Tag Archives: ppp

on ultimate project closeout, exit passageways, and new professional practice

true words at Ace Hotel NYC

true words at Ace Hotel NYC

To say that things have been hugely neglected around here would be an understatement. Once again I’ve found my ARE Life has taken a backseat to real life. It makes me wonder if perhaps I should have taken a few months off, isolated myself like great authors do, studied, and knocked out all seven exams in one swift blow. And yet while that might have been the best academic approach, perhaps this license journey isn’t meant to be that straightforward. Perhaps we’re meant to go though this examination process considering the lessons of life as thoughtfully as the books we dutifully spend our spare moments pouring over. Perhaps the true preparation for this career we seek comes from the life changing events that the pages of Kaplan, Ballast, and the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice could never possibly cover.

Events like helping close a business.

Or like taking the next step to move on.

Over the holidays my firm’s principal became ill and ultimately decided that he could no longer run the company. At the end of January my office officially closed its doors. As many of our clients and friends said, for a firm that was around since the early 1960’s it would be the end of an era. During February, and thanks to the tireless work of my principal’s wife, we worked through the process of wrapping up all of the projects, sending documents off to rightful owners, finishing the accounting (you may recall that a while back I took on the office bookkeeping duties too), and figuring out what to do with the 50+ years of records, equipment, furniture, and stuff that had accumulated. Most of it went to good homes and the rest was either salvaged or simply recycled. As we lugged boxes of old product binders and tattered drawings out to the dumpster on a crisp Saturday morning, one of my mentors jokingly asked which division of the IDP all of this shuffle would fall under. As I thought about it, I realized that this experience was bigger than intern development. This is the real raw deal that (fortunately) most interns would never be subject to. For the first time I truly understood what it meant to run a practice deeply rooted in honesty, ethics, and hard work, and just how critical public relations are in the livelihood of the operation. When the projects go away and the shell of a company remains, how will it rebound or, in our case, be remembered? As I witnessed the number of people willing to lend a helping hand as we closed the doors, everything from expediting paperwork to breaking down bookcases, I saw the compassion for the community my boss and the rest of the principals had extended over the decades returned tenfold. Perhaps that’s the sign of a truly successful practice. While the circumstances of the office closing are truly unfortunate and the final work bittersweet at best, I’m so grateful to have been a small part the firm’s years of success. I’ve found peace in the fact that even though the office is gone, it will continue to live on through the countless thriving spaces it shaped throughout its years.


new job hunt means new business cards

As we closed I also began to wonder what was next for me. The architectural industry in the greater Portland area is still struggling to make a comeback, and many of my friends and classmates have taken alternative careers or moved away in order to find work. Would the same be true for me, and what would become of my roots? My family and Nate are here, and quite frankly I love Portland too much to leave. Moving would not be an option, so the only alternative would be to push myself into firms to get my name out there, and hopefully some interviews. I took to heart the the job seeking tips of Build LLC and Nate and I devised a pretty kick ass mini portfolio concept to send out. I updated my personal logo and brand identity and revised my resume to be more professional than academic. The list of firms I was interested in approaching ranged from small practices to the large companies and grew every day as I read about the local design happenings. I was constantly worried that I’d never get in the door, but excited for the opportunity to get my work out there. There are so many good things going on in this city and I was anxious to be a part of it.

And then the phone rang.

In a serious case of being at the right place in the right time, some local firms heard about our office closing and that a few of us were out looking for a job.  I ended up receiving a couple of requests to come in for an introductory interview….and tried not to say “uh…yes!” too fast.  Both firms were high atop my aforementioned list, so I tailored a portfolio suited to their project types and agonized over cover letters longer than I’d care to admit.  When the time came to sit down with the principals at each office I instantly felt at ease… strangely enough it never felt like an interview but more like a conversation about our backgrounds and what I might be able to bring. I left feeling confident that  either would be a fantastic opportunity and surprised to find myself in a situation where I might have to decide between two employers.  Fun fact: there’s no chapter on that in the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, I looked. Twice.  When I received nearly identical offers a few days later I spent the following evenings talking with my family and Nate and tossing through sleepless nights while I weighed my options.  I ultimately  decided to take the offer from the first firm I had met with. While I know that I would have been happy at either, I felt that I personally fit a little better at the first.  Sometime you just have to go with your gut and I haven’t regretted my decision for a second.

a fine place to call home.

seriously, how can you not love this place?

I’ve settled in at the new office now. Names have been placed with faces and now the challenge of learning a new set of office standards begins. I work primarily in Revit these days, and have tried to get myself up to speed as best I can. The days fly by, and I’m truly enjoying the opportunities that I’ve been given to show what I can do. It’s challenging, yet as I learn this new design approach I realize that so much of the honest value of architecture remains the same regardless of where you work. We’re tasked with creating buildings and spaces that invigorate and ease. That protect and sustain. Yes we need to know the importance of sites, structures, materials, and systems…but it’s critical to understand how all of these meld together to create an overall methodology. I think it’s time and practice that helps us learn and define our own approach to architecture and I know I’m only at the beginning of this enduring process.

This new beginning at work makes me wonder what will be next for AREndurance. With only one exam left, and a retake at that, I realize that I need to start coming up with a plan for what happens here on this site. When the final pass letter arrives do I celebrate and call this the end of an era? Perhaps. Or do I keep writing and tie in my professional experiences with the divisions we study? If this process has taught me anything, it’s that the journey to becoming an architect is longer than the time it takes to prepare for seven exams. As I travel down the exit passageway of the ARE I’m excited to see where the exit takes me. I just hope it’s a place with a few less flashcards.

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a picture is worth 1,000 words

Over at arefourm, member gordo3di took the architectural history/styles portion of my PPP notes and put together a really useful guide that includes pictures for each style. Check out the PDF here!

During undergrad I took an architectural styles course where we had to be able to look at a building (or a photo of one like this guide) and name the style and date of construction based on the visual clues. It was one of the most interesting seminars I took, and to this day I can still look at a building and date it within a few years. (Which gets either a “how the hell did you know that?” or “oh geeze, there she goes again” from others.) Guess I’m just a big old archi-nerd.

So even if you’ve passed PPP already…check this out and see what you can identify when you’re out on the town. I suspect there’s a bit of a nerdy streak in all of us.

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who’s done with PPP? (Yeah you know me!)


Got the letter in the mail when I got home from work on Friday. Last exam I debated if I should open it (at the risk of running not only the weekend but my birthday too) or wait a couple days. This time I had the envelope halfway open before I really realized what I was doing. I’m absolutely elated that I don’t have to study for this thing again…it really was a challenge. Site Planning + Design is scheduled for March 11th, and I’m glad I can focus on that with a bit of renewed optimism for the study process. But today I think I’ll celebrate a bit more.

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ppp exam review

Note: I don’t know why I sit on writing/publishing these exam reviews for so long…it probably has something to do with burn out, or perhaps I just don’t give a damn after I sit at Prometric for an afternoon. Either way, here’s my two ppp cents…

I’m beginning to realize that taking these exams is like going to the dentist. It doesn’t matter if you prepare or lie that you did…because during that appointment you’re at the mercy of the professionals. They’ll do the easy stuff, then maybe a nudge here and a poke there, and then hit you with the serious jabs that you never see coming. When it’s all over they nod and smile and let you go. You’re numb (and maybe drooling). But they know you’ll be back in 6 months, you do too…you just hope it’s not for the same problems.

I elected to take the exam in the afternoon again, and it was full of a handful of examinees who all appeared well into their tests by the time I got there. I’m well acquainted with the Prometric center and check-in procedure now, so I was able to get going about 15 minutes ahead of my scheduled exam time. I sat on the opposite side of the testing room, a nice change from the usual corner spot by the vent that I seem to get. It still feels like sitting in a drab telemarketer call center, though. Here’s an ARE Schematic Design Vignette prompt idea: design a testing center that isn’t depressing as hell. Fortunately the ladies that run the place on the weekend are awesome, otherwise I think I’d check out other centers.

The multiple choice was much better than CDS. But then again, I studied like hell for this exam, and I think it paid off. During my first run through the questions I marked any that I hesitated over (about 45%) and spent the rest of the time going through those and thinking of them as if they were problems I might run across at work. By the end of the time (I used the whole two hours), there were about 4 WTF questions that I took a wild guess on. Everything else I felt comfortable with, or chose to trust my gut on. We’ll see how that pays off.

The mandatory break period was fine. I really have no idea what to do with those few minutes besides read the motivational posters and study tips for the Sylvan Learning Center kids that are plastered everywhere. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears, otherwise my options are dwindling down to old copies of Highlights and Where’s Waldo?. I sat at my exam station for a few minutes before the vignette portion started and made a table to fill in setbacks and requirements.

The vignette is everything one would expect if they’ve been practicing the software. Pro-tip: read through the program three times, twice at the beginning and once after you do a run through. It’s not difficult, but NCARB definitely throws a couple curveballs in there to make sure you’re paying attention. Well played NCARB, you almost got me. The process took me about 30 minutes, reviewed for another 15 and then decided there was nothing else I could do. I closed it feeling very confident.

the best part of exam day

After the exam I went downtown with Nate, did some people watching at Pioneer Courthouse Square (Portlanders will hacky sack any day/time of the year, I’m convinced of it), and then hit Paddy’s for the Post Prometric Pint. We talked about the exam for a bit, and Nate reminded me that pass or fail, he still knew that I did my best. Even though deep down inside I agreed, it was so comforting to hear it from a loved one. I don’t feel like I failed, but then again, I’m not sure if I passed…I hate to be optimistic, but I don’t have reason not to be. We wandered around Portland late into the evening, grabbed dinner at Montage, perused Powells and had dessert at Papa Haydn (thank God we walked everywhere…otherwise the next stop would have been the gym). It was a wonderful way to wrap up what I hope will be the last day I have to deal with PPP.

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a super study guide for super bowl week and the pre-exam jitters

"do we have any cake???" she said every night for two weeks.

Exam day is tomorrow and I’m feeling…well…terrified. But I know I shouldn’t be.

I put together a massive 60 page study guide (download the pdf here…it’s good karma to share) based on the guides that other areforum members have posted as well as different articles, schiff hardin lectures, and chapters out of the AHPP that I’ve found helpful. It’s organized to follow the content areas in the NCARB exam guide as close as possible. While there are a few typos (the Great Fire in London was definitely in 1666, not 1966, whoops) I feel like it covers a lot of issues, and has been an incredibly helpful study exercise.

My vignette time is down to 20 minutes, and I’m feeling comfortable with the circles/offset issue. Sounds like NCARB throws a few curve balls at you, so will be sure to read and re-read the instructions carefully and take my time.

Tonight the plan is sit down with the guide and quickly review everything. I know it’s not worth cramming too hard at this point. I’m ok with most of the concepts, and contracts/cd issues are pretty straight forward. I need to devote time to making sure I have ADA dimension requirements down, history names/concepts understood, and ownership concepts figured out. When I write it down, it really doesn’t seem that bad.

Everyone has been incredibly supportive, and for that I’m so very grateful. Nate’s been full of words of encouragement and my sister Amanda showed up with a chocolate cake last night (I’ve been pining for chocolate store bought sheet cake for weeks). I guess all I can do at this point is give it my best shot, and if I pass great, and if not, I’ll revisit it in August.

So here’s to the final night of studying (for this one, hopefully). My exam is at 1pm tomorrow, and I’m planning on getting to bed early for a good night sleep.

After a piece of good luck cake of course.

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on circles and rivers. roll with it.

At the risk of sounding like I’ve started some curvacious tribute to Piet Mondrian, I just spent the better part of my lunch hour sketching circles of all sizes on canvas. It’s really more elegant than it sounds.

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The PPP Vignette states than no site improvements or building will be done within 25′-0″ of the high water mark. The concept is easy to understand: the polyline for each can’t be within that dimension or else you fail. The bitch is actually figuring out how to draw the boundary. The general consensus on areforum is to be as accurate as the software allows, however we all know that speed is nearly as critical. There appear to be two common approaches. 1) Draw a 25′-0″ diameter circle and copy a string of them along the entire length of the high water line with the edge of the circle on the line. The site/building boundary line is then drawn where the circles intersect (where they make an “X”). Option 2) Draw a 50′-0″ diameter circle and copy of string of them along the length of the water line with the center of the circle on the line. The boundary line in this case is tangent to the edge of the circles. In my practice runs to date, I have always gone with the second option as it just seems to work better.

However in reading another post, user sdjahedi presents a third option. 3) Place circles with a 50′-0″ diameter with the edge of the circle along the water line. Then use center of circle to snap the polylines for surface improvements/building area. They note: “If you can place the tangent right on the top of curve line, one click on the shore side is fine too.”

So I tried that, and guess what? IT WORKS. Really. I need to practice with it a bit more/make sure I have enough circles to create an accurate path, but unless I’m convinced otherwise, this is the easiest way to do it. The polylines snap perfectly to centers so there’s no hair pulling, and in the end, the edges appears to be right where they should be. I really wonder why more people don’t use this method.

(I never thought I’d be so happy about offsetting a site plan mark.)

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on stupid mistakes, the drudgery of studying, and surprisingly good reads

Well, I’ve been busy the past week or so, and there really hasn’t been much to highlight. Here’s a rundown:

Finished reading Defensible Space, which turned out to be a much more interesting story than I was expecting. It’s nice to have a personal narrative tie together the guidelines, and it also serves as a reminder that applying strategies to design and planning isn’t always a straightforward task. It takes a lot of collaboration with professionals and users to create an environment that will be a success. The Architect’s Handbook For Professional Practice basically says the same thing in its ginormous section on the project. Granted it’s not quite as stimulating to read (I still have a good 300+ pages to get through) it’s interesting and incredibly helpful. I can see why so many say that it’s a must-have study tool. I agree 300%.

in section it helps to draw the max building height at the actual max building height. duh.

