Struggling with AIA Portland

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Struggling with AIA Portland  

After years of volunteering with, supporting, and being a member of AIA Portland, we have recently ended our relationship. Before I discuss my frustration here in Portland Oregon, I would like to clarify what my mission and values are.

Where Did Young Architect Come From?

Young Architect was born when I (Michael Riscica) completed the architect registration exam and became a Licensed Architect.

After spending years of obtaining my license, which is a very uncreative pursuit and feeling mentally fried. I began YoungArchitect.com as a creative pursuit for myself and a place to express myself and opinions about the architecture profession in a place where, no one could limit my creativity.

All the content is for Students, Emerging Professionals, ARE Candidates, and people considering an architecture career. It contains real-world practical information, which I often learned the hard way.

What Do I Believe?

I believe the process of becoming an architect is not the straightforward path that most people are led to think it is.

I believe there is a severe lack of support, good advice, and realistic information—from the moment students graduate from architecture school until the instant they become a Licensed Architect. Many people flounder for years, and most never actually become a licensed architect.

I believe the purpose of architecture school is to teach you how to design and how to solve problems.

I believe that it’s the responsibility of the profession and licensing to teach you how to practice architecture in this complicated world

I believe the Profession of Architecture struggles with acknowledging, guiding, and connecting with the younger generations who are in line to inherit the profession.

I believe there is a lot of unrealistic information available about how much work the Architect Registration Exam really is, including the commitment involved in completing the process. I personally felt like I had been lied to when I finally reached the finish line, while watching hundreds of people who wanted to become a licensed architect, start testing and never finish.

I believe the profession of architecture is about to change more in the next 20 years than it has in the past century.

What Am I Doing?

My goal is to create a less bumpy path for those behind me and help create more Licensed Architects.

When I started to share my story about getting through architecture school, becoming licensed, and starting my own architecture business, many people begged me to keep blogging about these topics. Apparently, very few people were discussing the challenges of being a Young Architect.

Young Architect has created many opportunities for me, and it’s allowed me to connect with industry leaders and organizations all over the world in a serious way. They’re working very hard to support and empower the future of the profession. I’m honored to be a part of this movement.

What Is My Business Philosophy?

I am a self-employed Architect, and I earn the bulk of my income through practicing architecture. I am not a writer, internet marketer, or outsider preying on the architecture industry to make a quick dollar.

I believe in entrepreneurship, and I won’t accept the idea of the Architect as a Starving Artist. I do not work for free, so someone else can profit from my work—nor should you.

I strongly believe in volunteering, doing pro-bono work, giving unconditionally, using my hard-earned money and influence to help causes I care deeply about.

YoungArchitect.com has published hundreds of thousands of words about how to be more successful in architecture—all available for free. Then I gave my audience the opportunity to support and repay me.

I earn a portion of my income through my book How To Pass the Architect Registration Exam and my successful program The ARE Boot Camp. Helping people be successful with this ARE stuff, has been the most rewarding way I have ever earned money. It was never my plan, it happened organically. Even though I have a business that helps create Licensed Architects, I am completely disgusted with the bullying I see taking place around the topic of architectural licensing.

Giving unconditionally and helping Young Architects succeed has always been at the forefront of what I do, long before I have tried to make money. Since my business philosophy focuses on giving value FIRST, I’ve done pretty well each time I’ve created a product for my audience. And they’ve always asked for more.

My Problems with AIA Portland

In the past 2 years, I have volunteered my time to give 6 lectures about the Architect Registration Exam. I spend about 8 hours researching, creating, and delivering each one of these lectures. I diligently work on all my lectures, and I do it because I care deeply about the architecture community here in Portland, Oregon.

They charge $25 for the ARE Lecture series and AIA Portland has never paid me or compensated me—except once. The organizer sent me a thank you note with a $20 Starbucks gift card, that person is long gone from being involved.

24 hours before my last lecture, AIA Portland’s Executive Director (Robert Hoffman) called me and insisted that I do not use my lecture to market my products or services. I agreed with him and reminded him that I have never done that.

He started to recite the rules that Window Representatives have to follow when they speak to a roomful of Architects for AIA Continuing Education classes.

He claims that since Young Architect is a business, allowing me to speak about how to study for the Construction Documents and Services exam creates a conflict of interests. He explained that I am forbidden from mentioning YoungArchitect.com, even if the information I am discussing is available for free. He said that if I break the rules again, he will use my situation to create a case study for others to learn from.

I got annoyed and said, “I’m not trying to sell windows. I’m trying to create more Licensed Architects, AIA members, and AIA Portland Members.

I told him to just cancel my lecture that many people had already paid for. But his tone changed and he insisted I should still give my lecture, but be careful not to use it as a marketing opportunity. He also wanted me to put a disclaimer at the beginning of my lecture about how AIA Portland does not support or endorse anything related to YoungArchitect.com.

He has never attended any of my lectures. And he hasn’t stopped insisting that I used my speaking engagements at AIA Portland to market my products and services.

