The following essay was sent to ArchVoices in response to our 2002 Architecture of Engagement resource issue. We were particularly taken by the author’s commitment to contribute her design skills in service to the community she grew up in, although it meant she would likely be unable to complete NCARB’s Intern Development Program (IDP) and thus qualify for licensure as a result. See, her hometown is a city of 35,000, with just one licensed architect. And there is currently no way for her to get licensed without working for that one man or leaving her community. However, there is obviously ample design and construction experience to be had in a city of 35,000.
ArchVoices continues to support the need for and utility of a structured program of practical experience during the licensure process. Imagine how many people might still be on the path to licensure if this structure was even slightly more inclusive of a broad diversity of roles and responsibilities, like those of the author. Minimally, such a program could be structured to keep pace with graduates’ and architects’ increasingly diverse roles and responsibilities. At its best, such a program could chart new roles and responsibilities for architects in society. For our profession to remain vibrant and relevant–and for licensure to remain viable and germane to both aspiring and seasoned architects–we need to be creative (and urgent) about designing such a program, collaboratively.
Recognizing the remarkable roles and responsibilities of Kristi Kozubal, Planning & Zoning Specialist for the City of Bay City, Mich., is but one reason why.
I graduated from the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture in 2001, and shortly after took a job at City Hall in my mid-size hometown of 35,000 people. Everyday I deal with “the mundane aspects of zoning, policy, etc.,” enforcing, criticizing, and manipulating our city’s Zoning Ordinance. Accordingly, I advise our Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, and City Council on development matters.
Gaining an education through architecture, and thereafter getting into the thick of local politics has opened my eyes to the world (or at least my hometown) in a way no one else may ever appreciate. Creative, limitless problem-solving, sacrificial work ethics (stay up all night for a week to get it done), extensive presentation skills, and the keen ability to read and predict a critic prior to a presentation are all things I took away from architecture school to influence my daily work in City Hall. Doing so in a union government job may seem almost frivolous, but I grew up in this town. And I came home after graduation.
Beginning my job in City Hall in Bay City, Mich., I had no academic expectations. What I needed to know by that point, I was certain I had already learned. After all, I had been accepted to RISD, my first choice, and UCLA, my second choice, for my MArch right out of Michigan’s four-year B.S. in Architecture program. However, I changed my mind at the last minute. Instead of barging off to grad school far from home right away, I decided to take a breather and fax my resume to the Planning Division in City Hall at home to apply for an open position. I was hired exactly one month after graduating with my Bachelor’s, and began fulfilling my job description as “technical & graphic support to the division; permit clerk.”
Shortly after getting used to the daily eight-to-five routine, I began researching IDP and what I could do in my job with the city that might meet the requirements toward internship. After this initial search, I was puzzled. Was it true that I could earn little or no IDP credit for the work I was doing simply because neither my supervisor (trained as a landscape architect but not certified) nor my director (who carries a master’s in public policy from Harvard and a pre-professional bachelor’s in architecture from Michigan), could certify my internship? I was drawing up site plans; researching, enforcing, and WRITING zoning & building codes; designing parking lots & a large playground; laying out floor plans of a luxury condominium development in a rehabilitated historic building; writing over $145,000 in grants; and only a fraction of it would qualify for IDP, just because no one in City Hall could certify the work? I’m qualified to participate in community visioning sessions and leadership seminars and I act as liaison to many community non-profit organizations, granting foundations, task forces, and citizens groups. But if I wanted any of it to qualify for IDP, I’d have to leave City Hall. Worse yet, I’d truly have to leave my hometown, after coming home for the sake of giving back to my own community, making it a point to come back after going away to school because I wanted to make a difference here.
There is one architecture firm in Bay City. And I personally feel it isn’t that great a firm, and don’t know if I would enjoy working there. Even if I would enjoy it, though, there’s no way I could possibly fulfill all the necessary requirements of IDP at that firm. Maybe I could do so working for one of our many large civil & environmental engineering firms, but I don’t believe I would be able to actively engage in the community the way I can by working in City Hall.
Instead of drawing wall sections all day, I’m preparing presentations and information for city council members as they vote whether to support–or kill–multi-million dollar development projects that will seriously affect the future quality of life in this town. Instead of slaving away, nameless, doing 70-hours of AutoCAD per week, I’m spending my nights and weekends coordinating a group of 140 volunteers, four subcontractors, and $145,000 in grant monies to plan and construct a playground in a low-income neighborhood.
But, again, to earn IDP points for all this, I have to leave Bay City. I could return to Ann Arbor, or go to Chicago or Boston, like most of my classmates from college, but I feel like I’m making more of a difference at home, even without a license or–heaven forbid–IDP, than I could in any of those larger cities. Making a difference this way has changed my mind about pursuing licensure in architecture, or even pursuing architecture as my sole career at all.
Instead, I’m beginning law school at Michigan State University-Detroit College of Law, this fall. I chose MSU-DCL because they have a part-time program that will allow me to keep my job in City Hall. And when I graduate, I can again “come home” and contribute what I learn to improving the community in and around Bay City. Unlike architecture, I can take the Bar exam upon graduation–when I feel I’ve prepared MYSELF effectively, as opposed to when some outside agency that knows nothing about my competence tells me I’ve logged enough hours–and begin practice immediately, with any number of diverse, highly-qualified law firms in the mid-Michigan region. I can also apply my chosen areas of concentration, Government & Environment/Property Law, to the work I’m already doing in City Hall, to local Land Use Policies, Zoning Laws, and other economic development policies I feel strongly about largely because of my architecture background.
The architecture training in me will never go away. I will study and practice sustainability, conservation, beauty in design, and historic preservation throughout my whole life, but I now realize that I have more to give than the architecture profession would ever allow me. Again, I value my choice to pursue an education in architecture more than any I’ve ever made. It gave me a mixed-bag of skills that I may never have had the chance to develop in any other field, and a challenge I may never have realized without all of the all-nighters. But if the profession, and the challenge of IDP, seemed to offer as much, maybe then I wouldn’t have needed the breather I took when I accepted the job at City Hall in my hometown.