Q+A: Amanda Reeser Lawrence on the myths that shroud the real genius of architecture

Amanda Reeser Lawrence’s new book, The Architecture of Influence, casts aside the easy explanation of architecture as a stylistic evolution—the Romanesque begat the Gothic begat the Renaissance, and so on. By looking at replicas, copies, revivals, and other categories we use to describe architecture, Lawrence, an architectural historian and Associate Professor of Architecture at Northeastern University, helps us connect the dots on architectural production in two different ways—first by focusing on production, itself—the evidence of building rather than the intention of invention—and, second, by looking at the vocabulary we use to talk about that evidence. If you think this is a purely academic argument, you’d be wrong. This book is about the creative process and how  influence is courted, leveraged, and considered in the work of architects of every stripe—from the academy to practice.  “After 15 years of teaching and being part of reviews, if students deliberately elide this question of influence,” she says, “it creates a strange disjunction where others see the influence of their work even if they don’t.”

The subtitle of this book about the “myth of originality” in architecture is maybe more telling than the title. What is this myth and why are we, as a culture, so content to believe it?

This is a good question—why do we hold on to the myth of originality? I think it connects to the concept of “genius” and the desire for the new. I’m trying to debunk the idea that every architectural work has to be understood only as “new,” and claim instead that every work is also indebted to what’s “old.” Every work is both singular, which is to say unique, and connected to what’s come before. That comes across most clearly in the chapter on “replicas” because replicas are, seemingly, the least original type of architecture. The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, for example, is a replica of the well-known structure in Athens, but it is no less a unique work of architecture than the original on the Acropolis. The architects of the Nashville Parthenon had to make decisions about structure and siting and materials and construction. So, the “myth” of originality is that only seemingly novel works are original.

There’s an arc of influence that was particularly potent for a recent generation of architects: Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc are both reconsidered heavily in the 1970s and 1980s, and a decade later, there is an obsession with the architectural palimpsest. Why do we find the work that Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc represents, and the palimpsest so compelling—still to this day?

Because it gives meaning to the work. It’s about making connections. There’s a lot of discussion around plagiarism right now in the world, and that is an interesting development as we contemplate this idea of drawing from the past. All architecture is plagiarism to some degree. But what I find more interesting is to consider how architecture borrows from the past. The past informs the present, of course, but we also understand and redefine the past through the present. In the work of Kahn or Venturi, for example, we find embedded references to fundamental architectural ideas like “pyramid” or “house,” but we then see pyramids and houses differently through their work. We realize that architectural ideas aren’t fixed things, but open to reinterpretation. 

I was very careful in the book not to focus on architects’ intentions. The critic and the historian have a place to offer their interpretation, regardless of claims made by the architects in question. 

I think the critique of genius is important, too. For that reason, I focus the book on works of architecture rather than the architects themselves—on the building as the site of inquiry. But this doesn’t mean that we do away with the figure of the architect altogether. In the chapter on “emulations” I address this specifically—for example, when Schindler is working in Wright’s office while Wright is away in Tokyo, Schindler struggles with this question of how much of himself to put into a “Wright” work.

When you talk about the Renaissance, there’s a developed conversation about copies—but we’ve forgotten how to talk about it. Why?

It’s a postmodern hangover. After that era, we stopped talking about influence, at least explicitly. My first book was about James Stirling—a postmodernist who refused the term postmodernism, but who, I argue, was explicitly “revisioning” the work of others.

Even now, I think many in the field are reluctant to talk about ideas like influence and unoriginality. In fact, this book, The Architecture of Influence, had a bumpy road to publication, as a number of readers who looked at the proposal were uncomfortable that I juxtaposed people and ideas from across different historical periods and styles, or even that I used the term “influence” at all. So, at the beginning of every chapter, I spend time defining terms—words like replica, copy, imitation, and emulation—to show the reader what they mean in architectural culture, but also how they’ve developed historically. As a professor of architectural history, I teach a lot of architecture students, and it was important for me to help them discover a vocabulary through which to talk about these ideas in architecture. 

Words like contemporary versus traditional and new versus old—these are words that a lot of people use to describe the things they see in the world. How did you think about these simple, everyday terms?

I obsessed and gnashed my teeth over over those words! Binary concepts such as new/old or modern/traditional are embedded in our consciousness, and there is an assumption that traditional architecture looks to the past, while contemporary or modern architecture does not. In the book I try to break down those distinctions, and talk about how the past is referenced and reimagined in all types of architecture. In the chapter on “revivals,” for example, I intentionally look at two examples that exist at opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum. One is a dormitory that “traditionalist” Demetri Porphyrios built at Princeton in 2007, where you feel like you’re in a time warp, transported back to the 12th century (with air conditioning!) The other is the “modernist” work of Peter Eisenman, who was teaching at Princeton when Porphyrios’s building was completed, and found it incredibly problematic. But, the argument I make is that work of Eisenman and the rest of the New York Five, which references Corbusian modernism of the 1920s, is conceptually no different than Porphyrios’s reference to twelfth-century Gothic. Both were riffing on earlier ideas. Neither references a specific building—instead they bring earlier stylistic languages back to life.    

