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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

I’ve seen glimpses of the future….and I can’t wait to see it arrive!

By Renée Cheng, FAIA, Professor and Director of the MS in Research Practices, University of Minnesota

Imagine a building industry that is lean, efficient and widely recognized for its valuable contributions to society. This industry would use research to identify and build upon best practices to create a more effective built environment. In this ideal future, leaders are diverse, so the industry reaps the benefit of creativity and innovation that comes from diversity while also reflecting the demographics of the communities it serves. This future will only be possible if we establish a vibrant culture of research and increase the number of women and people of color leading the industry. Over time, a long time, global population change may address the demographic issue, but we prefer not to wait.

At the University of Minnesota, we have developed the only program in the country that combines research, leadership and professional  licensure. Students conduct research projects that connect faculty and firm leaders, and along the way architecture students earn their license before graduating,shortening the time to license after graduation with a professional degree from an average of 7.6 years to 1 year. The Masters of Science in Architecture with a concentration in Research Practices (MSRP) is a three semester program that provides graduates of B. Arch and M. Arch programs with a structured path to licensure. The MSRP program has created the Consortium for Research practices, a group of AEC firms dedicated to pursuing new research and ideas. In addition to coursework on research methods and analysis, students within the program spend 25 hours a week working with a host firm from within the consortium and a faculty mentor to tackle a research topic, and the research is then shared with the entire consortium. Since the research is practice-based, the hours meet AXP requirements. Students’ AXP progress is complemented with coursework covering topics related to the ARE exams and students complete all exams during the academic program.

After four years of running the MSRP, we realised its greatest value to the profession is not licensure. The program’s largest impact is how it identifies future leaders and gives them opportunities to succeed. Students contribute to their firms by addressing emerging areas that are typically unexplored in traditional practice. Anecdotally, we have heard that our graduates receive responsibilities typically given to those who graduated five years before them. This suggests that, if a typical trajectory brings a graduate to partnership in 10-15 years, MSRP graduates could reach partnership in 5-10 years. We understand that if our graduates are predominantly women and people currently underrepresented in our industry, our program’s accelerated path to firm leadership could help change the face of the architectural profession, pushing it to look significantly more like the diversity of the communities we serve. For this reason, we have prioritized recruiting a diverse student body. Currently, our small cohort is 80% women of color.

Equity by Design’s research findings indicate that connection to senior leaders is one of the most important predictors of various attributes of success early in one’s career. MSRP students directly collaborate with senior partners and faculty experts on projects that typically focus on areas of innovation and emerging practices. From this work, students are not only networked into leadership circles, but also have the opportunity to demonstrate expertise in ways most interns are never asked to do. We believe students are capable of far more than we ask them to do in a traditional professional setting. This program provides the opportunity for students to shine.

Many strategic plans for firms and schools set goals to increase diversity and change demographics, but as the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” There is no easy way to achieve these goals because it’s not about changing numbers but changing culture. Culture change is hard but can be achieved with big goals and small steps. We’ve started to see this with the firms that are part of the Consortium for Research Practices, the essential base to the MSRP program. Some have developed internal interdisciplinary groups to identify research priorities, others adapted their previous practices to include more research in more areas. We’ve also seen firms shift how they communicate internally and externally about research and the work of the students.

Our program is new and growing, so measuring our broader impact is yet to come, but we believe that we provide a model linking practice with academy in order to change the culture of the industry through small projects that lead to massive change. We are impatient for the future of our industry and are doing everything we can to accelerate its arrival.

For more information about MSRP see <>. We have full fellowships to award by April 15; to nominate a student who has graduated or will be graduating with a B.Arch or M.Arch professional degree, please email Associate Director Andrea J. Johnson, <>

About our guest blog writer - 

Renée Cheng, FAIA

Professor, Associate Dean for Research and Engagement, University of Minnesota.  

Renée Cheng is a nationally renowned Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Minnesota.  Educated at Harvard College and Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cheng has been recognized for education excellence with numerous teaching awards at the school, state and national level. Most recently, Cheng was twice honored as one of the top 25 most admired design educators in the United States by Design Intelligence.  She led a team of faculty from the University of Minnesota who won the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Education Honor Award for a transformative professional curriculum and developed a professional practice course, Building Stories, that won the first Practice Leadership Award from AIA and ACSA. Cheng served as 2009 President of AIA Minnesota and is a former member of AIA National Board advisory group on Integrated Practice (IPDiG) and the AIA National Board Knowledge Committee, AIA Center for Integrated Practice and currently AIA Culture Collective leading a group on Firm Culture.

