Category Archives: Editorial

Presidents Message – 2016 First Quarter

AIAeagle_2016It has been a very busy first quarter as your President and I wanted to share with you some of the events and projects that AIA-NJ has been busy working on…

February kicked off the year with a pair of building code seminars for the 2015 IBC and IRC at the Palace in Somerset.  There were well over 250 attendees to learn about the changes to both codes, which had not been updated since 2009.  As of March 21st we are officially beyond the grace period and into the new codes.  Hopefully, you were able to attend the code seminars, but if you did not, Robert Longo AIA, AIANJ Codes & Standards Chair wrote a brief article on the code changes you can find on our blog.

Also in February, more than 12 AIA-NJ leaders attended the AIA Grassroots Leadership Conference in Detroit, MI.  I have been attending Grassroots since about 2005 and I find that each time I attend I come back to NJ inspired and excited to implement ideas and programs for the new year.  aianj_grassroots2016This year was the first year since I began attending the conference that it focused on Leadership programming and did not have part of the event focused on Advocacy.  I have to applaud AIA on this change.  This July will be the second half of Grassroots, dubbed as “SpeakUp”, will happen in Washington D.C.  The event will focus on training AIA members to become leaders in Advocacy.  If you are interested in learning about the federal legislative process and how to become an active advocate for AIA and the built environment contact AIA-NJ.

 

Our Public Awareness Committee has been very active highlighting several of our members on diverse subjects.   On February 23rd Stephen Schoch AIA of Kitchen & Associates was interviewed by Construction Dive regarding FHA and ADA accessibility in multi-family housing.  William J. Martin AIA, Co-Chair of the AIANJ Public Awareness Committee and a member of the Bergen County Historical Preservation Commission was quoted in two articles regarding church fires in March due to their historic significance.  Kimberly Bunn AIA, AIA-NJ Immediate Past President, was featured in an article for Women’s History Month on none other than Eleanore Pettersen FAIA.  Most recently Stephen Schwartz AIA was featured in NJBIZ regarding architects who have taken the plunge into development.  To top things off our Public Awareness Committee had fun during National Architecture Week with #archselfienj for #archweek16.  Thanks to all those members that participated!

I have been fortunate to have maintained a close relationship with the College of Architecture & Design (CoAD) at NJIT and have been working with the Director of the School of Architecture, Richard Garber AIA, on a multi-week BIM program that will be held this summer at the school and offered to AIA-NJ members.  Not only will participants learn the basics on BIM, but will also learn how BIM can be integrated into your practice.

I am proud to announce that AIA-NJ’s Taskforce on Lightweight Construction, which was formed after the AvalonBay Edgewater, NJ fire in January 2015, has completed a whitepaper on “Building Design with Lightweight-Framed Construction and the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the Public”.  This document will be issued in order to better educate the public and our legislators about the findings of the Taskforce.  I want to thank the Taskforce for its work and look forward to the discussions that will occur as a result of the whitepaper.  Members who are interested in joining the Codes & Standards Committee to continue the work of this Taskforce are welcome to contact AIA-NJ.

In closing, I want to congratulate our new Fellows, Dean Marchetto FAIA and Michael Schnoering FAIA who will be honored at an investiture ceremony at the 2016 National AIA Convention in Philadelphia May 19th-21st.  AIA-NJ will be honoring our newest Fellows at the AIA-NJ Fellows Reception on Thursday, May 19th at the Hotel Palomar, formerly the AIA Building in Philadelphia.  If you plan on attending please contact Laura Slomka at AIA-NJ to RSVP.  The AIA Fellowship Committee will be hosting a presentation on  “Demystifying Fellowship”on Tuesday April 26th at 5 pm at the NJIT AIA room and on Wednesday, April 27th at 5 pm at the office of KSS Architects in Princeton.  If you are considering applying for Fellowship then you need to attend.

See you at the Convention in Philly!JAM_headshot

Sincerely,

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Justin A. Mihalik, AIA

AIA New Jersey Presiden

Casting Call for Building Dream Houses

Loud TV (a Leftfield Entertainment company, http://leftfield-entertainment.com/) is looking for individuals to be a part of new project in development about people who have built their own amazing and innovative homes and are now living mortgage-free.

About the project:

It’s the quintessential American dream to build and own your own home. In this show, we will want to hear the stories about the decision-making, the planning process, the build, and the final result for individuals who have made the leap to build their dream home. How have their lives changed? Would they recommend this lifestyle to others? We want to know about the fun features of the homes and what makes them unique.

