09.14.05 The Emerald City
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for another means of receiving
information that has not been ‘sanitized.'”
We would like to thank all those ArchVoices readers who have written to us over the past few weeks, thanking us for creating and maintaining ArchVoices, lamenting that we’re ending the newsletter, and even asking us to reconsider. As one reader wrote, “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for another means of receiving information that has not been ‘sanitized.'”
Today’s issue of ArchVoices is a reprint of an essay originally published in 1997 by AIArchitect. This essay was written by the 1996-97 AIAS National Vice President, two before he co-founded ArchVoices. Again, this text was published in 1997 as a full-page article by the AIA. Eight years later, it is extremely difficult to imagine the AIA publishing anything like the following. Whatever has changed between 1997 and 2005 represents the sanitization that the reader above was referring to.
In the larger scheme of things, we are actually glad that our national organizations feel the need to sanitize information about internship, because it means that internship finally matters to those organizations. That they’re concerned about what is being said regarding internship is a good thing.
A better thing, however, would be to get back to a point where information and ideas about internship are again shared openly. The profession can get back to that time in one of two ways: either by pushing forward or by sliding backward. The AIA’s decision last week to formally support the ARE concurrent with IDP is but one example of pushing forward. Although there are still many obstacles yet to be tackled, we believe that the profession’s leaders recognize that it’s too late to slide back.
In short, we believe in the present, as well as the future.
(Originally published in the June 1997 issue of AIArchitect)
“The Emerald City”
By Casius Pealer
1996-97 AIAS Vice President
In the Wizard of Oz, all the characters travel to The Emerald City in search of the famed Wizard who can bestow them with attributes each perceives as missing from his or her life. The journey is long and hard, and somewhere along the way each character develops their weaknesses, such that by the time they discover that the great Wizard is just a little man, they already have what they were looking for anyway. Although their faith in the corporeal wizard is dispelled, each character leaves The Emerald City with a little bit of the Wizard inside them. The great moral of the story is that we don’t need a wizard to tell us we are courageous or smart or caring.
At the  ACSA Annual Meeting in Dallas, TX, the subject of the single degree nomenclature for professional, accredited degrees was intensely debated. In two very well-run sessions, issues were laid out, concerns were shared, discussed, and either resolved or put on a list to be resolved. Debate was very comprehensive if somewhat inconclusive, and it is a shame that we can’t seem to focus that much energy into enriching the substance of architecture education, including the required internship period. I entered these and other discussions with profound faith in the distinct honor of calling oneself an Architect. What I realized there was what had been bothering me so much about the discussions of limiting or opening access to the profession, whether in terms of degree nomenclature, IDP requirements or A.R.E. costs. I realized that Architecture is not a profession. Say it with me: “Architecture is not a profession.”
I am already an Architect. I have been since about my senior year in high school, thanks primarily to my parents (of course) and my English Literature teacher–because Architecture has more to do with why you get up in the morning than it does with what you do after you get up. No State Licensing Board can “make” you an Architect, like the Cowardly Lion was hoping the Wizard could do; rather, you have to do it yourself somewhere in the process toward licensure. Some of the people reading this are not Architects, though they may have a license to practice architecture. Most of you probably are, but you had it in you all along and the anticlimax that was passing the A.R.E. denoted something very different than your being an Architect. Architecture is about connotation, not denotation, and when you try to define it with model laws and circulars of information, Architecture disappears. The public surely has to be healthy and safe, but that is only a means to a much higher end: the welfare of the public. And you don’t have to have an accredited degree or state license to be vitally involved with the welfare of the public.
We need an Emerald City, not just a green city. And we need to build on the unique talents and strong fellowship of that City as a justification of our City’s worth. For the last few years, we have validated our City by saying, “Look at all the roadblocks and obstacles we had to overcome to get here.” For a city so difficult to gain entry into, how can we possibly encourage tourism? Currently, we have to legislate it, and that legislation is increasingly under attack. The basic message of the Boyer-Mitgang report is that we have many strong and positive attributes, but we simply need to develop them more and be informative and articulate to potential visitors and residents. This is the real crisis for architecture: how do we convince people with broad interests and talents that the legal practice of architecture can and will accommodate them, while maintaining the prestige and rigor of a licensed profession?
I may never make it to The Emerald City, partly because I suspect there is no Wizard, but also because I already have what I am looking for anyway. Once you know the Wicked Witch is afraid of water, actually facing her doesn’t teach you anything. There are plenty of other witches in the world that I’m much less familiar with, and some of them are welcoming and encouraging–those are usually the better teachers. Also, I get the sense that many of the inhabitants don’t want me there, they feel it’s already overcrowded. I am more drawn to other cities which convince me of their worth by a positive statement of their own actions rather than a negative statement of the difficulties of entry. I want to be on top of the hill because there’s a great view, not because it’s simply a tall hill.
Fortunately, many Architects have such strong faith in the need to produce the image of the Wizard (which is, by the way, quite admirable, as those of us in future generations need something to believe in) that they maintain an official architectural practice. I respect those people in the explicit field of architecture who are able to maintain their faith, all the more because of my own failure. I don’t have that strength, and I fear many willful yet competent young people won’t make it through the process of licensure because they have this nagging suspicion that there’s nothing behind the curtain–that despite everyone’s enthusiastic debate, the emperor is wearing no clothes. I can only keep my faith in Architecture by not actually looking behind the curtain. What I was seeking from the Wizard is already mine, and I will leave it at that. I will instead travel Oz, propagating belief in the beauty of The Emerald City and in the need for others to journey there. Hopefully the current and future inhabitants of The Emerald City will be able to make it a warm and inviting place again–possibly with some of the tourist dollars I help send them–and hopefully those tales of wonder and beauty will be echoed and will come back to me somehow, convincing me to embark once again to see the City for myself.
ArchVoices is an independent, nonprofit organization and think tank on architectural education, internship, and licensure.
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