam prep for all six divisions of the ARE 5.0. Click here to learn more about our comprehensive review courses and select the format that best suits your needs.

EduMind Inc at 09:26

Friday, 14 August 2020


By Maggie Kirk, Associate AIA

The process of becoming an architect is not an easy one. According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), after 5.6 years of education, data shows that it takes about 4.6 years to satisfy the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®) requirements needed to sit for the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®). 

At that time, the average age of a candidate is around 33 years old. In addition to that, it takes an average of 2.2 years to complete all six divisions of the exam. One of the most common concerns I hear about the exams is that life is well underway when a candidate becomes eligible to sit for them. In addition to work obligations (the hours and demands of the profession), a candidate often has a busy personal life as well, typically with a young family. This can get discouraging when faced with the task of completing the exams and becoming a licensed architect. The question is: When is the best time to take the exams given the time needed to study, and the time needed to take—and potentially retake—the exams? My answer: There is none. 

Now, my answer is not meant to be discouraging but it is meant to demonstrate that there is no magic date or year in that definition of time. Consider my response setting an expectation. There is no missed boat because there just is no right time to take the exams and everyone’s situations and constraints are different. And that is OK. What works for one may often not work for all. 

Best Time to take ARE 5.0

So, before hands are thrown into the air and frustration ensues, let me offer this bit of advice. Understand that while there is no best time in terms of date or year, it takes dedication. The best ‘time’ is time well-spent. I recommend setting aside 2-3 hours per day to study, and sometimes more. It is not a sprint, but a marathon and should be a consistent practice. Any small breaks in studying could lead to bigger breaks and then studying can become sporadic. These study sessions should not only be reserved for reviewing the content of the division—third-party study material, recommended readings, flashcards, and practice exams—but should be a time of dedicated concentration. Distracted learning makes it difficult for the material to sink in. 

The best “time” is the time when your family and friends can support your journey. Often, the exam journey is not a solo expedition but involves the support of others. If the situation cannot lend that support, maybe it is not the best time to start. However, once started, the best “time” is completing the exams within the five years of the rolling clock so that exams aren’t at risk of expiring. 

So, while there is no magic formula, understand that it takes the journey of ourselves and those closest to us. When everyone's on board, then that is the best time. 

EduMind offers exam prep for all six divisions of the ARE 5.0. Click here to learn more about our comprehensive review courses and select the format that best suits your needs.

EduMind Inc at 06:31

Tuesday, 11 August 2020


By Maggie Kirk, Associate AIA 

Studying for the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) is a daunting task. When embarking on the journey, the hardest part is figuring out where to start. The value of an exam preparation course is that it gives organization to the vast amount of content these exams cover. On top of that, reputable prep courses are developed by those who are experienced in the profession and with the ARE 5.0. 

However, third-party materials should not be the only part of the process. Studying is reinforced through multiple other resources including readings, resources, flashcards, practice exams, videos, and more. It is necessary to access other resources when studying for these exams. 

The ARE® 5.0 Handbook provides a list of resources and references to study for each division of the exam. What is often daunting about the list is that, combined, the resources are thousands of pages and thousands of dollars. Researching which select resources are recommended for the exam can start to whittle down the list. Many of these recommendations come from the ARE® 5.0 Community from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). 

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) website is a valuable resource in regard to model contracts and model documents. Free samples are provided that help familiarize the exam candidate with the contracts most common to the architectural profession, as well as understanding roles and responsibilities of the parties involved in a project and within the matrix of various contracts. 

Flashcards are another valuable resource in reinforcing and understanding concepts and terminology. The terminology in the building industry is specific and meaningful, and flashcards help provide the terms and processes referenced within the industry and on the exam. Flashcards can be sourced through various resources including apps. However, the exam candidate should also make their own flashcards. Creating custom flashcards is a great way to keep track of various terminologies and concepts to reinforce the content of the exams from readings, resources, and other sources to tailor your study. 

Last but certainly not least, the ARE® 5.0 Community is what I consider a “go-to” when studying for the ARE 5.0. Accessed through the NCARB website, the community space is divided into topics: those related to specific exam divisions and otherwise. Within the community, you will find an eager and excited bunch of professionals and moderators, helping each other with content, giving moral support, and just being all-around cheerleaders. I highly recommend it as a resource to find best practices, exam tips and tricks, suggested resources, and content clarification from those who are in the process or who have completed their exam journey. It reinforces that this journey is not one to be taken alone, but that the exam candidate is part of a much larger community. 

No matter the path of that journey, there is more than meets the eye. Casting a wide net of resources and materials will support a universal understanding of topics and a better understanding of exam content. 

EduMind offers exam prep for all six divisions of the ARE 5.0. Click here to learn more about our comprehensive review courses and select the format that best suits your needs.

EduMind Inc at 07:42

Friday, 31 July 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA, NCARB 

As the old saying goes, “Embrace discomfort, because it is an opportunity to grow.” This perspective is something that I have carried with me as I have progressed through my career in architecture. Let’s face it, failure is just about guaranteed in the architectural profession. Whether it is failing a section of the ARE® exam, a design idea that the client didn’t accept, or a proposal for new work that was rejected, failure will become part of any career in architecture. 

What can you do with failure? Isn’t failure, to some degree, a diagnosis that you weren’t quite ready? After processing the emotions that come with any form of failure, the thing that I fall back on time and time again is to embrace it as an opportunity to get stronger, better, and more advanced. Looking at it another way, how can you grow if you already know everything? Failure, if embraced, can be an opportunity to grow! Make the most of it. 

If you find yourself in the position of failing a section of the ARE, your self-confidence can certainly take a hit. I once heard a college football coach say following a loss the previous week: “We don’t want to let them continue to beat us all season.” The coach wasn’t referring to playing the same team each week. Instead, he was talking about not letting that one loss creep into the heads of the players to the extent that they lost the motivation needed for taking on their next opponent. The same thing applies to the ARE. To some extent, you need to shake off the disappointment and move forward. 

My advice for what to do when you fail a section of the ARE has a few aspects to it. First, if you can recall specific areas where you know you struggled during the exam, jot them down as targets for re-study. Then, hit the books with a vengeance. Push yourself hard. Make a new goal to not only pass, but to get a high score. Challenge yourself to master the material. This will not only result in improving your chances for the next exam attempt, but it will also help you get stronger as a professional. 

Next, look at your failing score. How close were you from a passing score? If you were close, it’s an indication that you weren’t that far off, and perhaps only a modest amount of additional preparation is required before you make another attempt. If you had a low score, it could be an indication of a couple of issues related to an understanding of content or comfort with the exam format itself. In my experience, it usually is a combination of both. Again, the best remedy that I have found is a relentless effort to master the content. Nothing is more effective for navigating the “land mines” the exam writers embed into the exam format than a high level of content knowledge. In addition, mastering content builds the confidence you will need when you make your next attempt.

What to do when you fail ARE5.0 Exam

Lastly, I recommend that you share your experience with peers and highly trained architects. There are often a few benefits to this: One is that talking about failing will help you get past the disappointment; Another is that you may learn from others about their experiences with the exam, and perhaps those insights will help you focus your re-study efforts. 