What about the myth of the architect?

Throughout the book, but especially in the last chapter, I look at the work of architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Mies van der Rohe, and Zaha Hadid through the lens of repetition. There is undoubtedly a signature attached to the work of these architects, which we can understand as a type of self-influence, and also as a rebuke to the ideas of “originality” and “genius.” Mies speaks most eloquently about this—he famously said that you can’t make a new architecture every Monday morning. I understand that remark as a form of resistance to a capitalist imperative for the “new,” but it is also, of course, an embrace of unoriginality. Interestingly, Frank Gehry has a different perspective on this idea of self-repetition—he says something to the effect of “I could never face my children if they thought I didn’t have any new ideas.” And yet, there is a self-sameness to his work. For me, self-repetition is a yet another way to challenge our ideas about so-called “genius” and the myth of originality.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Architecture of Influence: The Myth of Originality in the Twentieth Century, by Amanda Reeser Lawrence, University of Virginia Press, 2024

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.

Fuller/Overby redefines the lakeside respite with a courtyard house in cabin country

By William Richards

Designing a home for one’s parents is a complicated proposition—and this sort of commission might very well be the truest test of a designer’s mettle. Mom and Dad aren’t part of a “user group,” after all. Yet, it’s an act that’s part of architecture’s lore over the past century and the fact is you’d need a lot of hands to count the number of times an architect has designed a home for their parents. Charles Gwathmey did it. Robert Venturi did it. Arquitectonica’s Laurinda Spear and Bernardo Fort-Brescia did it. Ditto for Frank Lloyd Wright, George Howe, and Le Corbusier. 

Allure editor-at-large Joan Kron once wrote a brief piece for The New York Times in 1981 covering this small but notable corner of architectural production. In it, Steven Izenour, who was designing a home for his parents at the time, cautioned against the act in no uncertain terms. “It forces you to deal with things you didn’t resolve when growing up,” he said. “Never design a house for your parents.”

But, that’s just what Michael Overby did for his parents, working with his partner Emma Fuller—the two forming the nucleus of the New York firm Fuller/Overby, which they started in 2019. The team designed Nebo House, a 2,750 square-foot lakeside home in North Carolina for Kathi and Ken Overby that splits the architectural atom, creating both a sophisticated design and an obviously functional response to the brief: make an easy to navigate, easy to maintain home for entertaining. 

“It was their first time working with an architect—and the first time building a house,” says Overby of his client-parents, “and so that leaves such a wide field of possibilities.”

Photography Copyright © Paul Warchol Photography. Plans courtesy Fuller/Overby.

The conversations about needs and design were iterative. It started when they helped the Overbys scout land in an area where they’d had their honeymoon, long before any talk of retirement. They showed the Overbys arrays of other projects they admired, and tried to focus their attention on certain details like corners or materials. They did a lot of physical modeling to work out some of their ideas to, say, reduce the overall height of the house by rearranging the program, and its forms—ending with the courtyard house typology that’s unique for North Carolina, but certainly a time-honored approach.

“One has to make an educated choice to balance everything,” says Fuller, grabbing an early model of the project next to her, “and, in this case, this version was embedded less-so in the land, and it was more vertical—with a garage like the typical American home they had been accustomed to, and a bedroom on top of that.” 

Copyright © Paul Warchol Photography

Suddenly, the home that might have looked more like a woodsy ranger station reaching for the treetops became a much more contextual, low-slung home that took advantage of the landscape while also showcasing Fuller and Overby’s Cooper Union credentials. Nebo House received a 2023 Award of Merit from AIA Virginia in its annual Design Awards program.

Tucked into the hillside, the home possesses a natural insulation strategy that makes it seem like a couple of different houses, depending on your standpoint. On one hand—and because of the fact that half of it abuts earth—the house almost functions as a passive house, “without a lot of the investment passive house builders make,” says Fuller. Overby notes their decisiveness about window placement to take advantage of the breezes off the lake, and the aperture sizes to draw in that cool air have rendered barely-there energy bills, too. Since completing the house, Overby and Fuller have had several chances to return, and report that the favorable energy use intensity measurements are precisely what they expected them to be.

On the other hand, and from a design perspective, it’s not just a borrowed vernacular cabin form. From the road looking down on the site, some have called it a “village of small pavilions” (in the words of Cliff Pearson writing for Architectural Record). Feeling less committal, Kate Mazade called them “pavilion-like volumes,” writing for Dezeen. You don’t have to squint very hard to see their point, but it seems as if there’s more to be said about the whole, itself, at Nebo House, rather than the parts—and in this respect Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, and Richard Whitaker’s work at Sea Ranch come to mind, not to mention Marcel Breuer’s own Cape Cod house in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

“We looked at a wide range of houses, and there was an educational aspect to this for us and for my parents, too” says Overby, “so we put together a bunch of references of things we liked in other projects, and we walked them through it.”

