Category Archives: ARE Exams

Tools of an Architect – Architalks #17

Today’s post is the 17th entry in the #ArchiTalks series, a monthly writing event that Bob Borson of Life of an Architect ( created back in July of 2014. The idea behind this series is to take a singular word of phrase and distribute it to a group of architectural bloggers, and let them take it in whatever direction they interpret.

I don’t need much. I am a happy camper as long as I have my ….Canary Trace + Ultra-fine Sharpie + Prismacolor Red Carmine Pencils + 2B Pencils + Staedtler Mars erasers + a good computer with two monitors + a comfortable chair + latest software +++ and the list goes on and on and on about a few very basic tools of survival. A minimalist when it comes to everything else in life (Almost trying the capsule wardrobe), I am a hoarder of sorts with an array of writing, drawing and measuring tools, and a stack of reference books that vary from Building Codes to a ten year old Architecture magazine with something that I found inspiring. I store enough drafting supplies to last an apocalypse. Hard to pick one.

So what is my “tool”?

I spend the day glued to a screen even though I love my drafting supplies. “Proficient in AutoCAD”- that’s a line from my resume, and that line has kept me employed. The fact that I know my pencils has only translated into expressing my line-weights architecturally. I still sketch my ideas- whether I am revising a floor plan, or working on a construction detail. But mostly, it’s a CAD day. It’s been so for the past sixteen years.

Is AutoCAD my “tool”?

Probably not anymore. Recently I went from being a consultant to being a full-time employee. And it happens so, this is the last project we will do in CAD. I will be trained in Revit soon, and we will using Revit for most of our future projects though CAD will still be available for incidental use. Will Revit be my tool ultimately? Time will tell. Ultimately whatever it is will only be a program to convey my ideas. Pencil, AutoCAD or Revit – if it’s a 2-HR wall, it’s still a 2-HR wall irrespective of the color of the pencil or line weight.

So, is the “ability to draw” my tool?

To draw is to convey our idea to the client.
To draw is to represent our intent to build.
To draw is to communicate to the contractor.
To draw is to convince the Bank that this project is feasible.
To draw is to create something that engages generations to come.
To draw is to uphold life and safety over all other things, and be approved by the authorities that are in-charge of life and safety.
To draw is a responsibility.

And thus kicked off a Saturday. #architecture #siteplan

A post shared by Meghana Joshi (@meghanaira) on

On a lighter note, tools an Architect always needs, but rarely talks about: A good stapler, an excellent staple remover, and an efficient carrier to shuttle the drawings to the City for submittals. We have all hurt a finger trying to use a screw driver in lieu of a good staple remover (OK, maybe not you, just me and others). Just a few months ago, I went to “slip sheet” at the City Office, and ruined my own stapler, and jammed the City’s stapler. They don’t deliver what they promise usually- so if you find a perfect one, hold on to it.  Then there are hand trucks- always buy the one double the capacity of what you might need. They tilt, they go out of balance..Not funny when that happens.

Super Bowl 50 ended. No more food and drink service for the day – and now comes the moment of clarity.  Basic tool for my survival, my CHAIR!

A couple of years ago, I became a Consultant, and started working from home. Without much thought to what I really wanted, I walked into Costco and picked up a chair that promised comfort, support and fit my budget. Thanks to the two year old who constantly stood on the base while I was sitting on the chair to keep her engaged with my hair, the chair broke in less than a year. Same story next year. After breaking three chairs in three years, now the daughter in school for the most of the day, and more money in the pocket thanks to the economy, I looked up for inspiration to “do” my home office.

Almost all the posts I scanned, and the images I looked up had very uncomfortable looking chairs. I don’t know how anyone could sit on an ” Eames Molded Wood Side Chair ” no matter how beautiful it looked. Another favorite among the bloggers was the wire chair. I know the wire chair- someone I know has wire chairs as dining rooms chairs. Without cushions. It’s a torture throne of sorts. Or maybe that was the intent to keep calorie intake low. I don’t know. But I couldn’t imagine sitting down for ten hours a day on such chairs, and not being able to move around my “L” desk comfortably.

I bought Herman Miller’s SAYL chair. At $649, it was not affordable as the website suggests, but it was “within” reach. It’s been almost three years now, not a single creak and nothing broke.

I rambled on. I know I did.

But when you start a blog this late in the day, and try to catch up with every Super Bowl ad, and Half-time performances, it’s hard not to ramble. Next time, I will plan better. The “break” ends soon (tonight), and I will hit the books from tomorrow to get on path to Licensure. Hopefully with full time employment, kids and the puppy I will stay on track- thankfully I am surrounded by friends and family that do their best to keep me motivated. After all resilience is the biggest tool in anyone’s toolkit right next to ambition. It’s time, and it’s high time. Three fails in a line have broken my confidence, and I did want to forget the answers to all practice questions before hitting the books again. A fresh start can add better on previous knowledge than opening a book and groaning that I know all this and I don’t know how I failed..