Last week, AIA Portland sent me a letter (on AIA letterhead). Which stated that I have been inappropriately using my lectures and AIA Portland’s Emerging Professionals Facebook Group to market my products and services. However, I have never done that either.

I posted about a scholarship, an architecture Christmas networking party, and an event I am hosting at my office to discuss the ARE. All of it was 100% about offering value and building community here in Portland. Meanwhile, many other people have actively used this Facebook group to blatantly market and sell products.

I later learned that he was looking at my personal Facebook page and thought it was the AIA Portland Emerging Professionals Facebook Group. Then he quickly fired off his letter to me without discussing it with anyone.

The leaders of the Emerging Professionals Committee became very concerned and involved. They had the words “AIA Portland” removed from the Facebook group’s name. Making this change now allows everyone to use this group to post about anything relevant to architecture in Portland, and NOT exclusively for AIA Portland Only business.

This action allowed the AIA Portland leaders to stop feeling like they needed to censor everything being posted in the Emerging Professionals Group with a biased unwritten set of rules.

It’s Embarrassing.

This drama is silly, including the willingness of AIA Portland to fabricate a reason to shush me and shut me out. I pay $600 a year to be a full-fledged member of the American Institute of Architects.

It was naïve of me to think I could post on the AIA Portland social media page about architecture community building events happening locally here in Portland.

I’ll go away, just like they asked me to. I’ll find other ways to build community here in Portland, and find another AIA Chapter that likes and supports me. AIA Portland will not receive my local membership dues in 2017, another chapter will.

What’s more upsetting is that AIA Portland has a history of not supporting their Emerging Professionals.

Here are some other problems that AIA Portland has had with Emerging Professionals over the past few years:

  • AIA Portland has recently decided to discontinue the Intern Friendly Firm program. This program acknowledges firms who are actively supporting their junior staff through AXP and becoming licensed. What’s even more frustrating is that the leaders had no idea the program existed—or how successful it was.  Without any input from the Emerging Professional Committee who manages it, they have decided to just eliminate this program all together. Several Principals of large firms are also very concerned about this decision.
  • About a year ago, a very successful, active Emerging Professional (on the board) disagreed with the one sided opinion that “licensing is the only path to success in architecture.” and posted about it on his personal Facebook page. His viewpoint caused him to be effectively pushed off the board, and he was “asked to step down” from his position.
  • Someone else tried to organize an open casual discussion for students about what happens after graduation, including what the options are and what licensure entails. The Executive Director immediately saw this action as threatening and was baffled why anyone would entertain a discussion about not pursuing licensure, meanwhile most architecture graduates do not pursue it. He insisted that this discussion either cease, or that the title be changed to “The Practice of Architecture: Why Licensure is Required.”
  • Every year, the AIA Portland Awards event receives a lot of criticism from Young Architects in Portland. They have an Intern of the Year award, but that is the only recognition for one person with no other opportunities to recognize younger people doing great work. There are no categories for unbuilt work, competition work, or Architects who are licensed under 10 years.  Several people have started organizing a separate Non-AIA Portland Architecture Awards to recognize all the people who are being excluded from the AIA Portland Awards.
  • Last year, AIA Portland spent significant time, money, and energy creating an art exhibition for an international architecture firm. This project was completely mismanaged, over budget, and behind schedule—causing several programs and lectures (that could earn money for the AIA) to be canceled or disrupted. Many members were frustrated by this disruption.
  • AIA Portland has their arms tied behind their backs with repaying the loan from a renovation they did to their building 10 years ago, a building they don’t even own. AIA Portland Leaders have shown zero interest in serving their members, building community, or furthering the profession—UNLESS they can make a profit from it. While I support AIA Portland with repaying their loan, they have focused too much on running it like a business—at the expense of providing value to their members, ESPECIALLY the younger members of AIA Portland.
  • The good people on the Emerging Professional Committee are spending all their energy being distracted with challenges created by the leaders of AIA Portland, rather than being productive. There are many more frustrating situations that I could keep discussing, but instead I’ll just stop.

To be fair, a positive thing I will say about AIA Portland is they did recently establish a $1,000 scholarship each year to help subsidize the expense of taking the ARE.

I also must state that my struggles with AIA Portland is with the Leaders, Decision Makers and primarily the Executive Director. There are many wonderful individuals involved with AIA Portland whom have been fantastic Mentors, advocates and supporters of Emerging Professionals.

My Faith in the AIA as an Organization

Oddly, I still believe in and support the AIA.

The most interesting outcome of the growth of Young Architect is that I’ve suddenly felt embraced and deeply connected with a very powerful community of people. They’re all doing amazing things to empower and support Emerging Professionals and the Young Architect community all over the world.