Material choices define the life of Nebo House, too, notably the cypress cladding on the exterior. There’s also a generous amount of rift sawn white oak millwork in certain parts of the house that creates a ribbon of warmth as a counterpoint to the 1920s steamship lines that call to mind the Maison La Roche or Villa Savoye in their spareness. That ribbon is functional, concealing storage or lighting or kitchen hood ventilation, as well as formal, announcing a change in program for an otherwise open plan. 

As a courtyard house, though, the focus is really what client Kathi Overby once called “the second living room,” or the courtyard, itself, which is the best place in autumn to understand the indoor-outdoor connection most acutely—when the surrounding canopy has a honey yellow glow, much like the stained millwork inside.

“The courtyard, the use of oak—it was a good way to take the conversation away from style for the clients and toward things like context,” says Fuller, “and a relationship to the landscape.”

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.

Project credits:

  • Architect: Fuller/Overby
  • Structural Engineer: Nat Oppenheimer, Silman
  • Mechanical Engineer: Mark Cambria, Fusion Systems
  • General Contractor: Cottonwood Development
  • Roofing: Rhenizink, Natural Metal Associates
  • Cladding: Nakamoto Forestry
  • Cabinetry: Southfork Millwork
  • Stonework: Hammerhead Stoneworks
  • Lighting Supply: Tony DeLaurentis, International Lights

Op-Ed: Connecting architecture and landscape architecture

By Arnaldo D. Cardona

The term “landscape architecture” can be associated with many fields like construction, design, horticulture, and so on, and finding books about architecture and landscape architecture in college libraries that have programs in both disciplines (or even engineering) will be the most logical place to find them. But, can you find books related to architecture or landscape architecture in college libraries related to medicine, journalism, law, business, pharmacology, human resources or education? How can architecture and landscape architecture be in places where it was not before?

Let me share my personal experience. I had the joy of writing two books: K-12 Landscape Architecture Education (2021) and K-12 Architecture Education (2022), which are interdisciplinary STEAM curriculum guides that put landscape architecture at the center of curricula. Beyond presenting landscape architecture as a design profession, it presents our profession as:

1- a problem-solving method
2- an ideal theme for interdisciplinary curriculum design
3- an educational term defining Architecture and Landscape

With these books now part of Teachers College Library, Columbia University, educators will be able to see landscape architecture as an ideal medium for curriculum design and instruction. Currently, there is a big trend in the pedagogical field in the areas of design education, STEAM education and environmental education; now, K-12 educators will have a comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum to develop these educational programs.

On Oct. 13, 2023, Teachers College, Columbia University invited me to share my journey in publishing books I previously presented. I had the opportunity to highlight the importance of landscape architecture to the educational world. I shared how these interdisciplinary K-12 STEAM curricula put architecture and landscape architecture at the center of the curricula. I also presented pedagogical definitions of educational terms not identified before, wherein architecture and landscape architecture are
defined not just as professions but as problem-solving methods as well.

On Sep. 15, 2022, Jennifer Govan, Director of Teachers College Library, invited me to do a talk about both books. During this book talk I found out from some attendees that the books are currently being
implemented from Dubai to Hong Kong, in other parts of the nation and close to home (Chesterfield County, Virginia). My mission with these books is to inspire the next generation of architects and landscape architects. I felt honored that the terms “architecture and landscape architecture” are now present in the educational field.

Attempts to reach K-12 audiences have been done but as project-based activities; now with my books, architecture and landscape architecture can be seen as fields of study that promote interdisciplinary, critical thinking STEAM and high-order cognitive skills.

I am a believer in diversifying the profession. That is why, even though I hold a pre-professional degree in architecture and a bachelors in landscape architecture, I am proud to have won graduate scholarships in
the fields of art education and special education. I am always trying to support the importance of scholars seeing architecture and landscape architecture as art disciplines. Doing this opens up the possibility for grants to promote STEAM and K-12 programs in design education. It is my hope that my contribution to the fields of architecture and landscape architecture can be remembered, besides designing built and natural environments, as designing landscapes of learning, and curricula that connect architecture and landscape architecture with the educational field.

Arnaldo Cardona is a retired landscape architect, art and special education teacher, staff developer and college professor. A graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University, with a degree in Art Education, he also holds degrees in Landscape Architecture and Education from City College of New York.

A version of this op-ed appeared in ASLA’s blog The Field under the title “Bringing Landscape Architecture to New Places.” The views expressed here are the author’s own.

