NCARB President Tackles Architectural Ethics

In June, South Carolina architect Dennis S. Ward, AIA, NCARB, was installed as NCARB president. Throughout his distinguished career, President Ward has dedicated countless hours to the profession—serving as the director of NCARB’s Southern Conference, chair of the South Carolina Board of Architectural Examiners, and chair of several exam-related committees.

Below, he answers questions about the future of licensure and the role of ethics in a regulatory world.

What inspired you to become an architect?

I have always been interested in the built environment. The ability to create a space in which people live and work—that not only satisfies needs, but makes life better—has been a driving force. As a small child, I spent hours asking questions about how buildings came together. Once I began to display an interest, my parents bought me just about every building set imaginable and encouraged me to create. My room was full of Legos, Erector sets, Super City kits, Lincoln Logs, and sketch pads with “construction projects” in various stages of completion.

How has volunteering for the South Carolina Board—as well as several NCARB committees—prepared you for your role as president?

Understanding the concerns of the profession and seeing the legislative process firsthand has shown me that the profession benefits from change. But change is not always easy. As a volunteer, I have an understanding of how all aspects of our programs are interwoven and rarely stand alone. The exposure to representatives, from our partners to recently licensed architects and emerging professionals, has helped broaden my understanding of how we must all work together to sustain our profession.

At the Annual Business Meeting, you announced you’ll be forming an Ethics Task Force. What topics will the task force explore?

As the work of architects becomes more reliant on teams that include unlicensed designers and those from other professions, ethical obligations can get murky. I am asking the new Ethics Task Force to explore how ethics might be a part of the regulatory tool kit. Past President Dale McKinney has graciously agreed to chair the conversation with no preordained solutions. We will cast a wide net, expecting the task force to review programs across various professions. I’m looking forward to seeing where the work of the task force might take us.

Tell us about some of the other initiatives you’ll focus on over the next year.

Now that we have refreshed a number of our programs, I want to make sure that our Board of Directors (BOD), as well as NCARB staff, are ready to move forward with implementation. We recently released the findings of our Future Title Task Force and the Board directive to sunset the title “intern.” I have asked several committees to address programmatic titles and possible Model Law amendments. While we don’t know what the outcome will be, our Board is committed to exploring how we can best implement these recommendations.

I also want to ensure that our two-year investment in exploring the feasibility of an integrated path to licensure starts to pay off. The Licensure Task Force created a framework for architecture programs interested in designing curriculum that can accommodate completion of the IDP and ARE, while maintaining their NAAB accreditation.

Over 30 architecture schools showed interest in an integrated path to licensure. What’s next for the Licensure Task Force?

We are on the threshold of a momentous change to the sustainability of our profession by offering choices that can help counter demographic, societal, and economic barriers currently impacting those hoping to become an architect. And, I am excited that we received so many proposals. Now, the task force must assess these proposals, identify the schools best positioned to move forward, and facilitate ongoing efforts with our member boards, practitioners, and AIA components. Since the work of the Licensure Task Force will be completed this fall, I have established the Integrated Path Evaluation Committee (IPEC) to replicate this process on an annual basis.

What advice do you have for aspiring architects?

Have a conversation with the architects in your community and look for mentors who can help you through the licensure process. Determine a path that is best for you, establish a course, and maintain it. Set a series of more obtainable, short-range goals and celebrate your successes along the way. Don’t let life get in the way of your ultimate goal of becoming an architect.

I have heard some speculate that the path to licensure is difficult in order to keep emerging professionals from flooding the profession. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have a great responsibility to society to ensure that we are capable of maintaining the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Always remember that the profession both wants and needs you, and that NCARB is a resource to assist you along the way.