A review of the Architectural Registration Exams

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture

Disclaimer: the opinions in this post are my personal opinions, based on my experience with the ARE’s. They are not the opinions of VIA Architecture.

I am exactly half-way through writing the Architectural Registration Exams. On Monday, I wrote my fourth (of seven) but I don’t know yet whether I passed it or not, so I could be slightly more than half-done or slightly less. So far the process has been exhausting and often frustrating. I’m finding that I need about 6 weeks to study for an exam, if I spend 20 hours or so per week studying. This varies by exam, of course, but that’s probably a decent average. I know many people don’t spend that much time studying, but I like to be prepared and I’ve been passing, so I guess it’s paying off.

20 hours per week is a part-time job. In addition to my full-time job. 7 exams at 6 weeks each: if I take a week off between each exam that is essentially an entire year, assuming I pass every single exam the first time. Currently, I’m only working 4 days a week because I couldn’t stomach the thought of 60 hour weeks (40 of them paid) for an entire year or more. I know that many people do it, but don’t know how. Forget work-life balance! I’m lucky that VIA has been very accommodating.

In my experience though, the time spent studying for the ARE’s isn’t really the hard part. The hard part is that it’s difficult to stay motivated when the content of the exams favours American codes and business practices and the study material itself is expensive, poorly written and often full of mistakes. That’s why it would be great to be able to write an exam written for Canadian interns, based on Canadian content. (If only such a thing existed. Oh wait… It does!)

So far the AIBC is the only provincial (and territorial) licensing association that continues to require its interns to pass the ARE’s as opposed to the Canadian ExAC. Although it’s difficult to say exactly why the AIBC insists on sticking with the old system, I’ve heard a couple of “reasons.” The usual one involves the importance of having reciprocity with American jurisdictions. It’s hard to believe this is anything other than an excuse. First off, why would it be more important for an architect in Vancouver to have reciprocity than, for example, one in Toronto? It seems unlikely that only BC architects work across the border. Secondly, if all Canadian architects are licensed based on the ExAC, then a new reciprocity agreement will need to be negotiated with NCARB. If reciprocity really is that important, then a new agreement will be reached sooner or later.

The other reason I’ve heard for not offering the ExAC in BC is the financial burden of administering the exam. When you consider the expense involved in continually developing and updating content that crosses so many areas of expertise, not to mention invigilating and marking the exam, this reason has the ring of truth. However, if the majority of the cost involved comes from creating the exam questions, doesn’t it follow that the more provinces to provide the exam, the cheaper it is for everyone? And why is the AIBC the only association that can’t afford it? (I was an intern in Quebec as well, so I know for a fact that dues are higher in BC!) This reasoning makes me feel that the AIBC isn’t as committed to supporting its interns as other provincial associations.

In 2010 the AIBC surveyed interns regarding their working conditions and progress towards becoming registered. The most significant response, in my mind, was that over 70% of respondents felt that they had not been adequately compensated and over 60% felt that the time and energy spent towards registration had not been worthwhile. The comments specifying why they felt this way were diverse, ranging from the length and difficulty of the process itself, the lack of compensation and work-life balance, and the direction of the profession in general.

It’s clear that the process of becoming a registered architect is long and difficult and the ARE’s are a large part of this. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the process is hard. Architects have a lot of responsibility and require a very broad knowledge base in order to do the job well. As with any respected profession, becoming a member should be challenging and rigorous. But it should also be worthwhile. Although I’m half-way through and committed to finishing the NCARB ARE’s, I’m also looking forward to when the AIBC finally adopts the ExAC, because I think it will make the registration process a lot more accessible and fulfilling to BC’s interns.

Grow: an art and urban agriculture project

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture Vancouver

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon helping facilitate a workshop for Grow: an art and urban agriculture project. The Grow project is multi-faceted participatory art project exploring themes of community development, food security and urban agriculture through a series of workshops, lectures and “creative experiments in urban agriculture.”