Five revenue and morale boosters for small firms in 2024

What a year, right? Well, if you’re in charge of an architecture firm, there’s often little time to reflect as you keep the cash flowing and while you’re prospecting for new business. Maybe you want to position yourself for that plum project everyone wants, or maybe you’re looking to staff-up because you know you’ve got a big project on the horizon. Then again, maybe you’re looking to get into new areas of practice or invest in new technologies, while also keeping your bread-and-butter clients happy (not to mention your employees). At the end of the day, it’s all about shoring-up that revenue and the morale of your firm. Here are the top five things you should think about at the end of the calendar year to improve your position next year—especially if you’re a small business. 

  • Conduct a financial analysis and set some realistic goals: By conducting a comprehensive financial analysis, you can understand the current state of your business’s revenue, expenses, and overall financial health. Evaluate the previous year’s financial performance and set realistic revenue goals for the upcoming year. Assess profit margins, identify areas for cost-cutting, and establish achievable revenue targets as tactics for sustainable growth.
  • Court feedback: Gather and analyze client feedback to gain insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Did they have preferences that maybe aren’t as quirky as you thought and are possibly more and more common? What evolving market trends are they tracking about materials or design ideas—for better or for worse—and what’s your plan to address them? Everyone says architects are part-time therapists to their clients, but thinking along these lines (with all kidding aside) will help you increase their satisfaction. It’ll also increase the chances they’ll come back to you again and again for future projects. 
  • Hold a proper communications, messaging, and marketing strategy review: What are you saying about yourself and your services, and how are you saying it? Have you evaluated your current marketing strategies and campaigns before rubber stamping the next one? Identify the channels that net you business and the campaigns that have yielded a return on your investment. Explore new social media channels, even if you don’t think you have time for “another thing” because, guess what, your clients are on those channels. Investing in messaging, social media, digital marketing, and content creation can significantly expand your business’s visibility and customer base.
  • Technology brings innovation, but also headaches: Evaluate the efficiency of your business operations and consider workflow software to keep projects moving (And especially if you’re collaborating with other firms on a regular basis). But, if you suspect that you spent too much time in front of a Miro board or a Gantt chart, you’re probably right. Nothing beats pen, paper, coffee, and a face-to-face conversation to work out thorny problems. Adopting digital tools and software can enhance productivity, improve customer service, and reduce operational costs—there’s no doubt about it. But, adopting doesn’t mean assimilating with the Borg. 
  • Develop employees to retain them: Whether you employ three people or 13 people or 30 people, the key word here is “employ.” Their satisfaction and development are part of the landscape for them, just as their hard work and commitment are part of the landscape for you. Provide opportunities for skill development, training, and career advancement to boost their morale and productivity—even if that’s a quarterly outing or even a game of pickleball in the courtyard with beers. (Pro tip: don’t make it “forced-family-fun.” Make it a day that’s alluring and relaxing and that gives people options rather than obligations.) Recognize and reward outstanding performance to motivate employees, too, which is too often overlooked as a simple but effective morale booster. Why? Happier employees lead to happier workplaces, which is an added value beyond revenue you can’t afford to ignore. 

By prioritizing these key areas at the bottom of the year—and before hitting the new year— small businesses can position themselves for success.

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.

Tangential Timber creates something out of the things we usually deem nothing

Cast-off lumber is just part of the cost of doing business for the timber industry, sold for pulp, wood chips, or otherwise discarded. It’s the lemon peel nobody wants or the broccoli stem nobody seems to care for. But what if we could do something useful with timber industry waste—upwards of 55% of harvested wood that’s deemed unusable for lumber because it’s a little (or a lot) irregular, damaged, or undesirable? 

That’s the question Kyle Schumann and Katie MacDonald asked who—along with their project partners at the UVA School of Architecture, alumna Abigail Hassell, the school’s FabLab team, the UVA Sawmilling folks, and students—wanted to do something more with the stuff everyone thinks less of. That’s the idea behind their project “Tangential Timber,” which recently received an Honorable Mention in the Small Project category by AIA Virginia in its annual Honors and Awards program.

Tangential Timber started in 2021 as a research project focused on developing what After Architecture principals call “non-linear wood masonry.”

Using more of what’s around is kind of a sweet spot, research-wise, for Schumann and MacDonald, whose firm After Architecture was the subject of an Inform piece last year that focused on their award-winning project “Homegrown,” a small room constructed of walls made of invasive plants and yard waste and installed at the Knoxville Museum of Art in 2020. 

Like Tangential Timber, “Homegrown” boils sustainability and decarbonization down to two facts that are true in virtually every arena: we manufacture more than we need as global industries and we ignore a lot of what nature has to offer as a species. Resourcefulness is a good virtue and a good practice, say Schumann and MacDonald, and it’s probably a lot more scalable than we realize. Call it upcycling. Call it recycling. Call it MacGyver’ing.