I make (a change)

by Jame Anderson, AIA

When invited to write a post about my “return to architecture”, my first thought was “What was this ‘Architecture’ that I had left?”  I pondered all of the ways I could describe this decision, anything I could share with others, and I started performing an epic Tina Fey eye roll.  Who would want to hear this?  It sounds like a cheesy self-help book or one of those posters in the breakroom of The Office.

Jame Anderson worked as an Architect at the National Gallery of Art for over a decade before returning to a private architecture practice.&nbsp;

Jame Anderson worked as an Architect at the National Gallery of Art for over a decade before returning to a private architecture practice. 

So, let's embrace the cheese…

Everyone wants to believe in themselves, that they have an internal source of power.  It’s the stuff of super-hero movies, and Star Wars (admit it, you tried to move stuff by concentrating on it too).  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m drawn to down-and-out characters saving themselves and others, fighting free.  As an audience, we are totally sucked in by this stuff.  It is a lot more dramatic than seemingly happy people making a change.  Where’s the drama in that?  

In December, I left my position as an Architect at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) to return to private architecture practice at SmithGroupJJR, a company for which I’d worked prior to my 13 years at the NGA.  I was in an absolutely beautiful place, I loved my work and my colleagues at the Gallery.  I was surrounded by the most amazing objects in the world, and felt a sense of fulfillment and a touch of pride in making the Nation’s Collection shine.  I had great federal benefits, a wonderful schedule, and solid, stable pay.  My work was fulfilling, detailed, and my colleagues were driven.  

Sure, there was this lazy person over here, or that crappy office relationship over there, but I typically try not to let those things make my big life decisions for me.  Complaining about the day-to-day, or “sweating the small stuff” was not a part of the decision.  Besides, every workplace has that.  My decision was not about any of those factors.  My decision was about deciding to alter my path. 

This is not a tell-all, nor is it a list of observations of my new job.  This is about the moment of decision.

Changing jobs is not that big of a deal for some people.  For me, this was a pretty big thing.  

You may remember my last post, from January 2015.  I spoke about labels, titles, and life-work. 

Perhaps this was the first step in my “transformation”.  I felt that I was ready to put to greater use the skills I had honed in the field since I walked into my first museum internship at the age of 19. I was beginning to get a bit antsy.  Maybe that Scarlet Letter that some of us try to avoid – Ambition – had something to do with it.  Or, perhaps this disquiet came from not having that next step solidified in front of me: there were clouds at what looked like the top of the ladder.  In order to get to the bottom of this feeling of uncertainty, I started asking questions.

I talked to a lot of people: to mentors, to people who had jobs I could envision myself having, to those who had jobs I’d never want.  Things began to solidify.  I attended the AIA WLS Conference in Seattle and met amazing people, and I sat at a lunch table called “Taking Risks,” although I’m not quite sure why I chose that table… maybe the title was direct and short enough for me. Maybe I felt that I wasn’t taking enough of those.  I listened… really listened.  And I discovered that we are all searching for a place where we feel important, utilized, and a place where we are comfortable and can contribute… and lead.

All of this talking led me to discover that it was time for a change.  But, who wants to move, change jobs, find a new relationship?  It’s easier to do what we know, especially if we’re good at it.  But sometimes, we need to realize that the desire to move on, to do something different, to ‘go boldly where no man has gone before’ is just as human as the desire to stay put, and feel safe.

What was I doing?  I had one of the coolest jobs, EVER!  At parties, people’s eyes widened when I told them what I did for a living.  Visions of Night at the Museum and of the those Mixed-Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler danced in their heads.  They can be magical places, right?  My daughter, I’m convinced, thought I was working in some fairy tale.  I had been to architecture school with the Gallery as THE goal….but what do you do when you get what you want in the middle of your career?  Sit still?  Camp out?  The more I became an expert, the easier things got.  Perhaps that was it.  I have a great fear of complacency, which is very different than boredom.  My work has never been boring, or easy. But in closing my mascaraed eyes, I took a deep breath and imagined… what would the Shonda Rhimes show of my life look like if I could “design it?”