Failure isn’t initially something that feels satisfying. But, with enough work and effort, it certainly can be.

EduMind Inc at 07:59

Tuesday, 21 July 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA, NCARB

Based on my observations of hundreds of architectural staff working on literally thousands of projects over the decades, I think it’s safe to say that of all the components of a building envelop, the roof is perhaps one of the “less popular” design elements to develop. The plans and elevations normally take the top spot in the interest category among the team, at least initially. After all, if the project has a “flat roof,” especially with a parapet, it’s not normally visible from adjacent grade. If it is a simple sloped roof, it is something that often fades away from street view at an angle, and not likely to draw much attention. 

These factors are among several that contribute to the delay of developing the roof design until a bit later in the project, which can cause problems down the line. As an example, I recall one municipal building project that had a simple shed roof over the entry, forming a sort of canopy. Because this portion of the roof was visible from the interior of the building, as the entry lobby was open to the second-floor level and had windows overlooking the front of the building, the designer wanted to use a standing seam metal roof for a clean appearance. 

The details were developed late in the project, and the project went out to bid. In the construction phase, the roofing subcontractor noted that the roof was “too flat” to comply with the warranty of the standing metal roof that was detailed and specified. With all the framing in place, the alternative was to use a standing seam membrane system that would look similar in appearance. The kicker was that it cost the client an additional $10,000! Since public projects have very tight—if not fixed—construction budgets, this situation resulted in much grief all around. 

In the situation above, had the designer done their homework early enough in schematic design, they could have used the originally specified standing seam metal roof if they adjusted the roof pitch just slightly. Having been in practice for well over 40 years, I have seen many roof issues that could have been resolved with the proper attention given to it early in design. 

In another example, I know of a flat-roof distribution center project that used perimeter roof scuppers, leader boxes, and downspouts to provide the proper roof drainage. This is actually a very common approach with industrial buildings, especially in wet climates. However, in this case, the roof design was developed a bit late in the project, and the downspout locations became a difficult challenge. Among the elements to coordinate for the positioning roof scuppers were rooftop equipment and overhead door locations along the building elevation. 

This became so difficult that the team decided to reduce the number of scuppers and downspouts required by instead opting to provide the needed capacity by upsizing fewer drainage components. That approach worked out well until the required bend in the upsized downspouts (now 10-inches in diameter instead of the standard 6- or 8-inch diameter) to coordinate with structural footings and connect with the lateral storm line created a condition where portions up to 6-feet in pipe length were exposed above-finished grade! It turns out that the “standard detail” for downspout bends at footing locations was developed for pipe sizes of 8-inches or fewer. 

This all could have been avoided had the roof drainage been thought about earlier in the project, and mechanical equipment, overhead doors, and footings could have all been coordinated to work with the number of 8-inch downspouts needed to provide the proper drainage. 

These are just two reminders of how important it is to consider the roof design early in the project. While a roof may not be the most exciting of architectural features, it is one that requires attention early on.

EduMind Inc at 09:13

Tuesday, 07 July 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA, NCARB 

One of the most common misunderstandings about building codes is that the requirements are always “black and white” and very clear to follow. That is simply not true. 

Let’s start with the perception that code is set, fixed, and 100 percent clear. While there are certainly some elements of the code that are clear and direct, there often is much room for interpretation. This makes sense if one considers that it would be nearly impossible to develop codes to govern each condition encountered in an architectural project. Instead, the code normally addresses the biggest issues, often those impacting or influencing the health, safety, and welfare of the site/building users. 

Sometimes, the design team finds itself in the position of not knowing exactly how to comply with code. Here is an example that I encountered a few years back: My project was a municipal government office building that included a strong, public-facing entry which was required to be part of the accessible path to the building. This meant (among other things) that wheelchair access needed to be provided from the front directly to the building entry. The grades were a bit challenging, but a switchback layout provided the needed compliance for maximum ramp slope and landings. 

One modest “bend” in the ramp was required to navigate around stormwater and landscape features close to the building entry. The bend was very slight, something close to a 15-degree pivot at a landing. The accessibility code for this project noted that 90-degree turns in ramps required a full 60 inches of clear wheelchair turning diameter. A very clear diagram was provided in the code to facilitate compliance. However, the design team considered the ramp pivot for our design as very minor, and not requiring the full 60-inch clearance at the landing. The thought process was that, while it made sense to have the 60-inch clearance for a wheelchair to safely navigate a hard 90-degree turn, the ramp as designed had only a 15-degree bend and would not require any special maneuver by someone in a wheelchair. As a result, the ramp was designed and submitted for permit review without the 60-inch clearance at the landing. 

When we received our plan check comments during building permit review, the issue was raised by the building official. He felt that a 60-inch-diameter turning clearance was required at the landing because the ramp had a bend. He agreed that the code didn’t address ramp landing width requirements beyond those that included 90-degree bends, but our ramp had “a bend,” so his interpretation was that we needed to provide the 60-inch turning clearance at the landing. 

OK, game over! The local building official stated his case and we needed to comply, right? Not exactly. The design team then submitted the issue for a state-level building code interpretation, and the state building official determined that our ramp, as designed, met the intent of the code. We presented our findings to the local building official and he accepted them. 

In the end, the design team did devise a simple tweak to one side of the ramp to create a slight “V” at the landing. This provided the 60-inch clearance anyway, while not compromising the design objectives. As I eluded to before, the building code is often “gray” as opposed to “black and white,” leaving many issues up for interpretation as a project is designed.

EduMind Inc at 09:13

Tuesday, 30 June 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA, NCARB

In architecture, as well as just about any profession, there is a great deal of information to process, understand, and retain. The range varies from highly technical processes to subjective theories, to common-sense communications. With so many different forms of knowledge to process, understand, and retain, it becomes challenging to just rely on simple memorization. 

Over the course of my career, I have developed cognitive skills to help me develop understanding and to retain and communicate the knowledge that I have gained. Specifically, these skills are based on making connections between things I encounter in the profession and everyday life. I have found if I do that, I can improve my ability to retain knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, recall that knowledge when I need it. 

As a physical example, let’s take the rather technical concept of resolving for reactions at supports of beams that are carrying a known load. This involves the calculations needed to sum moments (the force multiplied by the distance from a point). When I was first presented with this information in architectural school, it was a bit challenging to understand. What exactly are moments, and how do they relate to rotation of the beams at the supports? To help me lock-in to this, I experimented with a long stick with a weight suspended by a string. I was able to draw the load close to my hand (the support) and slide it further out to the end of the stick (away from the support). Doing this, I could see how different it felt in both positions. With the weight close to my hand, I could easily support it. The further the weight was moved toward the end of the stick, the more the load increased and was causing the support (my hand) to resist the force of the stick to rotate. With this simple physical example, I could better understand the concepts of resolving for moment loads on beams. That has stuck with me for the past 45 years, so I can tell you it works. 