If this sounds like something that you may be interested in learning more about, please feel free to reach out directly to Leftfield Entertainment at [email protected] or at 212-564-2607 ext. 2650.

WORKING WITH THE MEDIA – Delivering your Message in an Interview

AIA-NJIn our year end review of the 2014 activities of the AIA New Jersey Public Awareness Committee, we asked you to stay tuned for tools that will help you make a splash in the press. Below is the fourth in a series of articles that will help you in that regard. With your help, we hope to be able to leverage our strength in numbers to help promote architects, architecture and AIA-NJ.

Previously, the Working with the Media series has focused on the initial stages of media outreach: Building a relationship, contacting a reporter, and composing written materials on behalf of you or your company. Now, we’ll delve into the hallmark of journalism (and arguably the most important method for successful PR): The interview.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that news is increasingly “sound-bite” driven. Today’s messages are most effectively delivered through short, to-the-point bits of information – Twitter, “news reader” software, and blog-style news are all evidence of the evolution (or disappearance) of long-form feature stories. But, rather than debating the legitimacy of this age of information, let’s discuss how best to communicate in today’s media environment.

We’ll start by harkening back to high school English class. Remember the inverted pyramid?

Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid reflects the important hierarchy of information, which is crucial to making sure that a reporter hears the most vital components of your message. Ask yourself: What makes (this project, my company, this law, etc.) newsworthy? This core message should be stated early and often – don’t be afraid to be redundant. A reporter may well be interested in the details about the processes of your work or your personal background, but it’s vital not to eschew the “newsworthy” aspects of your message in favor of the minutiae.

Remember: In many cases, a 30-minute interview can result in no more than a one or two-sentence blurb about you or your company. And, while some reporters may ask to record your conversation, reporters are human, and it cannot be assumed that they’ll publish your main focal point. As a result, it’s up to you to ensure that your message is being received.

A few tips:

  • Repeat or rephrase your core message at least two to three times throughout the interview
  • Draw the reporter’s attention to your core message (i.e. “The main point here is…”)
  • Condense your main themes into a statement that can be conveyed in 30 seconds or less
  • Make sure that any examples, supporting points, or details relate directly to your core message

If you would like to read the previous articles in this series, please see the following links:

Building Relationships

Writing a Letter to the Editor

Composing a Press Release

Press Release Boilerplates

Kyle Kirkpatrick
Account Supervisor
Beckerman PR Real Estate Team

Bruce D. Turner, AIA
Chair, AIA New Jersey Public Awareness Committee

Hurricane Preparedness Refresher

Joaquin Path 093015

 

Although the exact track of Hurricane Joaquin remains uncertain, since New Jersey is within the potential track area, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves of the need for proper hurricane preparedness. Please take a few moments to review the information on the National Weather Service website, which can be found here.

Lightweight Construction Materials – the Public’s Perception

Mihalick_2014Submitted by Justin A. Mihalik, AIA 
2015 AIANJ President-Elect

As a result of the AvalonBay fire in Edgewater, I was interviewed by PIX 11 news and Al Jazeera America as a representative of AIANJ, for the Architect’s perspective on lightweight wood construction materials.  Architects understand that the building code takes into consideration the use group of a building as well as the construction type of materials in order to determine how then to protect the materials being used in order to meet a minimum standard and to be considered “safe”.  But what is the public’s perception of “safe”?  After all, as Architects, it is our responsibility to design “safe” buildings.  In watching many Youtube videos and reading white papers on the subject of lightweight construction as I prepared for the interview, I found that the public’s perception of engineered lightweight materials, mainly wood I-joists, is that they are “cheap”.

 

There are a few reasons for this that I can understand from a lay person’s perspective.  One being that the material used for the web of the I-joist, which is oriented strand board or OSB, appears to be a cheap wafer board.  A second one is that after a fire, not much of a structure built with these materials is still standing.  Being interviewed at the AvalonBay site, it did not take an experienced eye to see that the stair towers and elevator shafts that were constructed of masonry concrete block were the only structures standing amongst a sea of wood debris.  It was clear to the eye that the masonry concrete block was far superior to the wood because it had survived the fire.

Architects also understand that the building code does not require the building to fully withstand a fire but only that it withstands the fire long enough for its occupants to escape in a safe manner.  The public does not understand that this is in fact the way the building code works.  It is up to the Architect and the owner of the building to design it in such a way that it potentially can withstand a fire and the effects of fighting the fire in order to minimize the reconstruction.  So is the public wrong for having the perception that engineered lightweight wood materials are cheap?  Or is it the industry’s fault for allowing this perception to exist?