The main site for the Grow project is a 10,400 sq ft. plot of land on the north side of the seawall walkway in SEFC. Over the summer, this land will gradually be transformed into a community garden, through a series of sculptural installations. Dubbed “the Bulkhead Laboratory,” the plot is a transitional space, an overgrown remnant of False Creek’s industrial past sitting next to the carefully designed landscaping of SEFC and the deliberately constructed habitat island. It is space that has the power to challenge our definitions of “urban green space,” “community gardens,” “public open space.”

The workshop I attended, the second in an ongoing series, focused on exploring urban agriculture, specifically, creative solutions to growing food crops in containers and small spaces. The workshop began with a presentation from lead artist Holly Schmidt and collaborator/industrial designer Ocean Dionne of the Vancouver Design Nerds. They presented some creative container designs and art projects from around the world, and the group discussed the requirements for growing mediums, drainage, light and other considerations for container gardening.

After the presentation and discussion, we took a walk around Southeast False Creek. The discussion turned to the prescribed nature of the landscape. It was noted that despite the fact that there is lot of “green space” in Vancouver, much of it is not available to residents to use to grow food, or even to use as they see fit. The landscaping around SEFC is beautiful and it meant to be looked at. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the popularity of community gardens in recent years shows that Vancouverites are seeking out green spaces that they can participate in, green spaces that can be productive as well as decorative.

We spent some time discussing the possibilities for agricultural interventions into the existing landscape. Self-watering gardens floating in the water features? Using magnets for attaching containers to metal fixtures or furniture? Are there possibilities for creating small productive spaces within this decorative landscape? We eventually made our way over and took a quick look at the Bulkhead Lab, a completely non-prescribed space where our ideas could be given form.

The rest of the afternoon was spent sketching out, creating and planting some simple containers. Then we installed them over at the Bulkhead.

The Grow project will be going on all summer. There are upcoming tours, talks, workshops and work parties. Check out the Grow website for more information.

Vancouver and the Stanley Cup

With Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final now over (my sincerest condolences to Vancouver), let's take a look at the urban experience surrounding the event, and how TransLink dealt with the crowds.

Last Friday, screens were set up in downtown Vancouver to allow fans to watch the games broadcast from Boston. The city estimates that over 70,000 fans turned out, filling the streets and businesses in the area. Although they lost the Boston games, those who came downtown to watch the home games, were reminded of the Olympics and the excited atmosphere that overtook the city. Vancouver is ideally set up for such gatherings/events and the mood of the people was, and is testament to this. Many businesses closed early to allow staff to go watch the games and restaurants/bars did their best to accommodate the lines which started forming well before the games were due to start. Again, much like the Olympics, which overtook the City not too long ago, people were encouraged to use transit, bike or walk.

The lessons learned from the Olympics enabled TransLink and the City to effectively manage massive crowds within a downtown environment. With anywhere between 100,000 - 150,000 expected to attend game 7, TransLink used the following methods to streamline access:
  • asked riders to buy return tickets early (avoiding long lines after the game)
  • set up portable fareboxes that required exact fare
  • increased SkyTrain service to run an hour later than usual
  • extra buses on standby, and extended hours
  • an additional third ferry 
  • re-routing buses due to street closures
They also added a note on their website that there would be a "zero-tolerance policy for open liquor and rowdy, dangerous, and unsafe behaviour." Although they were well-prepared for the crowds, they weren't prepared for the riots, which were reported to be inflicted by only a "small group of troublemakers."

An article from Sports Illustrated reported that Vancouverites "woke up this morning to news reports that portrayed this beautiful city in out-of-control chaos, a sharp contrast from the goodwill engendered from its successful Olympics 16 months ago."

The riots are an unfortunate event that overshadowed the positive aspects of yesterday: that Vancouver has an wonderful urban environment that is conducive to large crowds filling the streets, coming together to cheer on their team. After the Winter Olympics last year, Chicago Tribune writer Philip Hersh said:

"One cannot overlook the passion and general goodwill of the people who both put on the Games and celebrated them until all hours in a city that never before had allowed itself such continuous, unrestrained fun."

Although the riots will possibly affect events in the future, the passionate and generous atmosphere of Vancouver was still present throughout most of this past week. So instead of the images being focused on in newspapers and online, let's remember the Stanley Cup through the following images: