Fall of 2014 was business as usual, plus the assembly of a case to be considered worthy of elevation to Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but the more unnerving thing is that you are distilling your career into words and pictures, and humbly yet bravely imposing upon eight people to concur. They are leaders of the profession, folks you have engaged with over the years, luminaries in your mind and—you hope—in the jury’s.
I had coaches. There was incredible support from a committee of Fellows at the San Francisco chapter. There was a guy named Tim Culvahouse, FAIA who finessed the story, edited what felt to me like the gobbledygook of my own writing, and generally was the eyes and voice of reason throughout the unsettling venture. My sponsor, Carl Giegold, FAIA, from the parallel profession of acoustics, was incredibly supportive and wrote a marvelous intro. When confirmation of the seventh reference letter came in by the October deadline, I could finally breathe and try to put it out of my mind for a few months.
Humble-speak aside, I don’t play to fail. I had an inkling that this might go OK—people had been telling me so—and as I put stuff in a list and made iterative submissions to the local committee (and since Tim didn’t sit me down for a frank-and-beneficial conversation), I kept on going. It worked, the first time. Early on the morning of January 30th, 2015, in an email with a subject belying its contents, came a marvelous letter.pdf. It was not anti-climactic. This is no small deal: 3% of architects get here, and I am the first professional theatre consultant to do so.
Flash forward to May. Atlanta. National Convention. There is a long list of receptions. There’s a tuxedo. There’s a Gospel Choir. There are 146 other people in black plastic gowns, of many ages, as it turns out. I sat alphabetically next to a former client. It’s touching. There’s an inscribed medal and book of lists, punch, cake, and a banquet.
What does it mean?
I finished my exams and was licensed by the State of California in 1995, having force-fed myself knowledge of toilet layouts and roofing details that a theatre consultant would not otherwise have come across during his internship. Joking aside, studying for the four-day exam was incredibly helpful to me in understanding the mechanics of the profession and getting an inkling of the boundless areas of concern of an architect. The State felt obliged to give me something presentable to show for it. They provide a wallet-sized card that looks more like a receipt, which will be useful the day someone wants me to hold it up to a peep hole before they let me in. There is also the actual license, a #10 envelope-sized “post conspicuously” version of same, which, since it comes from the CA Department of Consumer Affairs, looks the same as my hair cutter’s and a mortician’s. Bless them in their attempt at a wall certificate, which includes the confidence-inspiring phrase, “having demonstrated the minimum level of competency.”
Armed with that, you can join the American Institute of Architects. The AIA is not the licensing body, but since you need the license to get in, the letters after your name imply that you can be responsible for all manner of building designs and the obligations of institutional membership: comradery, ethics rules, continued training, and dues .
Then came practice, and a lot of it. Twenty-seven calendar years, which should have a multiplier for architects, like dog-years. But I have always passionately wanted to do this—and you need some passion, as fuel and armor, to get you through the tough parts. One of the most satisfying things is having built a professional practice that invites other talented and driven people to get the same bug and offers them a place for their own discovery and ascension.
The recognition of an old professional institute, the support of sponsor and recommenders, of a committee and of other encouraging colleagues whom I’ve held up as models: to be frank, it just plain feels nice. At a time when I’ve got a bit of a stretch still in front of me, I hope the “F” says to those I will continue to serve that the work we do together resonates. It makes a difference.
Adam Shalleck, FAIA
I gratefully acknowledge:
Carl Giegold, FAIA, sponsor of my submission, Threshold Acoustics, Chicago
Tim Culvahouse, FAIA, Culvahouse Consulting, Berkeley
The Fellowship Committee of AIA San Francisco, led by David Meckel, FAIA
Those who wrote letters I’ll never see:
Marsha Maytum, FAIA, LEED AP
Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, San Francisco, CA
Allan Kehrt, FAIA, LEED AP, PP
KSS Architects LLC, Princeton, NJ
Steven Ehrlich, FAIA, RIBA
Ehrlich Architects, Culver City, CA
Mark Reddington, FAIA
LMN Architects, Seattle, WA
Michael Tingley, AIA
Boora Architects, Portland, OR
Donna Dunay, FAIA
College of Architecture & Urban Studies, School of Architecture + Design
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
Larry Kirkegaard, Hon. AIA, Fellow-Acoustical Society of America (FASA)
Kirkegaard Associates, Chicago, IL
and of course my wife, Jackie Lange.