Want to know what other Architects have in their tool kits? Check out the links below..

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Why An Architect’s Voice Is Their Most Important Tool

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
3 Tools to Get Our Clients Engaged and Involved

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
The Best Tool In Your Toolbox

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
The Tools That Help Make #AREsketches

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
tools #architalks

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
One Essential Tool

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Architools – Mind Over Matter

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
10 Power Tools to Kickstart Equity

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#ArchiTalks 17 “Tool”

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Tools of an Architect #Architalks 17

Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
ArchiTalks #17: Three Tools for Change

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Can we talk?

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
it’s ok, i have a [pen]

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@simplybrinn)
Synergy: The Value of Architects

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Tools for Learning

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Something Old and Something New

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Helpful tools found within an Architecture blog

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Sharpen Your Tools

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Super Tool

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
Construction: An Architect’s Learning Tool

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
(CTRL A) (Command-A)- Edit

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)


Focus is on focusing..

This year, the focus is on focusing.

Originally I had planned to take one test a month, and leave BDCS and SS to the end with some study time. Change in plans, I am taking Structural Systems in two months, and I have made enough work-life rebalancing so that things are still in equilibrium while the loads are realigning. I have reduced work to be only my day time worry, and not take midnight oil anymore. I have set clear boundaries on when I can be reached, and when I can be expected to respond. Till I finish the Structural Systems, work will be secondary. Originally I had planned it during summer, but who am I kidding, with two kids on summer vacation, I won’t be able to focus and sit down for a couple of hours of dedicated study.

Boundaries- setting them and learning to respect them before I ask others to respect them.

After sitting down with a calendar and thinking how to plan the next few weeks, and the mom life, and the entrepreneur life, I figured the best time to test would be in March, and after figuring out contingencies, and spring breaks, and minimum days, and carpool days, it’s going to be March 30th even though I might be ready to test around mid-march. That’s the way an Archimom’s life works. Balance your top priorities with your top obligations and duties, and the tasks you lovingly take on. I will be working in the mornings, and studying in the evenings while the kids do homework. Oh, I took Twitter and Facebook off my phone. I can consciously not share what’s on mind, and not respond to what’s on other people’s mind, but I am addict to those articles especially the new convenient way of reading them on the Facebook mobile app.

Oh, and I am an Associate AIA again, and a part of AIA Orange County!

I used to be an AIA San Francisco more than a decade ago, and being a new mother, never attended those beautiful meet ups they had. I am hoping things will be different this time, and I can be more actively involved with the architecture community. Last month, we did attend the lecture “Architecture beyond Earth- The International Space Station” by David Nixon. By we, I mean us, as a family. I was a little apprehensive taking the eight year old, but the kid knows how to sit through a piano concert ever since she was three. It shouldn’t be hard. Also, it’s payback time- I have sat through my share of motherless Disney Princess sagas for all these years, just to please them!

I joined a study group! I know, I know.. I talk a lot, and I will lose the task on hand if I get someone to chat with, but maybe these motivated people will help me stay on track. It’s a nice group. I haven’t met all of them yet, but I have a feeling I will enjoy doing this together. Actually I am taking Structural Systems before anything else because of the group. We will all be taking that test next. I did get a head start dusting off the books my mentor at my old firm had given me. Someday I will share pictures of the tons of books he gave me- it’s a good reference set of books every architect needs. I am doing the ground work brushing up my Sin-Cos and Tans, and my stress and strain basic knowledge.

IDP- that’s another thing! After my supervisor finally signs off my last thirty hours, I will be finishing three of the four modules, a 100%. He is dealing with a few personal and professional hurdles, and as much as I would love to see my request for verification approved and hit that 100%, I have to wait patiently for the last few invoices, and that last request. Fingers crossed, and hoping for the best. It’s distracting sometimes not to have everything in control, but at times like these, I am thankful I have husband to have my back at least financially. I love being an independent business woman, and all other parts of my business, but I don’t like sending reminders about outstanding invoices. Especially the ones that are overdue.

For the hours that we can’t always get through traditional employment or the type of firms/ projects we are aligned with.. I did an exercise for core hours using “Emerging Professional’s Companion”. I used it for Business Operations. The process is self explanatory. Visit if you want to accelerate your IDP process a bit. Also, I took the monograph test, and that added 16 more hours. Social media has been a great help to in getting support, and more ideas, and getting a mentor. Yes! I found my IDP mentor via Twitter, when I tweeted a query to NCARB and AIA National. Architects are very active on Twitter, and it seems to be the chosen one of all the social media!