Now let’s consider more of a “mental” example, specifically using analogies to make connections. My firm is a multi-disciplined practice with architects, interior designers, planners, landscape designers, and both structural and civil engineers. A few years back, we made a concerted effort to have each discipline manage their scope independently. The idea was to create a higher sense of ownership of the work being produced by each discipline. To a degree, this worked, but there were also some unintended consequences that resulted. After a while, we noticed that gaps were forming in work jointly produced by two or more disciplines. Basically, each discipline was drawing a boundary around what they were to do, and where the next discipline had to pick it up. 

This was resulting in increases in errors and omissions in our work, and that was impacting our financial performance. As the lead principal in our company, I had to examine what was going on and try to explain it to others in a way that we all could understand and retain. The analogy that I came up with was “silo-ing.” The classic silo used in agriculture was the mental picture that I needed not only for my understanding of the problems, but for the entire company. I used my example of silos to represent each discipline and the spacing of the silos represented the gaps in our collective work. The analogy caught on and soon each discipline was making efforts to eliminate silo-ing. 

These physical and mental pictures are examples of cognitive concepts that have helped me make the connections that I need to learn, retain, and communicate the vast array of information that exists in the architectural profession. 

EduMind Inc at 09:22

Friday, 19 June 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA 

This is the third article in a series on “A Day in the Life of an Architect,” this time focused on the design development phase and how to improve design continuity. To some, if not many, the design development phase of an architectural project might be a bit of a “lost phase.” 

These days, there seems to be a rather accelerated project progression from schematic design to construction documents without taking the time to improve design continuity or to determine what elements of a project need further development. 

Like many processes with the advent of technology, some traditional practices are fading away while being regarded as unnecessary. With the many software options used today in architectural practice, design concepts can almost automatically be converted into something that nearly represents a completed set of construction document details. This phenomenon has contributed to the diminishment (if not elimination) of the design development phase. 

One might ask, “So, is that a bad thing?” To get at that answer, I will attempt to describe the traditional approach to the design development phase, and some of the positive impacts that would result when it was a thriving phase of an architectural project. 

First, as practiced in the past, the design development phase was more of a design phase than a “document phase.” The project designer could set the big idea for the project with minimal plans and sketches and turn it over to the team to develop the design. For those developing the design, it was a very rewarding experience because there was a great deal of design challenge remaining in this phase. As an example, often in the schematic design phase the designer would establish only a singular view of the building—normally the “front”—that left at least three other sides to examine and refine to achieve continuity of the design throughout the building exterior. The challenge was to resolve potential conflicts by providing continuity of the design concept on each side of the building as windows, brick coursing, reveals, canopies, doors, etc., were explored. 

For those of us that experienced this traditional approach to design development, it was exciting to be participating in the design process at such a significant level. Normally, the same team members that developed the design would stay with the project through the construction document phase and even through construction. I can tell you that this traditional approach created a strong sense of participation and ownership in the design among the team members. That sense of ownership also contributed to fewer errors and omissions in the construction documents. This shared sense of ownership of design is something that is fading out with the more-technically advanced methods of practice used today. 

Another benefit of a more traditional approach to design development was in the discovery of what needed to be drawn and why it was needed for the construction documents. One of the first steps in the traditional design development phase was to quickly cut hand drawn sections in larger scale drawings (plans and elevations) and identify areas requiring further refinement. The key was to cut a section at every changed condition in the plan or elevation. This was not an exhaustive effort, often just a single line section providing a reasonable outline or profile of the building at this location. Doing this allowed the design team to quickly see where they could standardize many details and eliminate other unnecessary drawings. This yielded two primary benefits: One was that the details developed were stronger, more consistent, and gave the contractor clear direction. This helped reduce questions during bidding and construction. The second benefit was that this approach allowed the design team to eliminate unnecessary drawings that could overly complicate the bidding and construction process. 

All of this isn’t to say that today’s approach to design development doesn’t have its benefits, but wouldn’t it be great if we could recapture some of what has been lost from the past?

EduMind Inc at 08:19

Tuesday, 16 June 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA 

Obtaining an education in architecture is certainly a broad and challenging experience. As students, we are immersed in all things related to architecture. We learn about art and architectural history, we study design and engineering, and we are enlightened by many courses intended to develop our capacity to be creative. While all of this may provide a great foundation to build a career in architecture, if you are like me, you’ll discover that there is so much more to learn as you practice in the profession. 

That brings me around to this second article in a series on “A Day in the Life of an Architect,” this time focused on the Schematic Design Phase and how you reach closure with a client. In my experience, one of the biggest barriers to project profitability often occurs in the Schematic Design Phase, and that is an inability to reach closure or obtain well-informed approvals by the client.

Schematic Design Phase

It turns out that it is not just about the strength of a specific design concept, and it isn’t necessarily just about how innovative the solution may be. Over my 41 years in this profession, I have found that having some abilities to persuade and sell are just as critical as any architectural-specific skill set. Selling design includes being persuasive in presenting to the client, team members, and other stakeholders in such a way as to achieve understanding and approval of design before proceeding with future phases of a project. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, clients need to have their programs and design criteria addressed. They also need to have construction cost and schedule aspects resolved. Even if all of that is provided, the client might still be unsure if they are “sold.” 

Over the years, I have observed that not reaching closure with the client in the design phase can lead to project delays, a higher probability for committing errors, and the need to re-work design solutions in more advanced phases of the project, all of which can be very costly for the architect. Sometimes, not reaching closure with the client in a timely manner can result in a tremendous financial hit to the project, and a firm overall. 

So, how do you reach closure with a client beyond providing sound design solutions? In my experience, there are two critical elements to closure: confidence and engagement. 

Let’s start with confidence. From a client’s perspective, the design process (and the practice of architecture) can be bit mysterious and unknown. As such, clients often lean heavily on the experience of an architect to provide them with advice and a clear direction. It’s only natural then to expect that the client needs to sense that the architect is conveying a great deal of confidence in the solutions they are presenting. How an architect talks about the process and how persuasive they are in presenting become critical. The best way to build confidence in presenting is to practice, and practice often. There are people all around who could role play as a client in practice sessions. They include co-workers, other design team members, and even other clients that are not directly engaged in the project. During presentation rehearsals, the “mock clients” can ask questions and provide feedback. Doing this regularly should result in increased confidence, and improve reaching closure. 

The second aspect to gaining closure is creating a high level of client engagement during schematic design. The client needs to feel that they were brought along at each step in the process. If the architect gets too far ahead of the client, they could be presenting solutions that leave the client wondering about the exploration of other options (even if the architect has already considered and discarded them). This could result in doubt developing in the client’s mind—and worse—the client may not share their doubt with the architect until much later in the project. Obtaining closure and approvals will improve if the architect engages the client and paces them through the design process. Doing so will avoid gaps that can often occur when an architect is too far in front of the client. 

Remember, you will learn a lot of things as you practice architecture and sharpening your communication skills will be one of the most important among them.

EduMind Inc at 09:09

Friday, 12 June 2020


Topic: Day in the life of an Architect - During the Programming Phase 

Recently, I was asked to consider what a typical day is like for an architect. As I thought about this, I quickly concluded that really, no two days are the same. It is constantly changing. This constant change has made for a very interesting and challenging career for me personally, and I have to say, that the time seems to fly by when each day brings new problems, analysis, and solutions. 