Call it whatever you like. But, resourcefulness and doing more with what you have is a scalable idea that works for an architecture school just as well as a C-suite’s P&L report.

This year, Tangential Timber was recognized in AN’s Best of Design Awards, as well, put on by The Architect’s Newspaper, on the heels of last year’s R+D Award from Architect Magazine—both offering a well deserved boost to one of the most creative and principled firms in Virginia. Here’s what Schumann and MacDonald had to say about what’s quickly becoming one of the most memorable projects of the last couple of years.

You developed what you’re calling a “low-tech, parametric digital imaging workflow” to photograph and trace the cookies—or wood rounds—in 2D and then translate them into 3D models. What exactly does that mean?

KS: Why we’re doing this is we’re interested, in general, to leverage digital tools to make them easier to use across our projects. In this case we had 164 cookies used in the final construction—when you have that many pieces, if you scan them individually, there’s a lot of data there and it quickly becomes difficult to use them when you’ve got all that data in Rhino on a laptop. So, we wanted to use a lower-data way to do this. We photographed each cookie and processed the image using custom software, which automatically scales it, corrects for perspective, and extrudes it to produce a simple 3D digital model. This process means that we can work with hundreds of pieces of digitized material in the same file with ease. It’s the digital version of Incan stonework—and after the scanning process, there are different Grasshopper scripts that are run through Rhino. We modeled the vault shape to make sure it was a compression structure. We arrayed the cookies into a grid, side by side, and then used spring simulations to pull those cookies together with some overlap—a couple of inches—to produce joinery. Once we have that in 2D, we translate it back into 3D form and then make the joinery. 

“We’re also interested in the inventory of tree species being broader than what are usually selected for the production of buildings,” says After Architecture’s Katie MacDonald. “We want to broaden the definition of what’s usable or deemed appropriate for construction.”

KM: The expression of the geometry is related to how engineers have created compression structures. We were interested in how the cookie became a masonry block. As Kyle alluded to Incan structures, we also zeroed in on masonry compression structures as a precedents. Rather than thinking about stone, we thought about wood. We were looking at Heinz Isler’s hanging fabric structures as one model. 

KS: On one hand, we found that the timber industry is materially efficient—offcuts are broken down into chips and composited into things like oriented strand board. But, then, when you use formaldehyde glue, it makes it hard to deal with that material at the end of its life. So, we want to figure out how to use technologies in a new way to make these materials accessible to everyone to use, and to leverage the embodied intelligence of materials like bamboo, native grasses, and timber in a way that’s about incremental change. We see dimensional lumber as being optimized for labor, ease of construction, and codification. I think we can branch out from that with the growing complexity of computer simulations. 

“This process means that we can work with hundreds of pieces of digitized material in the same file with ease,” says After Architecture’s Kyle Schumann. “It’s the digital version of Incan stonework.”

KM: We’re also interested in the inventory of tree species being broader than what are usually selected for the production of buildings. We want to broaden the definition of what’s usable or deemed appropriate for construction. There’s an interesting split between dimensional lumber for light-frame construction and the emergence of the mass-timber market, which is about cranes.

It seems that part of architecture school for incoming students is unlearning what they know about materials so they can really understand how those materials work. How do you get students to see things the way you do?

KS: Students were involved in every step of this project, and when we teach, and we’re teaching fabrication, it’s about letting go of preconceptions about materials. We have some abstract exercises to get them to see materials they know differently. We ask them to cut and operate on a log, and they find that the geometry of a log is at odds with most of the tools we have in our woodshops. So, they have to develop tools to overcome the embedded bias that comes with common woodworking machinery.. 

Do you see this as a scalable solution, since we talked about both this project and Homegrown as prototypes?
KM: We hope this provides a transferable solution about adapting to local tree species, but also adapting to local inputs. This is about taking an inventory of material and assembling it to maximize the geometry and thickness of each piece. The vault is something we’re doing with cookies today, but it could be timber in different orientations, too.

KS: As a prototype, it’s at the far end of the local prototype spectrum. We used logs from UVA Sawmilling, so it’s a hyper-local solution in this case, but it doesn’t have to be. 

KM: Following up on Tangential Timber, we’re working on developing tools to deal with non-linear wood. Tools that allow us to respond to the varying qualities of a piece of wood rather than assuming a straight log. 

KS: With that, we’ve worked with collaborators to invent a robotic sawmill system that allows us to cut curving and twisting geometries from logs at a large scale. A lot of the work in architecture schools now is with robotic arms, often used in industrial production for cars, but far less common in the production of building products. One of our aims with working with a sawmill as our tool rather than a robotic arm is that it is something that’s deployable and something that the timber industry is already working with—increasing the chances of wide scale implementation. Tangential Timber was a fairly laborious process—time and energy and machining—so we are hoping with the new robotic sawmill to make that easier in the future. 