But there was a disappointment.. I have 120 hrs remaining in Bidding and Contract Negotiation, and another 120 hrs in Construction Cost. There are a 65 remaining in Construction Observation. I can only get less than 40 hrs in each discipline through Emerging Professional’s Companion exercises. Of course I can get the supplementary hours done, I still need a total of 1294 hours to complete my IDP. But, I wish there were more avenues to get these hours fulfilled. I might look for a temporary employment with a General Contractor to learn Construction Cost, Bidding and Contract negotiation and Construction Observation.. All together it’s a summer worth of hours. I won’t get distracted with that until I finish the first round of testing. Or at least I will try not to.

So, from February 9th to April 10th, the focus is on focusing, and staying on course with all other things.


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Goals 2015: ARE and IDP

It’s that time of the year, to make plans, to have ambitions and to hope that they will all work out because it’s a New Year. I wanted to make this list on 12.12, and call it goal setting, not a set of unrealistic resolutions, but it didn’t happen. I couldn’t write anything on 12.13.14 either. No fancy date stamp on my blog, thanks to the fine imbalance of my life. I was wrapping up work, preparing to take time off during the holidays, and children were wrapping up their school years, finals and parties. Instead of making a resolution that starts from the first day of the year and ends on the last day, I am going to set a list of goals, and hope that I master all of that before the year ends. If work or life interrupt, I will go with the flow, prioritize and make the best decision under those circumstances.  In fact, the first goal should be to stop playing sliding doors.

ARE Exams and IDP

I practice architecture, but I am still not a professionally licensed architect. Last year, I made a decision to join the ARE and IDP path to licensure. Programming, Planning & Practice is done, and six more to go.  Last month, after joining twitter, I was introduced to blogs, podcasts, views and opinions – and paths to licensure. I read each blog intently, and one fine afternoon made my own plan for the months to come.  The goal is to keep the momentum. Schedule, reschedule but never cancel. Show up, and take an exam no matter what the level of preparation is. If not anything, it will help you prepare for the next one. It’s not easy shelling out a two-ten and four hours every month, but hopefully once I am licensed, it will all be worth it.

What next?

Two years ago I let my rolling clock expire, thanks to a combination of events. If I had taken just one test before the year ended, result not withstanding, I could have avoided IDP altogether. But things happen for a greater purpose, or so I believe. Moving on with the new process, procedure to reach the final destination.. with some help from NCARB and CAB in reactivating my account, and my education-experience reports.

I scheduled Construction Documents and Services for the afternoon of Jan 5th, 2014. Others will follow soon, with three weeks of preparation for each test. The goal is to test once every month, and retake any failed tests as soon as the six week waiting period ends.

Here is the order I have in mind:
Construction Documents & Services – January 5th
Schematic Design – Feb second week, before the four day break for school
Site Planning & Design – March second week, before spring vacation.
Building Design & Construction Systems – May, after both kids end spring vacation, and before daughter’s finals week.
Structural Systems – September, after summer break, or based on preparation, sometimes in summer.
Building Systems – month after taking Structural Systems.

As for study material, it will the online blogs (I will provide links later) and the PPI set, my own set of drawings and specifications, as well as contracts from the past decade.

IDP Plan of action

For the past three years, I have worked hard. I haven’t taken summers off, I have struggled to juggle work and life, and I have worked most nights. In the beginning, there was this hunger- hunger to work all I can, work more, and make for that slow period during the recession. It’s nice to have an understanding family, and more importantly the spousal support, but somewhere I had to draw a line. From the time my alarm rings at dark thirty, it’s a never ending, always evolving checklist until I curl up and sleep tired.

It shouldn’t be this hard. If things aren’t falling in the regulated forty hours, and if they are always exceeding fifty hours a week, something should be done. The whole point of leaving a cubicle job to begin consulting was to work towards a better work and life balance. If anything, I have ruined any balance I had with a full time job.

The 2015 resolution for work is to take it slow, and never more than forty hours a week. All weekends will be non-working weekends, and no vacations will be canceled. Every evening, I will make dinner, and sit down for the family dinner. With 78% IDP hours logged in, it’s time to take it a little easy, and make life easy for myself and everyone around me. I need to time to study, time to prepare for my exams, and some down time.

Last time, when I scheduled my Construction Documents and Services test (Jan 5th is a retake), things didn’t go as I had expected. In spite of communicating my requirements for one day to study and one to test, I kept getting calls, and texts and emails from work. Until late afternoon, I didn’t even get a chance to brush my knowledge. I got all worked up, and didn’t focus in the hours after I took care of work. The result was as expected, a fail. Was it worth it? Could it have waited? Absolutely.

Will I be able to define boundaries better this time around? Yes, no and maybe depending on the circumstances. But, proirities have changed since last October, and frankly at this point, the big picture is all that matters. A decade down the lane, it has to be a happy marriage and a successful licensed practice.

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