As I thought more about how to describe a typical day for an architect, I decided that perhaps the best way to proceed is to progress through the different phases of a project. So, this first view of “a day in the life of an architect” is through the lens of the Programming Phase (or Pre-Design). 

First, what is programming as it relates to the practice of architecture? Early-on in my career, I learned to think of architectural programming as the phase when an architectural problem gets defined. After all, it is very difficult (and extremely inefficient) to try to problem solve without knowing as much as you can about the problem itself. Too often, architects rush to design solutions for problems that are not fully explored, and the result is that the problem gets exposed in “slow-roll” fashion throughout the project, resulting in a great deal of back and forth and redesign. I’m sure that this phenomenon is at least partly why architects struggle to be consistently profitable in their businesses. 

Through my experiences, I’d say that a day in the life of an architect during the Programming Phase is always very interesting. It’s when the architect works with the client team to define the project in broad terms. Often, this begins with developing a solid understanding of the big picture goals for the project. As an example, in a recent fire station project (which was a full replacement of an existing fire station), the high-level goal was to get a new station funded. Without funding, there would be no project. To get funding, voters had to approve and pass a bond measure, which means they had to support the project so much that they were willing to vote to increase their own property taxes. That challenge required a unique strategy to programming, one that engaged the community from the beginning, so that there would be an opportunity to develop a strong sense of buy-in for the project. 

This programming process began by sitting down with the client and mapping-out how and when to engage the community, then develop a project schedule so that each touch point was identified and coordinated with our overall programming efforts. We then evaluated the current fire station for overall status of conditions, noting how it stacked-up against today’s essential facility standards, and developing opinions on life expectancy of various building and system components. We also developed a cost estimate to remodel the current fire station and complete with seismic and other essential facility upgrades to bring it up to current standards. 

At this point, we held our first meeting with the community to share our findings, including our estimate of costs to remodel the current station. We held an “open house” at the fire station and invited the community in for a presentation. We began by sharing our findings, and then conducted tours through the station so that people (voters) could get the best understanding possible regarding the need to either upgrade the current facility or replace it altogether. 

Next, we worked with a diverse team of Fire District staff to develop typical program criteria including identifying space needs, adjacencies, and high-level site criteria for a full replacement fire station. Armed with this, we could develop very preliminary “block” site and building plans. We then held our second public forum at the existing fire station and invited in the community once again. At this meeting, we presented our preliminary block plans (pre-design plans) and engaged the audience in a discussion about aesthetics for public buildings in their community. This was not a detailed discussion, but enough to provide an opportunity for the community voices to be heard. 

Day in the life of an Architect

Based on the feedback we received in the second community meeting, we then developed conceptual level plans and renderings for a new fire station and produced a full project cost estimate. This was all presented at a third public meeting, and by then, we could see from responses we were receiving that support for replacing the current fire station with a new one was growing strong. 

A few months later, the project was on the local ballot, and the bond measure for the design and construction of a new fire station was passed with an 80% approval rating! 

Now, back to that idea of a “day in the life of an architect”. If you consider that every project has it’s own unique properties including the type of project, who will use the project when it is completed, and how it will be funded (among many other variables), it is safe to say that no two days are quite alike, and all are very interesting indeed! 

EduMind Inc at 09:01

Tuesday, 02 June 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA, NCARB 

Being an architectural intern can be stressful. Having graduated from a much more structured learning environment (college) means that a shift to a more “self-directed” education is needed to prepare for the ARE exam. One question you might have: “What are the resources for study materials?” 

Certainly, there are many study guides and lectures/webinars for purchase online, and most are well done and very effective. Some companies have been producing written materials since the ‘70s, and they do a good job of assembling the basic information needed to get ready to take the architectural exam. But in my experience, those resources aren’t quite enough by themselves. Below are some ideas of additional resources and tips to help you further navigate self-directed study. 

First, if you are like me, you probably saved some of your old college textbooks. Perhaps not on all subjects, but those that addressed more technical content. In my case, I kept all my structural engineering materials from college. These ranged from the text for statics class, to lecture notebooks, and the timber, concrete, and steel manuals. I even saved examples of homework and tests/quizzes that were more complex and addressed resolving truss reactions, wind problems, calculating bending and shear forces in beams, and solving for deflection in complex monolithic concrete design. 

I also saved much of my texts and class materials from the environmental control systems (ECS) course. This covered a great deal about a range of subjects such as rainwater harvesting, passive solar design, natural ventilation, and daylighting strategies to name just a few. If you didn’t retain these materials from college, I’d recommend contacting your old college professors and asking them what version of the texts they are using now and see if you can obtain a copy to study. 

Other sources that may be helpful include materials readily available at the office. Most architectural firms have standards, policies, and procedures that are well documented and vetted by years of experience. These resources are also likely to be based on industry standards, which are very likely to be encountered in the ARE. 

Another great resource for architectural practice in general is the AIA’s Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th edition. This handbook covers just about all aspects of architectural practice and in a way that is easy to absorb and understand. Topics include narratives addressing all phases of architectural services, office/business operations, and documents of service (including contracts). Again, in my experience, information provided in the handbook has appeared in the ARE in some form or another, making it “must read” on my list of recommended ARE preparation materials. 

Lastly, I have one non-conventional resource to recommend, which I used myself some 40 years ago. I recommend that you find and connect with architects inside and/or outside the office who have recently taken and passed the ARE. Interview them, ask them questions about the exam. Ask them about their experience with what worked well, and what didn’t work for them. When I was preparing for the ARE, I probably had eight to 10 individuals that I would pepper with questions about preparing for the ARE. I was careful not to exhaust any one individual resource, hence the large number of architects that I had in my resource pool. Often, I could frame my questions about the ARE around projects that I was working on in the office. I found that this was an effective way for me to get—and retain—information. 

ARE Prep Materials

The key to finding the appropriate materials to study for the ARE is to diversify and get creative. It is surprising how much information is right in front of us and available for use. Good luck! 

EduMind offers comprehensive exam review courses covering all six divisions of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE)® 5.0. Learn more about our classes and study materials on our website.

EduMind Inc at 08:14

Friday, 22 May 2020


By Richard J. Mitchell, AIA 

One of the most fundamental architectural design processes is to decide on the most appropriate structural system for a project. There are several factors involved and, let’s face it, it’s not always a clear-cut decision. 

In fact, sometimes considerations compete with others making the weighing of priorities even more important. Is “first cost” the most important consideration for the project? How about life-cycle costs? Can those two be at odds with each other? The answer is often yes. Now about sustainability? Would a material’s recycled content outweigh the other considerations like durability or aesthetics? Certainly, there is a lot to process in the early stages of architectural design, and there almost always is a bit of give and take (compromise). 

In my career, the prominent factors in determining the most appropriate structural system include:

  1. The building code: Fire-resistive, non-combustible, heavy timber, ordinary/composite system construction, etc. 
  2. Costs: Both first costs and life-cycle costs 
  3. Fit with the architectural concept and design criteria 
  4. Sustainability: Material content, resource extraction, contribution to carbon footprint, and thermal performance, etc. 
This is not the complete list of considerations, but simply a very general summary of the ones that I have experienced the most often. 