How do you draw others into collaboration with you?

KS: We’ve seen growing excitement in this. The annual conference of Computer-Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) just had its meeting recently, and it’s all about digital fabrication and computation and materials—and almost all of those projects have a relationship to climate. So, there’s a lot of excitement about this work and we see people doing it in various ways. One way we try to approach it is to work between a strictly technological view of the work but also valuing design, itself. That’s why we refer to our projects as prototypes. There’s a believability with something you can touch and walk into and even see in a photograph. 

KM: The last big thing to upend architectural education—or really to change architectural discourse—was the digital turn and the introduction of digital tools. Some celebrated that with smooth parametric designs. Some see BIM as the big product of that development. But, what we posit is that the biomaterial turn is going to be the next thing—or currently the thing that’s changing architectural education. We’re seeing that evolve really rapidly now. Mass timber really gave that fuel. Today, there’s a real willingness to experiment with it. We have a lot of talented people doing a lot of innovative things in this field, so we’re lucky to be in this space and get to experiment. It’s funny, even submitting to things like AIA awards, a “pavilion” is so outside of what’s commonly recognized, but it’s important to us to present it in this way and to participate in those awards programs. It’s part of the effort to highlight biomaterials and what we feel is an important evolution for architecture.

William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.

Project credits:

Tangential Timber, University of Virginia and After Architecture

Principals: Kyle Schumann (Assistant Professor, University of Virginia / Cofounder, After Architecture), Katie MacDonald AIA (Assistant Professor, University of Virginia / Cofounder, After Architecture), Abby Hassell (B.Arch ’22 University of Virginia)

Wall Prototype Students: Abby Hassell, Audrey Lewis, Jacob McLaughlin, Rohan Singh, Abbie Weissman (developed in ARCH 3021: Design Thinking Studio II: Material Cybernetics, taught by Kyle Schumann in spring 2021) 

Vault Research Assistants: Sonja Bergquist, Cecily Farrell, Alex Hall, Caleb Hassell, Dillon Mcdowell, Annabelle Woodcock. 

Funding: UVA Jefferson Trust Flash Funding Grant; UVA Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation Faculty Global Research with Undergraduates (FGRU) Grant; UVA School of Architecture Dean’s Office.

Springfield loses bid for FBI HQ to Greenbelt

The General Services Administration (GSA) confirmed this week that the new FBI headquarters will go to Greenbelt, Md., which was chosen over nearby Landover and Springfield, Va.

Inform reported on the debate back in February as lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia appealed to GSA and FBI officials one final time. The arguments were fairly simple: Springfield has easy access to Quantico and other national security facilities, not to mention Metro access; Greenbelt and Landover in Prince George’s County also has Metro access, is home to 15 federal agencies, and seems perhaps less snarled by rush hour traffic than Northern Virginia. Maryland lawmakers also made a compelling that both county sites could satisfy the FBI’s racial equity requirement, with more than 60 percent of residents identifying as African-American.

In recent years, however, the choices around weighing amenities and demography had been bogged down by political wrangling on Capitol Hill and tit-for-tat sniping across the Potomac by boosters in Fairfax and Prince George’s Counties. The ghosts of former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s administration also appeared in the press, who still felt that keeping the FBI within the District’s borders best served the agency and its workers. (The Washington Post published an excellent piece on Nov. 8 covering all of it, but you will need several hours and a big piece of paper to keep track of the factions.)

Now that the choice has been made, what will become of the jilted Virginia site? It’s anyone’s guess, but Fairfax County officials say demand for affordable rental housing for households with low- and moderate-income remains high, offering a strong highest-and-best-use case. It’s also near several behemoth employers like Amazon, Boeing, and Raytheon, not to mention the Franconia-Springfield Metro station, making the site viable for both federal agencies and peripheral private sector players. The government isn’t getting any smaller, after all, and the booming tech industry inside and outside the Beltway continues to, well, boom.

Think you have a good idea? Let Inform know. Better yet, send over a sketch. If we get enough replies, we’ll report on your great ideas.

Rolling Back the Rolling Clock: Five takes on NCARB’s gambit to improve equity in the exam

By AIA Virginia JEDI Committee

Since 2006, all candidates for Architecture licensure in the U.S. have been bound by NCARB’s Five-Year Rolling Clock, which required that all divisions of the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE) must be passed within a five-year window of the first passed division of the exam. If the window ended before all divisions were passed, test-takers had to accept that a new clock would begin from the next oldest passed division, and the first division would expire and need to be tested again.

As of April 30 of this year, the rolling clock policy is no more, replaced by NCARB’s new Score Validity policy. Previously expired divisions of the ARE 4.0 will be reinstated for consideration under the Score Validity Policy going forward after May 1, 2023.  This allows all passed divisions to remain valid through the lifecycle of the exam version they were taken under and used for a translation credit for the next version of the exam. What it means is candidates who passed ARE 4.0 divisions will be able to apply them towards the ARE 5.0 following previously established transition tables.  