It wasn’t that the museum was “wrong”.  I was ready for a different path…my own yellow brick road.   Journeys teach us something.  This time, I’m on my own terms:  I’ve picked my specialty,  I have a ton of knowledge many don’t, I’m confident in what I can do, and I’m confident I’ll pick up on the stuff I have no idea how to do.

I want to do more, I think I can, I will.

I was concerned, frankly, about some people’s reactions to my decision.  It takes a lot to get over what you may think other people’s expectations of you are.  I worried a little.  The reaction that had the most impact was my daughter’s. Change and suspense are not thrills for her and we had a fascinating series of conversations about it (which might be yet another post).  I was able to tell her that there was no boogie-man in the office and that she could visit the museum any time.  I think she understood.

You see, support matters.  There is absolutely no way I could do the things I’ve been able to do throughout my life without it.  I’m talking support in the form of a spouse that knows that my work and how I spend my time away from my family is one of my personifiers that makes me ME, in mentors who simply listen and then at times offer suggestions, in friends who give hugs and order champagne when they hear my good news, in parents who made sure I had the most fantastic art teacher they could find, in professors who were direct and supportive, in bosses that hired me for my potential, in a child that gives me hugs and looks up to me as if i am the most impressive thing in the world.  

You have to find support somewhere. You can't isolate yourself, and you can't do it all by yourself.

I’ve been surprised by the responses I’ve received about my “transformation.”  I've heard a lot from folks.  There have been some "Wows", the normal "Congratulations" from others, and the "What about your benefits?" from those who think I'm nuts.  Then, from most architects, an immediate commentary on how difficult my new life will be due to the pace of things, as if there's a secret I don't know.

But I try not to take it as patronizing.  There have been countless articles about women in the workplace that Leaned Back… that selected what's called a slower track or slower paced professions, took time away during their child-bearing and raising years.  I think it’s unfortunate to see choices through these do/don’t filters.  Nevertheless, I didn’t Lean Back, I did exactly what I set out to do when I enrolled in architecture school in the first place: work in a museum designing things.  I tried to be as smart as I could about my career, work in a firm to follow through on my education, and get licensed. It wasn’t for another 5 years that I had my kid. I feel lucky to have been able to do it that way… get ME done first before dealing with mini-ME.

Timing sometimes works, things sometimes fall into place.  But sometimes, you have to do some leaning.

Back to Architecture… this fictional place I left. Now, I can say I’m an Architect with no one asking me what I mean without the addition of the words Exhibit Designer.  Does that matter? People seem to need very cut and dry terms.  People also have a lot of crazy ideas about what an architect is or does… I’m not walking around with a blueprints, although I do still wear a lot of black.  But I don’t allow others to define me.  I am an architect, and I have been one, for quite a while. Now, I hope I am in a place where I can make spaces and containers for beautiful works of art, and also build buildings again, while I look at the greater whole. My experiences are not two separate pieces, they are part of me.

I want both, you see.  Will I get it? Who knows, but there is only one way to find out.

OK, the first month has been weird… honestly… and yet, exhilarating.  I have this headset at my desk and no actual phone (which makes me feel like Brittany Spears or Tom Cruise a la Magnolia).  Not that we used rotary phones at the museum, but you get what I mean.  Then there’s the culture, and the notions of money (profit vs. non-profit) which are quite new.  Most days my new colleagues say things to me and I stare back at them blankly.  Every trade and office carries its own language around, its lingo, its series of acronyms that one has to decipher.  Architects especially are known for their, wait, our, made up words.

I went on my first project interview this week.  It was peculiar not being on the client side of the table.  I felt very “nervicited” (a word from my daughter)  But, feeling uneasy is something I asked for.  Honestly, I question myself too, just like anyone.  Will I succeed? Can I contribute enough?  Will I be good at this again?  It all creeps in.  But I’ve learned to let it go.  No one has all the answers, no one can do it all, and no one is better than you, they are just different.  I just keep reminding myself that I have a ton of knowledge many don’t.  I’m confident in what I can do.  I’m confident I’ll pick up on the stuff I have no idea how to do.

I want to do more, I think I can, I will.  (But I've been here for like 3 months… talk to me in about 6 more.)