To better understand the decision process, here are a couple of examples of very different projects with widely different drivers for selecting the appropriate structural system: 

Recently, I worked on a fire station project in a rural community of about 25,000 residents just a few miles outside of Seattle. Most of the buildings in the community were of a variety of materials, but wood is the most predominant. This community also had a general appreciation for what they called “the Northwest style,” which is a term given to buildings with sloped roof forms and a fair amount of exposed wood structure. These drivers were generally compatible with several other considerations including lower first costs, sustainability (locally and sustainably resourced), and code requirements as the building footprint, overall size, and occupancy would allow for wood construction. 

However, there were also other factors at odds with the considerations mentioned above such as life cycle costs and durability. These were in conflict as wood buildings can deteriorate faster over time than those of other materials and can require greater levels of maintenance. In this case, the Fire District established their priorities and opted for a wood structure with the acknowledgement that they may have a greater level of maintenance (or even a shorter lifespan for the building). 

Another project with a very different focus was a high-tech, clean technology building that prioritized flexibility over all else. The client for this project often retools their manufacturing floor to adapt to changes in technology and to meet market demands for their products. In this case, the materials under consideration were mainly steel or concrete. Ultimately, concrete was preferred for its mass and resistance to vibration, but which concrete structural system (of the many possibilities) to use? It turns out that this client needed to have a floor slab that allowed for the flexibility to make penetrations over most of the floor area from underneath without diminishing the capacity of the slab. Very quickly, the choice narrowed to a two-way waffle slab to satisfy the criteria for penetrations. With the waffle slab system, the client could visibly see where they could make penetrations (from the floor below) without compromising the capacity of the slab. Penetrations could occur in the pan areas as the steel reinforcing was primarily located in the two-way beams and at the column capitals. 

This decision to use a two-way waffle slab was not driven by costs or code requirements. In fact, the waffle slab was one of the most expensive first cost options available. But for this client, the flexibility meant everything, and totally outweighed any of the differences in cost. 

With all the many factors to consider when determining the appropriate structural system, for the architect, it becomes a process of exploration of options balanced against the priorities of the project. The key is to navigate the design team and client to achieving the highest priorities first and establish a willingness to accept compromise.

EduMind Inc at 08:09

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


My best advice related to taking the ARE 5.0 is to do it as soon as possible following graduation from architecture school. Too often, intern architects put off taking the ARE, only to later find themselves so short on time or unfamiliar with the material that it becomes an even greater challenge. 

When I graduated from college in 1981, there was a culture in architectural internship that has long since faded. That culture included being anointed as part of an internship class. Since internship lasted three years on average, you were part of an internship class immediately upon graduation from college. I was part of the internship class of 1984 (the sum of 1981 plus a three-year internship). The culture included an expectation that you took the ARE for the first time somewhere within those first three years. Ideally, you would be successful and become an architect at the end of year 3. That was me—architect by 1984. That was nothing special nor exceptional—I was just doing what everyone else was doing and what was expected. Honestly, if you were out of school and not licensed by year 5, others in the profession would begin to wonder if something was wrong. It was real. 

My point of telling you all of this is really two points: 

1. Today, there is no architectural internship culture like the one I experienced (for many reasons, not the least of which include changes in the exam itself). Interns often get around to getting licensed (if they do at all) by their mid-thirties. 

2. The second point is that when interns do begin to study and take the ARE, they now have a steep re-learning curve. They will need to regain the knowledge they likely had as they graduated from college but that has faded with the passing of time. 

ARE 5.0 Tips and Tricks

The exam may have changed formats over the years, but the information that an architect must know has not. The exam will cover the essential areas of engineering that we all studied in college. I took four full years of structural engineering classes. I had classes in basic statics and materials and designing with wood, steel, and monolithic concrete. I learned to size beams, columns, footings, trusses, shear walls—you name it. We checked for bending moments, shear, deflection, and bearing for just about all the basic approaches to structural engineering. In addition, I took courses in long-span structures and composite systems. Guess what? All of this was on the ARE but none of it was covered in my experience as an intern. 

How about mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering (MEP) systems? In college, I took a year-long course in environmental control systems (ECS). We learned to design passive cooling, heating, ventilating, and daylighting systems. We also learned to design active energy systems as well as rain collection and harvesting. Again, all these topics appeared on the ARE, but none were enhanced by my internship experience. This was not a unique situation. Truthfully, if I were to estimate the percentage of material on the ARE that was linked to my experience as an intern, it might be 10% to 15%. That means that a minimum of 85% of the content of the ARE consisted of topics I learned only in college. 

The bottom line is to take the exam as soon as possible upon graduation from college, and I bet you will be so glad you did. You’ll avoid having to re-learn things like how to calculate bending stresses and shear in beams when you are ten plus years out of college and perhaps seriously time challenged by life. 

There is a definite correlation between the length of time between graduation from architectural school and the ability to successfully pass the ARE. So why leave it to chance? I know, many are burned out at the end of college, tired of studying and taking exams. But didn’t you go to college to become an architect? Isn’t becoming registered as an architect still the goal? If it is for you, please take my advice. Don’t put it off—it only gets tougher with time. 

Regardless of when you decide to take the exam, we can help! EduMind’s ARE® 5.0 exam review courses cover all six divisions of the exam so you can get ready with confidence. Click here for more information.

EduMind Inc at 08:38

Tuesday, 28 April 2020


In preparing to take the ARE, the first thing I did was make a high-level study plan. I organized it around the six divisions of the ARE and the content each would address. I then gathered all my own resources that I still had from college, including textbooks, manuals, notebooks, old exams, graded homework assignments, and pretty much anything that I thought could help me. I assessed what I had and what I would need to cover all the content in the exam itself, and I researched where to purchase exam prep materials. Fortunately, there were (and still are) several providers of exam prep materials, including books organized into chapters with quizzes and a full mock exam at the end. 

I then set aside a period (usually a month) to focus entirely on just one division of the exam. I read all the materials that I had on the subject, using a highlighter to identify stronger points and concepts presented in the materials and underlining what I considered key points. After each chapter of study, I took the quiz. My rule of thumb was, if I scored 80% or higher, I would move on to the next chapter. If I scored less than 80%, I re-read the materials and tried again. When I finished reading a study guide as well as all the content that I had from college related to the subject, I would take the full mock exam at the end of the study guide. Again, if I scored 80% or higher, I would consider myself done (for now). If not, I would re-read sections and re-take the mock exam a few days later with fresh eyes. 

I basically repeated this approach for each division until I had made it through all the study materials. I then went back through each study guide and the materials that I had from college, and re-read all the highlighted sections, paying even more attention to the things that I had underlined. As I was doing this, I started a handwritten notebook summarizing all the content that I thought represented the most important concepts, formulas, ideas, and so on. I made one of these notebooks for each division of the ARE. Then a few days before taking a given division of the exam, I would only re-read my notebooks. I did not go back and review the study guides or the large college textbooks. I really wanted to have the strongest concepts and points related to each topic in the forefront of my mind as I was about to take the exam. 

This approach worked well for me. I passed all of my exams with scores in the 90s. I took the studying very seriously. I did not get paid time off from work to take the exams, and I had to pay for the exam and my study materials myself. So, with my money on the line, I wanted to give each exam all that I had to avoid further expense, both in time and money. 

ARE® 5.0 Tips and Tricks

In the end, this all worked well for me for several reasons. First, it was an organized approach that broke things down into manageable pieces (areas of study). I never felt overwhelmed because I was taking things one step at a time. Another reason my approach worked was because I forced myself to identify the key concepts and most important aspects related to each section of the exam. I was conservative for sure, and probably over-highlighted my study guides, but in the end, it worked! 

I hope this will be helpful to you as you prepare to take the ARE. Just as a career in architecture is complicated and demanding but can be highly rewarding, the same can be said for preparing for the ARE. 

When you feel ready to take the exam, we can help! EduMind’s ARE 5.0 exam review courses cover all six divisions of the exam so you can prepare with confidence. Click here for more information. 

EduMind Inc at 08:56

Tuesday, 21 April 2020


During these uncertain times, it is important to make sure that you clearly communicate with your clients. This is especially true when the client puts a project on hold. There are several assumptions the client could be making when they put a project on hold, and it can be critical to your firm’s operations that the client has all the facts. 

This is especially true when it comes to accounts receivable. The client may be assuming that since the project was put on hold, they won’t be seeing any invoices until the project restarts. That is most likely an incorrect assumption, and something you’ll want to proactively correct. Most firms issue invoices every 30 days and allow the client another 30 days to pay without accruing interest for late payment. This means that at the time a client puts a project on hold, they could be just about to get one of two invoices. This compounds if the client is on a longer payment cycle such as 60 days. The best approach to take is at the time the client puts the project on hold, coordinate with your accounting team, and make sure to inform the client of how many invoices they can expect, (and provide an approximate amount). Taking this step will eliminate any confusion about invoices during the project hold. 

In addition, it is a good practice to inform your client that there will be additional efforts involved in properly putting the project on hold for a while. The original scope of the project likely assumed a progressive flow to developing the design and construction documents, and stopping the project suddenly was not anticipated. You should encourage the client to consider that it will take some effort to wrap up elements of the project that are in midstream and to close it down in a way that facilitates a smoother project restart. These efforts and the related fees are normally outside the scope of work identified in the contract, and the architect is entitled to be compensated for them. Having this discussion at the time the project is put on hold will have better results for all involved. 

Projects on Hold During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Another subject to discuss with the client is what to expect at project restart. Architectural projects are very complex, and it’s not practical to expect that a project can be simply activated without some challenges. For one, there is the issue of staff availability. Can you get the same staff on your team that you had when the project was put on hold? Will you have to bring new team members up to speed? What about the project schedule? When states relax the stay-at-home orders and people begin to return to work, will there be new conditions in the workplace that present challenges to staffing your project? You might not know the answers to these questions now, but it’s best to have an open dialog with the client as the project is being put on hold to addresses the possible challenges to project restart, most of which will likely impact the schedule. 

In the end, best practices related to project management require a strong emphasis on clear communication with your client, especially in these uncertain times. Doing so could greatly improve your firm’s ability to resume normal operations and to thrive in the future.

EduMind Inc at 06:50

Tuesday, 14 April 2020


Long ago, buildings were constructed with the excitement of technology—meaning buildings could be as tall as technology allowed. The Equitable Building in New York City is one of the most famous examples of this. A large, bulky building, it seemed like a giant fortress (at almost 600 feet tall) but there were no regulations governing setbacks at the time.

The Equitable Building is a behemoth, constructed in 1915. A new building code for New York City would be issued in 1916, changing the form of buildings for centuries to come. This new era of building code ushered in the advent of the wedding cake building—a style of building to be the new vernacular of the New York City skyline.

The wedding cake building style was not a commentary on aesthetic deliciousness but was, rather, a commentary on the necessity of buildings to take on that form due to the new code. Although any proponent of the building code will emphatically deny that it dictates the aesthetics of buildings, the wedding cake shape is a result of important function and developing urban living.

Programming and Analysis - Building Setbacks

Wall Street serves as an infamous example for the case of sunlight being accessible to all. It is often said that due to the wall-like nature of Wall Street in lower Manhattan (pre-wedding cake), the sun and other resources were blocked out from the street level, creating a cavernous experience and potentially unhealthy conditions. 

The turn of the century also brought concerns with the increasing height of buildings and the potential for fire. In 1904, the city of Baltimore suffered a devastating fire during which more than 1,500 buildings were completely leveled, and more approximately 1,000 more were severely damaged. The property loss from this disaster was an estimated $100 million. Consequently, building codes were adopted stressing fireproof construction. The wedding cake building style refers to the typology of building that resulted from this new code. These buildings got their name because they are stepped to acknowledge the setbacks required to allow light down to the street level and to accommodate separation between buildings to make them safer as they rose higher. 

The separation between buildings is an important component in the high-rise building. The setbacks allow for distance should a fire break out in one building. That distance impedes the spread of fire while disabling or slowing it from spreading from one building to the next. This is particularly important, as the resources for firefighting were not as advanced as they are now. 

Slowing or stopping the spread of fire is not the only task of building setbacks. As noted above, they also provide access to light and fresh air at street level and afford some privacy—especially as distance grows between tiers—creating easier access for building maintenance. 

Although setbacks still exist with the modern building code, access to light and air, as well as safety are rights that should be afforded every community member of a municipality and are recognized as imperative in promoting healthy, urban living.

EduMind Inc at 08:31

Tuesday, 31 March 2020


A client comes to an architect asking for his drawings, models, and everything else that he has created to design a building. The client’s justification is that they paid for those materials, so they should rightfully be theirs. 

The materials used to create the design and development of a building project are not owned outright by the client. This is a common misconception because those materials are classified as instruments of service. What is necessary in understanding the concept of instruments of service is what the architect provides—and that is a service. Although architects design buildings, they do not provide the product of the building but rather the service of designing the building. The instruments of service are a part of providing that service, not a product.

Per the agreements and contracts between the architect and the owner, the owner is given the right to use the instruments of service for their project at a certain location within a certain timeframe. There are instances when the contracts may be amended to be able to use these instruments of service as derivative works—commonly for developments—but that necessitates an agreed-upon change to the formal contract through negotiation.

The risk the architect runs in surrendering the instruments of service could be personal or professional. It could be personal if the architect is not being compensated for the derivative works should the client build multiple versions of the design. The professional liability is presented when the derivative works are built—built to substandard conditions (especially if the architect is not involved), does not follow the regulations of the local AHJ (authority having jurisdiction), and is not designed for specific considerations like a building designed within an area of high earthquake activity. These reasons could have serious consequences for the architect.

Federal copyright law covers not only the instruments of service but also the building itself from being copied. This verbiage is also included in the contract between owner and contractor to ensure that the contractor is also aware of this provision.