Once the ARE 6.0 starts delivery, those 4.0 divisions (and any 5.0 divisions they were translated into) will expire.  As the ARE 3.1 and earlier exam divisions are already 2 versions out, they will remain expired.  Additionally, NCARB will be providing refunds to candidates who have an exam appointment scheduled or have purchased exam seat credits that they will no longer need due to this policy change.  Finally, NCARB has promised to provide at least 18 months’ notice before transitioning from ARE 5.0 to ARE 6.0.

Here’s the bigger picture:

It is important to note that while NCARB is changing their policy, Virginia’s Department of Professional and Occupation Regulation’s Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, Certified Interior Designers and Landscape Architects (APELSCIDLA) still has its own timeline specific requirements.  To be eligible to sit for any division of the ARE, candidates for licensure through Virginia must have an active eligibility.  This eligibility period is a three-year window and starts when your application to test is approved.  Candidates who do not pass all the divisions within that window can apply to be made eligible again.  Under the current rules this must be done within 6 months of their eligibility expiring, and at least one division must have been attempted during the expired three-year window.  All candidates who need an extension on their eligibility must file a new Architect License Application.  If one or more of these requirements is not met candidates can still apply to reinstate their eligibility but will also be required to provide new references in addition to the application form.  It is important to note that having a lapsed eligibility does not impact the validity of a candidate’s previously passed exams; what it does do is prohibit them from making an appointment to sit for any new divisions.

Here’s why NCARB hopes it will improve equity and inclusion:

NCARB has stated that their policy change is a direct result of their efforts to combat unconscious bias in the licensing process. A review of their data showed that the Five-Year Rolling Clock was disproportionately impacting women and people of color, who additionally already had lower exam success rates. As members of AIA Virginia’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee, we applaud this move by NCARB to help remove structural bias in our profession.  Additionally, we call on our state board to review our current three-year eligibility policy to confirm that it does not put an undue burden on women and people of color.

Here’s what people are saying about it:

We asked around to see if these changes were welcomed (they were, we found), but also to see what impact will be on a emerging professionals and professionals, which our respondents said, are distinctions that conceal a much greater degree of diversity and a more complex reading of career “stages.” Our respondents illustrate that people of color and women have most definitely been impacted by the previous Rolling Clock requirement regarding their progress through the ARE. They made some other good points, too, about barriers of licensure in general for individuals who are candidates sometimes engaged in a second career, or who are parents, or who are entering the workforce with lower pay and/or higher student loan balances than previous generations, or whose first language might not be English at all.

To better understand how NCARB’s rolling clock has had an impact on our profession here is what four individuals said, which we’ve anonymized for their benefit by assigning numbers, but it’s a group that includes Connie Owens, RA, Brian Gore, Amina Oulmi, and Linda Coile, RA.

What has your experience going through the ARE process been like?

  1. My experience started when I decided to embrace Architecture again after being away for many years. The most challenging part was trying to gain more experience and improve my skills along with taking care of my kids. Finding the right time and dealing with the anxiety of brutal exams while trying to have a balanced life has been a big challenge.
  2. It’s been long and tiring!  I’m finally down to my last few exams, but it has been a STRUGGLE getting here. 
  3. My husband and I completed our M.Arch. at the same time but he began working in the field before I did and therefore had more IDP hours completed before me.  We decided he should do his ARE first. We  had some overlap in studying and test taking because we wanted to start a family after waiting four years. I began studying and took my first test on Aug. 1, 2014 (I also passed the CDT exam four months earlier). I wish I’d started my ARE’s prior to starting a family and I tell every young woman in architecture that: finish before you think of having a family.  I do think it’s easier now, as candidates are allowed to test early before finishing the AXP hours, but that was a new thing when my husband and I were starting our IDP/ARE, and we weren’t aware of that advantage.  I started under 4.0 and then it switched to 5.0 midstream.  I ended up taking a total of eight tests, two of which I failed, so a total of six to pass.
  4. So far, I’ve had to squeeze study time in between project deadlines and workloads from week to week.

How has the rolling clock affected you?

  1. It added a lot of stress and made me think about not proceeding because of fear of hitting that time deadline!
  2. It’s added a lot of extra pressure. Juggling work, life, and studying is hard enough without having, what has felt like, an arbitrary looming deadline over my head the whole time.  One of my exams was about to expire at the end of this year, so it was a relief to hear it was being retired.  Obviously, I don’t want to be testing forever, but it’s nice to know that I can now do it at whatever pace works for me.
  3. Having three kids derailed my testing and while I was grateful for the six-month extension for each new child, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic and the extensions everyone received, I would NOT have made it!  Six months is kind of laughable to think that a new mother would be ready to jump back into studying, when she’s probably just jumped back into the workforce too.
  4. The rolling clock has not affected me personally, as I have recently started the examination.