I’m referring to:

  • Many AIA Chapters Across America and AIA National
  • The National Associates Committee
  • The AIAS
  • The Young Architects Forum
  • NCARB
  • The Publishers of ARE Prep materials
  • Architizer
  • Equity by Design
  • Various Architecture Schools
  • #ArchiTalks Bloggers
  • Social Media Friends
  • Various AIA Committees
  • and many Individuals who do not fall into the categories listed above.

All of these groups and individuals have become my peers. I support them, and they certainly have supported me.

I feel like I am in a unique position. By creating YoungArchitect.com, I’m able to see all the beautiful things they’re doing to help move the profession of architecture in the right direction.  And I see it every day in my social media feeds.

It’s the people, not the AIA. The AIA is a platform and a channel, which has brought all these people together. And many of them are operating through it. The people are (and always will be) the lifeblood of the AIA. Seeing the work these people are doing—and being connected to this community—has been powerfully inspiring.

Building relationships through YoungArchitect.com and seeing the AIA do good work all over America keeps me inspired and supportive.

While I disagree with what’s happening in Portland Oregon, I am still very proud to be an AIA Member and being a part of this global Young Architect community.

What do you think?

Lots of people have already started commenting and sending me many messages about this blog post.

Please post your comments and feedback in the comments section below, rather then on social media. Social media comments are great, but unfortunately it has a very short lifespan.

About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

ex AIA - December 27, 2016

Like the nasty election. I think AIA is from a different era or AIA is just the ESTABLISMENT that only protecting the giant and established firms.
Most young architects do not have a clue on how to write a contract or charge for a small project. That is one reason the pay is low for everyone may except the top 1% in the field.
You did a great job !!!

I left AIA long ago.

Michele Grace Hottel - December 27, 2016

Michael, I think I touched on this a little through an #architalks email, as I have not been a AIA member, since the year after I got licensed, primarily because of the expense of being a member and a firm owner, which at the time, 1995, AIA Los Angeles Was $800/year and as a new mother that was really the last thing I wanted to spend money on. For the record, when I visit the AIA San Diego office to purchase AIA documents, the Director always asks me if I want to join and I politely say, “not at this time, thank you”. I do believe that the AIA is political but not in the way I believe the organization should be political. Several years ago, the AIA was pushing the California Architects Board pretty hard about the CA Supplemental Exam, saying that it was too hard and that it was an oral exam and was discriminating against people who could not pass it that type of exam, thereby not getting the dues that licensed architects would be paying (this has been proven not to be the case because the passing rate remains the same statistically). And I have said, what is the incentive for people to pay 800-1000/year to basically be in a club? I enjoy blogging with #architalks and I went to the AIA San Diego design awards and told the incoming head of the board that if they could convince me to join maybe I would, until then I remain on the outside of “the club”.

    Michael Riscica - December 28, 2016

    I agree. The AIA on all levels doesn’t do a great job with providing reasons why anyone should be a member. My personal reason for being an AIA Member is the people. There are a lot of amazing people doing great stuff around America. The AIA has helped me connect with those people. The work they (the individuals) are doing is what makes the AIA an amazing organization. Unfortunately people with passion and who want to better the future of Architecture are being scolded and silenced here in Portland, Oregon.

Han-Mei Chiang - December 27, 2016

Hi Michael,

I completely understand your frustrations. As a member of AIAPortland and a volunteer on the Board, I’m sorry you feel this way.

I think many lose sight of the AIA Code of Ethics. The second Canon is “Obligations to the Public” and goes into many items but the one that hits home is “Members making public statements on architectural issues shall disclose when they are being compensated for making such statements or when they have an economic interest in the issue.”

I don’t mean to get all official, but there’s a fine balance to the above statement. As a millennial, we are the future and it’d be great to continue this conversation with you further.

Thanks,
HM

    Michael Riscica - December 27, 2016

    Han-Mei,
    I have always been forthcoming and have never tried to hide the fact I have a business that creates Licensed Architects. All the volunteer work I have done for AIA Portland is very far removed from creating a financial gain for myself.
    -Michael Riscica

J. H. - December 27, 2016

Michael,

Love your stuff. I am a 35-year-old who left a 15 yr career in landscape design and am in my second year of arch school. Your blog has been helpful to say the least.

I feel change is in the air in general. The older architects already had a culture shock when BIM, Sketchup, etc became the norm. I work in an office even now as a student, and I can tell you from first-hand experience talking with older architects that many of them are fearful that they are quickly becoming irrelevent. There is a real fear of the future. In their time, the internet and social media did not exist. Young architects did not have a voice, or a platform for sharing ideas. Young architects sat down at their desks, kept their heads down, and maybe after 15-20yrs would get a chance to be heard. (I am paraphrasing statements said directly to me)

I would bet that fear is behind your experience with your AIA chapter. I also believe that in 20 years, licensure will look nothing like what we know it to be now. After all- it used to be that you had to go to a university to gain collected knowledge. Now we have the internet, and the individual is empowered like no time in human history.

Keep up what you’re doing. And in the words of Taylor Swift- “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…”

-J. AIAS

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