That is not to say that the instruments of service are not released. As noted above, often for development projects where repetition is necessary as part of the business model, instruments of service are issued for replicating a model project. For the architect, however, this type of situation should be compensated fairly and should be addressed within the contracts. This situation should necessitate the acknowledgment of this repetition and legally, how to cover this instance in regard to the responsibility of the architect. 

Transfer agreements are also issued to outline the responsibilities of the owner and the architect in the event of transfer.

In all, it is imperative that the architect understands what constitutes an instrument of service and its role in regard to the services the architect provides. It is not a right of ownership by the client but can be an opportunity for developing a project further with the client without assuming liability.

EduMind Inc at 08:34

Tuesday, 24 March 2020


A building project has undergone a substantial design process; however, when it comes to the bidding and negotiation phase, it is discovered that the project is grossly over budget. Uh oh. First of all, contractually, it is the architect’s responsibility to keep track of costs with each phase. During schematic design, these costs may be square footage or unit costs, which are very general. Design development adds more detail and costs may be associated with the quantity of square feet for specific materials or assembly costs—the cost of a certain assembly per linear foot. 

The bidding and negotiating phase is when a prospective contractor assigns actual costs to compile the cost of work. This is the most accurate cost for the work; however, the architect should always track costs throughout the process. 

So, the costs come in grossly over budget. What to do? It is the responsibility of the architect to be mindful of budget. The architect can solicit the owner for additional funding, or else they turn to value engineering. Value engineering often has a negative connotation because it is commonly associated with replacing a material or system with an often-inferior material or system due to cost. However, that is not how value engineering should be perceived. 

Value engineering is a concept in which, by definition, a substitution occurs embodying a relationship to the value of function and cost. Although part of the equation with value engineering is to provide a substitution at a lower cost, that cost cannot and should not compromise the function of the material or system to be substituted. 

A poor model of value engineering would be the example of replacing a wall system in an acoustically sensitive area. Should a particular wall assembly be replaced with one that is substantially less expensive but does not manage acoustics as well as the original proposed assembly, the assembly sacrifices functionality, which can greatly affect the use of the space. This is not conducive to the original intent and can require extra, future costs to remedy the inefficiency. 

A good model of value engineering would seek solutions to balance cost, value, and function. Value is somewhat hard to define as it contains varying objectives but, most often, it connects cost and function. For example, the value, which could attach an extra cost, is necessary due to the function it provides for that extra cost. In that case, it may not be best to value engineer that assembly out of the project. An element that may not have such a weight on function and be more aesthetic is a good place to start with value engineering. Costly marble may be substituted with a less costly engineered stone. 

Whatever the change, the process necessitates that the contractor provides substitutions for approval by the architect. The contractor cannot perform the value engineering as it is the responsibility of the architect to confirm—and subsequently approve—the appropriateness of the substitution, which should be value based, not strictly based on cost.

EduMind Inc at 06:21

Friday, 20 March 2020


Per AIA contracts , there is a lot of verbiage regarding damages. Often, all parties agree to the waiver of claims due to damages in the AIA contract A201, the general conditions of the contract for construction. 

The waiver of claims means that all parties bound together by this contract agree to hold the other parties harmless should damages be claimed. This is done for many reasons, but let’s first look at the matter of definition. 

First, what is a claim and what makes it direct or consequential? A claim is a formal request to a surety (an insurance company) to be compensated for damages. A direct damage is one that can be directly connected to damage. A common example is that of a roof that has caved in. This would assume that the roof was newly constructed and has failed due to the incompetence of the design. A claim for direct damages would request that the roof be rebuilt if it is found that there was negligence in the design of the roof. Consequential damage is damage that is a theoretical or disconnected effect due to the failure of the roof. An example of consequential damage would be the loss of rent due to the roof failure and the loss of rent to come due to its repair. The cost of rent is not directly connected to the roof damage and is, therefore, consequential—a result of the consequence. It should be noted that contract breaches could be considered consequential damages but, in court, the definition is wide and varied, and often consequential damages are limited to those defined as a result of a loss or consequence. 

As noted, in the AIA’s A201 contract, these are waived among parties. One reason could be that, with consequential damages, especially, they could be ill defined and could lead to contentious relationships within the contract. However, the contract should anticipate the worst and set up for the best—the best way to deal with unknowns and with contingencies to cover costs should something happen that leads to delays and added costs, etc. Building projects carry risks, and those risks should be managed by all parties. A contract based on rosy situations that does not anticipate issues can be problematic. 

However, a main reason for waiving claims for damages is due to business. A construction company or an architecture firm often does not have the assets of wealthy clients or development companies. Bringing claims such as these could bankrupt construction companies and architecture firms. At the very least, the damages could far exceed the profit for the particular project. It is for this reason that many companies will not work with an owner who suggests striking that waiver from the contract. 

Practice Management

How to deal with these situations? Coming up with alternative methodologies for covering such issues, other than a striking of the waiver, is what is best in these situations. However, this is often covered by professional liability insurance. No matter what, changes to the contract need to be reviewed by lawyers experienced in the construction process so that everyone is mutually covered in these agreements.

EduMind Inc at 03:28

Tuesday, 17 March 2020


Refrigeration cycles are used in many mechanical systems and can be somewhat difficult to understand at first. There are four main components to the refrigeration cycle: compressor, condenser, expansion valve, and evaporator. A refrigerant flows within the lines (pipes) of the system and enters through those components. To start at a point (since it is a cycle), the vapor leaves the low-pressure side of the evaporator to the high-pressure side via the compressor. The compressor compresses the refrigerant, making the vapor the hottest at that point. After the vapor leaves the compressor, it enters the condenser where the condenser rejects the heat and the vapor turns into liquid state. The liquid then travels to the expansion valve/thermal expansion valve where it enters the low-pressure side of the system and through the expansion valve to turn back to liquid state. It then travels through the evaporator, where heat is absorbed and continues in the loop to the compressor. There is a phase change between liquid and gas with the mediating substance. 

Why a refrigeration cycle? For one, it creates a closed loop system that supplies both heating and cooling—potentially. It is most common in smaller systems like a through-wall air-conditioning unit. The compression and expansion of the refrigerant (which is designed to do this efficiently) work to create cooling by removing the heat from the system. That is an important concept in cooling systems. Cooling is created by removing the heat from the system, not by adding actual cooling, which is a common misconception. The refrigeration cycle removes the heat from the interior to the exterior (this works the same in refrigerators). Pressure is employed to create this system—when the pressure compresses, heat is created. When pressure is released and the agent is expanded, cooling occurs. This all happens within the coils of the system. Fans are employed to run air over the coils and expel cool or warm air, depending on the cycle. Often, units with a refrigerant cycle work in one direction, supplying heating or cooling. However, there are reversible systems that supply both heating and cooling by reversing the loop. 

Refrigeration Cycles

The medium within the coils—the refrigerant—is an engineered substance in which the properties of the substance meet operating pressures. Traditionally, these substances have been considered toxic or harmful for the environment as well as contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer. Because of this, refrigerants are assigned classifications and ratings of OPD (Ozone Depletion Potential) and (GWP) Global Warming Potential. 