In writing this I began to wonder who reads the Inspire blogs? Who are you, reader? If you are mid way through your career, are you keeping up the good fight?  If you are in the beginnings of your life as an architect, or are contemplating a career as one, I’ll leave the cheese and get down to those brass tacks…


Here it is… the unsolicited advice…ready? 

Get licensed.  

Look at it like brushing your teeth… it’s something you have to do. If you never use it that’s another matter entirely. Just get it, and you will have it.

I would not have been at the level I was outside of the profession without this credential. I would not have had any choices in a return to an architecture firm without it.

So many of the other things that affect diversity in practice are non-tangible and seemingly out of our reach. This one is very cut and dry.  It is hard, it is annoying, but it is doable and quantifiable. So, make a plan and follow through. Life gets in the way and always will. I get it.

You can fix it.

Get your license.

Don’t go missing.

Then, go through whatever process you need to in order to figure out what you WANT to do.  Write it all down, talk to folks, imagine your future, go see a fortune teller… whatever.  Design it.  But keep it short, succinct.  Don't get stuck in that planning stage forever… in the time it has taken you to read this long rambling post, you could've gone online and signed up for the exam.  I realize this simplifies everything, but seriously… there is no try there is only do.

Just Do it.

Early Bird Registration for #AIACon15 ENDS Wednesday, March 23rd

Curious about joining the most innovative workshop at AIA National Convention in Philadelphia?

Licensure -Just Do It!

by Sharon Portnoy

Sharon Portnoy is a licensed architect in California and New York and is currently a Principal Consultant at Breuer Consulting Group, which specializes in executive search for the built environment.

To be honest, I never paid much attention to the “debate” about licensure in Architecture. It’s been in the air since, well, forever, and I never gave it much thought for several reasons. For me, licensure seemed the logical next step after years of rigorous training in school and “paying my dues” as an intern. Perhaps because I was an English major in college before going on to get my M.Arch., I craved the validation of being an Architect with a capital “A”. But beyond my personal experience, we are a profession that has, first and foremost, an obligation to ensure public comfort and safety. No matter how visionary and innovative our buildings are, people need to get out of them safely if there’s a fire. Sophisticated design and the poetic use of materials mean nothing if the building is not universally accessible. And as compelling as that transparent façade looks in the rendering, if heat gain and shear strength aren’t figured into the equation, a hot summer day or earthquake could make the spaces beyond it uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst.

Architects complain a lot about how little recognition and respect we get from the public. In my mind, what licensure says to the world is that we don’t just draw pretty pictures. We are well-versed and competent in the business of making buildings that are safe, accessible and efficient. I would not go to a doctor who hasn’t passed her medical boards; why would a client choose an architect who hasn’t displayed at least basic competence in areas of life safety, accessibility, and professional practice?

Objections? Sure. These are the ones I hear often

1. The exam says nothing about your skill as a designer.
True. But it tests your fluency with the codes and standards that you need to internalize to become a good designer. Just as a grammar test can’t predict whether you’ll be the next William Faulkner or Toni Morrison, you really should know how to construct a sentence before you sit down to write a novel.

2. It’s hard! 
Yes. Yes it is. And it should be. Maybe the public doesn’t understand or appreciate the rigors of our profession, but we must. We need a basic understanding of structural and mechanical engineering, acoustics, resilience, ergonomics, accessibility, environmental impacts, economic outcomes, etc. so that we can collaborate with contractors and consultants and be effective leaders on project teams. We are the ultimate generalists and connecting all the dots is one of our greatest strengths. But doing so requires basic knowledge in a variety of areas, and our competence should be assessed and recognized. So yes, it’s hard, but we work in a challenging profession and assume a lot of responsibility. In my mind, licensure is a badge of honor that says an architect respects, values and is equal to the challenges and responsibilities that come with the title “Architect.”

3. It's time consuming!
Yup. And it doesn’t get any less time consuming the longer you wait. In fact, studying becomes more time-consuming, as the load calculations and force diagrams you learned in your Structures class in school fade further into the recesses of your memory. What’s more, life itself has a habit of becoming more time consuming as the years pass, so if you are relatively young and unencumbered by family responsibilities in your first few years out of school, get it over with! And if, by chance, you are considering licensure later in your career and are mired in mid-life responsibilities, take comfort in the fact that the exam can be taken section by section these days, and therefore broken into manageable bites.