How has the Virginia 3-year timeline affected you?

  1. I am not affected yet since I am still taking tests.
  2. It’s also added pressure that feels unnecessary, especially since it was out-of-sync with NCARB’s rolling clock and costs money and time to renew if it lapses.  I don’t know the origins of the three-year timeline, but it isn’t clear why this needs to exist at all.
  3. I had to reapply multiple times, and during the pandemic it fell off my radar and I ended up having to fully re-up instead of just renewing. It also oddly doesn’t align with the rolling clock or ARE’s timeline.
  4. It has not affected me yet.

How long has this process taken you, whether you have completed it or not?

  1. This is my third year.
  2. 6 years.
  3. It took me eight years, with three kiddos and a pandemic, and I finished the last one 10 days before my first exam was set to expire on the rolling clock.  I signed up for Amber Book when I only had two tests left, the PPD & PDD beasts, with two months to go before that test expired.  I finished their content within 1 month and took the tests two weeks apart!  My husband took care of the family and I basically had to ignore them all for that time to actually get it done.  The only good thing about the rolling clock is that it lit a fire under me that I needed. However, it only really worked because that summer was the first time in nearly eight years (besides a six-month period when I had a one-year-old and a three-year-old) that I hadn’t been pregnant or nursing/pumping, there was no pandemic, and/or my kids were on longer hours at summer care giving me time to actually study.
  4. I have been in this process for about seven months.

Has this process affected you in your role at your office?

  1. I am fortunate to work in a healthy office atmosphere without pressure, who value my input and expertise despite the licensure status.
  2. It doesn’t seem like it’s affected my role in a significant way (I can’t say for sure), but it has held me back from larger pay increases.
  3. My boss was very understanding and supported my taking time to study when I didn’t have kids underfoot and making up hours at odd times.
  4. It hasn’t affected my role in the office, but it has affected my personal life and how much time I have to do anything outside of my job-related duties/activities.

How many years of professional architectural experience do you have?

  1. 8 Years.
  2. 8 Years.
  3. 14 years
  4. Going on 3 years of experience.

Do you identify as a minority group?  Which group or groups do you identify with?

  1. Women and ESL
  2. Yes, I’m a Black woman.
  3. The only minority group I identify with is as a mother practicing architecture, and a mother of young children at that. Many mothers stop practicing architecture while their kids are young and come back later, but I’ve been told it can be difficult to get back in, so many move on to other things.  A mother of young children is a very underrepresented group in architecture.
  4. Yes, African American and male.

Were you aware of the variety of resources available to you?  

  1. Not really
  2. I knew about study resources through my office and colleagues who had recently passed or were taking their exams but didn’t know much about mentoring when I first started testing. I’ve recently found a mentor through another organization who has been really supportive and encouraging as I get through testing.
  3. I had study guides provided by my office, and the ability to talk to colleagues who had recently taken their exams but I don’t think I was aware of other resources.  But, if I had known about it, I’m not sure I would or could have taken advantage of it.  
  4. Yes, whether provided by my job or elsewhere.

Did you have access to mentoring and support, and how did it look?  

  1. Yes, but not in a formal way.
  2. I’ve recently found a mentor through another organization who has been really supportive and encouraging as I get through testing.
  3. Mentoring and study groups always sound nice but it’s one more thing to put on someone’s plate.  Work, parenting, possibly nursing, studying, and now fitting in mentoring, it’s enough to mentally break anyone.  
  4. Yes

Was the mentoring and support through your firm or another organization?

  1. AIA, Young Architect Bootcamp and friends. 
  2. Structured mentoring through another organization.
  3. It was through my firm. My firm has a Teams channel focused on ARE support and resources. I can also rely on coworkers who have recently gone through, or currently going through the process for any I need.

What would help or would have helped you achieve your goals more easily?

  1. Well organized and accessible resources, study groups and psychological support.
  2. If I’m being honest, reduced work hours would be extremely helpful.  It’s difficult working 8-9 hours a day (sometimes more for deadlines), studying for at least a couple of hours a day, and keeping up with everything else (sleep, groceries, housework, exercise, etc.). I know it’s wishful thinking, but finding the time to study consistently has been the biggest hurdle for me.
  3. Being able to push pause on the rolling clock would have helped.  Longer breaks during testing for a nursing mother. Those breaks are very short for a mother who has to pump and then jump back into the test on time. 6 months credit on the rolling clock for a new birth is laughable, 1 year minimum is when it actually might be helpful.
  4. I think that even with the rolling clock being removed, the cost of the exams and the cost of materials and resources are outrageous. I would’ve started the examination process a lot sooner if the cost wasn’t so great. I think the next task is to tackle the high cost of the ARE.