Champions of Licensure

When considering which architecture firms to apply to, look for ones that go above and beyond with innovative projects, international learning opportunities, and overall support of aspiring architects on the road to licensure. Some shining examples are the 2015-2018 IDP Outstanding Firm Award Winners. Learn how these champions of licensure set a high bar when it comes to helping aspiring architects succeed.

Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.

Morgan Young (middle) discusses ideas for modifying a wall detail with Whitnie Noxon (right) and Jonathan Peterson (left). Photograph courtesy of Cuningham Group/Tim Heitman.

Cuningham Group is an international architectural firm that offers ample opportunities for aspiring architects to grow—including participating and observing projects in all experience areas, as well as construction site visits. Principal and Architect Licensing Advisor Margaret Parsons, AIA, REFP, LEED AP BD+C told us that, “Cuningham fosters a culture of career development at all levels and embodies a motto of collaborate, invest, grow to encourage learning.” The firm’s mentoring initiative matches mentors with aspiring architects around specific areas of experience as soon as they’re hired.

Some of the training programs Cuningham offers are: weekly continuing education; sustainability, risk management, and technology training; a project sharing program where active projects are introduced to all employees; and IDP-focused programs such as their Building Excellence Program, which helps aspiring architects gain an understanding of how buildings are developed. The program is also “currently being converted to a webinar format so people can access it at any time,” said Parsons.

“We take licensure very seriously,” said Parsons. To motivate employees to get licensed, Cuningham pays for their NCARB Record and exam fees, gives paid time off to take the exams, and even offers a $1,000 bonus once all exams are passed.

When job hunting, Parsons advises aspiring architects to “ask how a firm supports those seeking licensure, and what type of mentor/mentee relationships are available.” Once hired, “take out your earbuds and be aware of conversations around you. Often, learning happens just by listening to conversations with clients, consultants, or contractors. And don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek help.”

Forum Studio

Forum Studio
Forum Studio employees visit a construction site. Photograph courtesy of Forum Studio.

Forum Studio has offices in St. Louis and Chicago that go to great lengths to support aspiring architects. Associate Principal Amy Luchun AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, who’s also an architect licensing advisor and IDP supervisor, said Forum “tries to find unique ways for aspiring architects to gain hours in specific experience areas that may be challenging, such as exposure to the complete architectural process by leveraging their construction partnerships.” They also have impromptu field trips to job sites, lunch and learns, and professional organization and networking events to give employees exposure to different aspects of the profession.

Aspiring architects are paired with a mentor on their first day at Forum. And the in-house licensing advisors dedicate time regularly to “evaluate [an aspiring architect’s] progress and stay up-to-date on program changes through NCARB,” said Luchun. Advisors are also “evaluated every six months to ensure they’re giving proper guidance to their aspiring architects.”

“We recognize that finding time to study while working can be a challenge,” said Luchun. “We have Kaplan study guides, Ballast books, and a Forum Support Handbook for aspiring architects, and we offer to pay for study seminars such as Washington University’s annual ARE prep events, in addition to giving paid time off to prepare for exams.”

Forum views licensure as a critical milestone for a person’s development and success in the field, so they map out a plan with each individual to take the ARE as soon as possible. To help aspiring architects stay the course, the firm holds celebrations for passing exams, reimburses employees for exam fees (including a one-time fail for each exam), and gives a raise upon completion. Luchun advises aspiring architects to “complete IDP and ARE as quickly as possible, and keep close communication with mentors to stay motivated.”

HBG (Hnedak Bobo Group)

Hnedak Bobo Group employees. Photograph courtesy of Hnedak Bobo Group.

HBG, which has offices in Memphis, TN, and San Diego, creates many opportunities for aspiring architects to launch their career. The firm focuses on “inventing, empowering, and preparing the next generation for a future of limitless possibilities in the profession,” according to Principal and Practice Leader Rick Gardner, AIA, Principal and Practice Leader.

The firm’s innovative EDGE Program (Envision Development and Goals Experience) builds teamwork and leadership skills by evaluating personality types to build effective relationships and leverage each person’s strengths. The program also helps participants set goals and take responsibility for their professional development through the Emerging Professionals Studio (EPStudio). The peer-led studio immerses aspiring architects in professional training, providing opportunities for both mentorship and leadership throughout the experience. Plus, the firm’s GOH Travel Scholarship provides an international research experience to broaden an aspiring architect’s knowledge and demonstrate the global impact of architecture.

To help alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with licensure, HBG pays for NCARB Records, reimburses the cost of all passed ARE divisions, and even pays for membership to professional organizations. The firm also provides free study materials and maintains a library of ARE prep materials.

Gardner encourages aspiring architects to “visualize your plan, work with mentors and peers to remove obstacles, and follow through on the commitment to yourself. Until you cross that threshold of licensure, you are limiting your options. What we do matters to the human experience and has an effect on future generations. It's a wonderful thing to be an architect, and we should all want to reach the highest level possible in our professional accreditation. You’ll be glad you did.”

ZGF Architects LLP

An aspiring architect at ZGF works on an art installation in the firm's lobby. Photograph courtesy of ZGF.

Founded in Portland, OR, ZGF Architects has multiple locations that begin their mentoring program during the interview process. This helps pair candidates with projects and teams that match their career goals. After hiring, aspiring architects are supported in countless ways.

First they become part of the firm’s Young Design Professionals (YDP) group, which focuses on exposure to new experience areas, moving through the IDP, and becoming licensed. The group has several program and presentation series where members can partner with senior colleagues to satisfy IDP requirements. Through their popular program “Chatterbox,” senior architects share their experiences with the aspiring architects though a Q&A session. Associate Partner David Grigsby, AIA, LEED APBD+C, shared that ZGF also has an in-house ARE study group led by newly licensed architects.

ZGF is big on facilitating experiences where aspiring architects are both mentors and mentees. One example is the firm’s Architectural Career Day where aspiring architects and senior staff lead high school students through a full-day immersion into the architectural profession, complete with interactive design charrettes.

The support and activities don’t stop there. The firm pays for NCARB Record fees and reimburses the cost of passed exams, and offers paid time off to take the exams. According to Grigsby, who is also an architect licensing advisor and IDP supervisor, “earning a license is an important moment—whether it’s for empowerment to practice architecture or [to] have a competitive edge in the workforce.” The firm’s goal is to “make the licensure path synonymous with development as an architect,” he said. “Valuable projects, regular engagement, and mentoring are just a part of what we do.”

As you head to your next interview, ask firms what kind of unique experiences, engaging projects, and financial support they offer for aspiring architects. If they don’t offer the experiences you’re looking for—ask, because they may be willing to usher in new ideas.