4. It’s expensive.
Again, I can’t argue with this. Although the research suggests that licensed architects do have a financial advantage over unlicensed architects, one that grows over time, this is by no means a guarantee. But I can offer a few words of encouragement on this front. First, ask your employer to help. Many firms offer incentives for licensure, whether it’s paid time off for study time, help defraying exam costs, or a financial bonus upon achieving licensure. Make sure you know what your employer offers and take advantage of it! If your employer doesn’t have a program in place, ask them to start one. There are a host of arguments supporting the benefits to firms that have a high percentage of licensed professionals. Do some research and make your case. If that doesn’t work, get creative. Start an Indie-Go-Go campaign, or when your relatives ask what you want for Christmas, tell them you’re saving up to get your credentials and want a check --- preferably blank .

So now, 20 years after I first sat for the exam, I have finally given the “debate” some thought. Yes, the exam is imperfect and so is the profession. The process is onerous and the rewards seem thin. But I can say without reservation that I have never questioned or regretted my choice to get licensed. It has served me well in the way potential clients and employers see me, but perhaps more importantly in the way I see myself. Starting as a young woman in this profession in the early 1990s, I struggled with presenting myself as a credible, authoritative professional. There was a sense among some older architects and contractors that female architects, even those with professional degrees, were somehow not to be trusted with the serious business of building. Having the title “Architect” bolstered me against these assumptions and gave me the confidence to reject them. And as hard as it is to believe that female architects still contend with implicit bias in 2015, I feel that licensure is powerful tool for countering that bias. And one final note: after 20 years of professional practice, I have transitioned to a consulting practice, which focuses on executive search for the built environment. In my new role, I talk to a lot of firm leaders and look at a slew of resumes and LinkedIn profiles. I can say that while not all employers demand licensure, without exception they prefer it. So if you want your resume to float to the top of the pile ---JUST DO IT!




Innovating Licensure: Creating a new Value Proposition for Architects

A critical part of the Equity equation hinges upon the complex process and costs for obtaining Licensure. This is compounded further by the erosion of real and perceived incentives for weathering the currently arduous process.  NCARB by Numbers 2014 provides a glimpse at where the pinch points occur for candidates. Our early survey results highlight that beyond pragmatic challenges with the licensure process over the last 15 years, the crux of the problem lies in the current lack of a clear Value Proposition for becoming a licensed architect.

For some there is a sense that the process is insurmountable, while others practice award winning architecture under the licenses of their firms with no tangible incentives for licensure. In what ways is the current process changing for IDP and ARE? Beyond the process, how can we create a new value proposition for architects and the profession at large?  How can we as individuals, firms and the profession provide immediate as well as long term incentives clear to the unlicensed and emerging professionals?

Equity by Design attendees who sign up for this Break Out session will assess current attitudes towards licensure, brainstorm new models of valuing licensed professionals and develop equitable tools for achieving it. Our featured presenters for this important conversation include Ashley Hinton of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Kimberly Tuttle, AIA of NCARB, Anne Torney, AIA of Mithun.

At this time General Registration is Full. If you would like to attend, please sign up for the wait list and we will let you know by 10/3 if there is space available.


Ashley Hinton

Architect, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Ashley leads by example as a part of a new generation of millennial young architects. As the youngest licensed Architect at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Ashley completed her IDP hours and the ARE Examinations 2 years and 3 months after earning her professional degree from Rice University. As part of Rice's Preceptor Program, Ashley spent a year working at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. She also had several internships during her undergraduate years at Rice.  Ashley has had a variety of project...
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Kimberly Tuttle AIA

Outreach Manager, Internship + Education, NCARB

Kimberly is the Outreach Manager, Internship + Education at NCARB. In this position she helps support and guide the education and internship continuum as it evolves with the architecture profession. Tuttle previously held the position of project architect for a small firm in Camden, Maine. She has seven years of architectural design experience, and has worked for several firms in midcoast Maine. Her projects varied from single family residential projects to light commercial restaurants...
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Anne Torney, AIA

Partner, Mithun

Anne Torney is an architect who has made affordable multi-family housing and transit-oriented urban infill the focus of her work for more than 20 years. Prior to joining Mithun, Anne was a Principal and Director of Housing at the multi-disciplinary San-Francisco-based architectural design firm Daniel Solomon Design Partners, where she has led award-winning projects in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Seattle, WA. | She brings a deep commitment to community outreach and...
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