In regard to the larger system/unit, a COP (or coefficient of performance) is determined, which is a measure of efficiency for the mechanical unit. The COP is measured by the amount of heat removed as a ratio to the amount of work needed to do so; however, the COP differs between the heating and cooling cycles. Often, the COP or other energy-efficient measurement (SEER) is requested by AHJs to prove the efficiency of mechanical equipment. 

EduMind Inc at 07:24

Friday, 13 March 2020


It is often said that billing and fees for architectural services are nothing short of an art form. It is a balance between the work to be performed, fair compensation, and the satisfaction of the client. Whatever the outcome, the fees set by the architecture firm should be measured against recordkeeping but also must acknowledge that an architecture firm is also a business and needs to be viable as such. 

That viability includes maintaining a profit with every job. No matter the fee structure—hourly, percentage of construction cost, and so on—there should be an added profit calculated into the fee. If you look at a fee schedule, there is a billable rate that is much higher than what actually appears on a paycheck. For example, a project manager may earn an annual salary of $83,200, which equates to an hourly wage of $40/hour. However, the fee schedule for the firm may charge the client $120/hour for their services. Why? Should they feel cheated that they are not getting full compensation for work? 

Businesses should charge more for the hourly services of their employees—in fact, an architecture firm on average charges about three times as much. Doing so ensures that the business can pay its bills and then some. Concepts like the break-even rate and overhead rate, as well as an additional percentage for profit, all play into setting the fees for a firm. 

Before these fees can be calculated, the expenses of the firm must be determined. These are the indirect expenses—expenses that cannot be billed directly to a job/client—and include utilities, software, rent, insurance, etc. These numbers determine many things for a firm. Are there too many expenses? Are the indirect expenses benefitting the firm? These are matters of everyday business. On top of that, overhead rate is a factor to give the break-even rate. However, that does not account for profit. A typical business—and an architecture firm should be no different—aims for a 20% profit. This is also added to the hourly rate to ensure that the firm is making a profit off of every hour of wage. 

Project Management - Billing and Fees

Profit is not a bad thing, and I have known many architects who sell themselves short thinking that they are being greedy trying to make a 20% profit or any profit! But it’s business. Profit is needed to keep a firm alive, and that is actually for the benefit of the client. If a firm cannot stay viable, that may actually affect the client because if a firm folds and closes due to mismanaged finances, it could have very bad effects for the client, the job, and everyone involved (which I have also seen). It is with this mindset that projects should have a healthy financial base to maintain the growth of the firm and to ensure the success of a project.

EduMind Inc at 07:53

Tuesday, 10 March 2020


When designing buildings, architects are often employed by clients who are concerned about the efficiency of space. Building efficiencies look at the ratio of net assignable space to gross area for the overall building, usable versus gross for the base efficiency, and even how large a building should be (gross square feet) in relation to the net assignable square footage versus the percentage of efficiency. What these all compare, in different ways, is the relationship of usable space to unusable or unassignable space.

Net area or net assignable space is the usable space subtracting secondary circulation. In an office, for example, this may be the area of the actual office space versus building corridors. Usable area is the net assignable area plus the secondary circulation, and the rentable area is the usable area, area for services and circulation, and excludes elevator shafts and stairs. 

The reason for determining efficiencies has many benefits to the client. For example, a client may want to develop a building to rent to others (in the case of an office building). In that case, if their goal is to make the most rent from this office building, they may ask the architect to design with the least amount of circulation, which can affect the floorplate configuration for the building and its core. 

A corporate office building tends to have the least efficiency and a warehouse the most. Why is that? There must be circulation and means of egress by code. If the calculation for the overall efficiency is net assignable square feet divided by the gross area, and the net assignable square feet is about half of the gross, a building with a gross square footage of 50,000 square feet would have an efficiency of 50% (overall efficiency = 25,000 ft2/50,000 ft2). Alternately, a warehouse is essentially all circulation and all net assignable square feet simultaneously. A 50,000-ft2 warehouse (using the same calculation) would produce almost 100% efficiency (or close to, it since net square footage does not account for the area of the exterior facade). 

Programming and Analysis

Efficiencies can serve as a very useful tool in determining if enough space is being allocated within a building for certain programs. They can also turn the design discussion to consider space planning as well as determining the choice of mechanical system (a central system versus split/local systems or a hydronic versus air-system), structural system, envelope system, and anything that could greatly affect space. It is also important to consider that just because these are termed efficiencies, that does not always equate to better. It may actually be in the best interest of a company to have less office space and more health-based space. A healthier space (such as yoga rooms, or room for a ping-pong table) can create a more efficient staff. A company may opt for less employees but a higher level of production with such amenities. These efficiency equations cannot account for the qualitative experience of space, however, and should be used solely as a quantitative tool.

EduMind Inc at 08:06

Friday, 06 March 2020


With the construction of increasingly taller buildings, how does one determine how large a building can be? That comes down to the codes. There is not one but many codes to reference for the design and construction of a building. For sizing a building, there are a few main codes to reference— zoning code, the IBC building code, and local codes/deeds that may include provisions for easements and the like. 

Easements determine if there are any utilities or other services for the public or special site conditions that necessitate the dedication of a portion of private land for its function. These often restrict blocking, removing, or building on certain areas. 

Zoning codes are municipal codes that determine the density and character of cities—usually more urban areas. Zoning codes spell out the ability to build on a lot including the floor area ratio (FAR) and building height limitations. FAR determines how much a site can be built upon, which can start to determine the number of stories, etc. For example, in an R-1 residential zone, there may be a FAR of 0.5. R-1 zones are low-density, typically detached single-family homes. A FAR of 0.5 indicates that the building can only occupy 0.5 or 50% of the lot square footage. So, if there is a lot of 2,400 square feet, the allowed floor area of the building is 1,200 square feet. Zoning also indicates how much of the lot can be developed, including the width of front, rear, and side yards, etc. The FAR is different from the footprint of the building. If the footprint of the building is restricted to 600 square feet (as an extreme example, but it makes the math easy) and the building is allowed 1,200 square feet, does that mean I have to give up 600 square feet? No. It means that the building can be two stories (or more) with a total of 1,200 square feet for the building. What counts toward FAR is defined in the definitions of the zoning code, since spaces like mechanical rooms are typically not counted toward the FAR. 

How to Size a Building

However, there are often height limitations. Those are included in the zoning code along with restrictions due to the sky-exposure plane, height of street walls to maintain, occupancy classification, types of construction, building frontage, the requirement of sprinklers, parking requirements, etc. 

The IBC building code also includes provisions for height and area limitations due to the type of construction, occupancy, and sprinklers. 

These two codes work hand in hand to define the buildable area for a structure and should be referenced at the beginning of the process. The most stringent code is the one that takes precedence and codes—especially zoning codes—change. It is very common practice for areas of a municipality to be rezoned, allowing for different occupancies/mixed-use program, and constructing taller buildings. Designing a building is a network of information and knowing how the zoning code interfaces with the building code and vice versa is the strongest start to the process.

EduMind Inc at 06:12

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