I finally gave the NCARB vignette problem a shot. Besides the obvious, and really really embarrassing screw up of the max building height in the section (what was I thinking?) I think I’m doing alright. It took me about 40 minutes, and most of the time was spent drawing those stupid sketch lines by the river and getting the areas as close to the tangent line of the circles as possible. That’s going to take some practice in order to get my speed up. Last night I sketched out (by hand) the two Kaplan vignette problems and did well on those. Seems to me that the biggest challenge on this vignette is plain ol’ accuracy.

During lunch today I took a run through the Kaplan practice exam problems on their online supplement and got a whopping 35% on the outsanding 100 questions left that I haven’t tried before. Needless to say, I thought I was doing well, but that was a kick in the pants that my day didn’t need. So I’ve got a list of things to look up tonight, notes to get through, equations to memorize, and AHPP to read. Oh and it’s supposed to snow (but they’ve been saying that for days) so there’s that distraction. Looks like it’ll be another fun night.

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on light reading, code, and babylonians

3 life points to whoever can tell me what font the title is.

So the AHHP arrived just in time for the weekend (collective yay/groan depending on how boring/exciting your weekends typically are). Looks like a good chunk, 400+ pages, are dedicated to the project, including programming, delivery, and management. I’m secretly a little excited to give it a read, it’s one of those things that I think will help with my professional work in addition to the examination process. If anything, I might understand a little better how decisions are made within the office.

I’ve got quite the stack of materials to go through at this point. I think I’ve navigated the forums and guides well enough to feel that I’ll have my bases covered. I’m developing a study guide (will be sure to post it as soon as it’s complete) that follows the content area online published by NCARB. It should be a good method of verifying that all of the topics are covered. That being said, I’m not sure how much time it will take to compile all of the information, but doing so should be beneficial in itself. Nate went camping with his buddies for the weekend, so with my favorite beau/distraction out of cellphone range, I have no excuse not to focus.

The Code of Hammurabi carved onto a human-sized stone stele (and we think lugging around the IBC is bad.)

Now, how about a history tangent? I’ve been brushing up on the IBC and ADA, and while looking up a reference, got sidetracked reading about historical building code. I had forgotten about the Code of Hammurabi, Babylonian law enacted during the late 1700s BC, which stipulated how disputes were to be settled and liability ensured. The short of it: if you screw up, you’re screwed. This included the construction business, with laws like the following:

No. 229: “If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then the builder shall be put to death.”

Gulp. Perhaps this is the ancestor to the strict life safety codes that are in place now. I suppose all contractors would have been fairly competent, or able to talk their way out of fault. Still, with that threat, I don’t think I would have gone near a profession in the building industry (not like I would have been able to as a woman anyway). It’s interesting to think about how important safe buildings are to us, regardless of time or culture. Creating a sense of place and a beautiful building has been instilled in architects as a critical component of our work. Yet I realize that when I think of magnificent structures like gothic cathedrals, palaces and state houses, or libraries and museums, the effort to make them stand safely for centuries is really just as fascinating as the design ideals they possess. I think I’m finally beginning to understand how holistic our profession is. The classes we take in school or the exams we study for that have no relation to each other at the time ultimately have the opportunity to become integrated in the professional setting. When done successfully, that’s when we see marvelous architecture.

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So many flashcards…

reach for the sky, mister

Fun Fact: This is what a set of Kaplan and Archiflash Construction Docs & Services, Site Planning & Design, and Programming, Planning, & Practice flashcards looks like.

Not so Fun Fact (unless you savor schadenfreude): This is the first obstacle to tackle in the next week. Thankfully…and I say that very lightly…I already worked through the bottom third while studying for CDS. I still want to review them as it sounds like those topics are fair game for PPP though.

I guess I can’t say I lack study materials…

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i don’t know what day it is anymore…

Jenny looks at AREndurance, blows off dust… *Cough* *Cough* *HACK*

There’s really no excuse. After CDS I took a break for a while, and then I got lazy, and then the holidays hit. I didn’t study, and the only time I really talked about the exams was when family asked “so when’s the next one?” I guess my guilt finally got the best of me (it did a bang up job getting me back to the gym, too) and I’ve now signed up for Programming Planning and Practice on February 4th.

You’d think the involuntary urge to hurl would subside after scheduling a few times, but you’d be wrong.

Anyway, I’ve got five weeks to prepare…which I’m hoping will be enough. Just got a 33/40 (83%) on the ARE Exam Guide practice quiz, so I’m feeling somewhat confident at the moment. I think the first step will be to skim through Kaplan and break out the flash cards to see what I know. I just ordered (invested?) in the Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice as the office copy is the four volume set from ’94, and I figured a more current, personal copy might be beneficial, not only for the exams, but for my career as well. Also, it looks like ARE forum has plenty of information on their FTP site , so I think I’ll brush up on my history and urban planning knowledge fairly quickly too.

I’d say it’s good to be back, but well…we’ll see.

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