There is one other party that should be involved in this conversation and that is the insurance industry since they are making the payouts on policies to then reconstruct these buildings.  Fortunately, no lives were lost in the AvalonBay fire.  So do we then believe that the building code was sufficient?

Any Architect that has been involved in repairing/reconstructing a building after a fire understands that it is a liability nightmare and that the best approach for the owner is to rebuild the structure.  Rebuilding instead of repairing should not be a problem since the insurance policy covers for the “replacement value”.  Well, anyone who has worked on a fire job also knows that the term “replacement value” is vague and does not guarantee that this “value” will in fact cover the full cost of the reconstruction.  A question for Architects to consider is the following: how sustainable or resilient are the current practices in constructing single or multi-family buildings if they cannot withstand a fire?

Recently legislation was proposed by Republican Assemblyman Scott T. Rumana, bill A4195 (http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A4500/4195_I1.HTM), and if approved it would impose a two year moratorium on the use of lightweight construction materials in multi-family buildings.  The proposed bill not only includes engineered wood, but also traditional nominal wood and steel bar joists.  If approved, this bill would be devastating to the construction industry and would affect not only job creation, the housing market, but also architectural firms.  Safety is ultimately the most important issue when it comes to buildings.  Does this bill take this too far?

Careers: FVHD Architects + Planners promotes Joseph Como

FVHD is pleased to announce that Joseph V. Como, AIA, LEED Green Associate is joining our exceptional team of Senior Associate Gary A. Rostron, AIA, and Associate Jason J. Dubowitch, AIA, NCARB

JOSEPH V. COMO

FVHD Architects + Planners is pleased to announce the promotion of Joseph Como, AIA, LEED GA to Associate, effective January 1, 2015. Joseph has over 15 years experience working on public and educational facilities, providing consistent management and leadership on all projects. His creativity and attention to detail make him a valuable member of the firm. Since graduating from Philadelphia University in 2000 with a 5-year Professional Bachelors in Architecture, he has approached all projects with great enthusiasm, striving to make each a success for the client, firm, and community.  As an Associate of the Firm, Joseph will increase his involvement in the Firm’s operations, supporting the Principals, while continuing his role as Project Manager. He is a Registered Architect in New Jersey, credentialed with USGBC as a LEED Green Associate, and a current member of the Lawrence Township Historic Preservation Committee. Recently, Joseph has completed renovations to the Ambassador’s Residence to Cyprus, in Washington DC, additions and renovations to the Hillsborough #3 Fire Station, in Hillsborough NJ, and is currently working on security additions and renovations at (9) facilities for Marlboro Township Public Schools. Continue reading

Reciprocity With Canada

Grassroots 2009In his recent trip to Canada, Governor Christie said “I’ve gotten the impression over time, watching American foreign policy, that Canada has been an afterthought……I don’t think we pay enough attention to this relationship as Americans in general. I’ve made a very conscious decision to come to Canada and to come here to Alberta because we should treat our friends with both respect and attention.”

This statement comes on the heels of a recent tri-national agreement by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), Canadian Licensing Authorities (CALA), and the Federacion de Colegios de Architectos de la Republica Mexicana (FCARM), making it possible for architects to work across North American boarders.

With all of this in mind, it is time for the State of New Jersey to take specific action to address New Jersey’s relationship Canada relative to the practice of architecture. Specifically, the New Jersey Chapter of the American Institute of Architects renews its call for the State of New Jersey to resolve impediments to cross border licensure with Canada, and stands ready and willing to work with all relevant parties to find a workable solution for New Jersey.

Empowerment by Design Series: Surviving the Commoditization Trap

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by Steve Whitehorn

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in the Empowerment by Design series by Steve Whitehorn of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., providing A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.

The design industry has seen substantial change in business models over the past 15 years. The financial crisis and slow recovery coupled with the rising popularity of design/build have created pressure to reduce fees and lead to fierce competition. As a result, architectural firms are falling into the commoditization trap.

Commoditization occurs when clients don’t understand the difference between goods and services. The ever-increasing availability of computer-aided design and the myriad of delivery options available for design services in today’s marketplace have led to the misguided notion that design is a good rather than a service. Project decisions are increasingly being made based on price and ease of delivery, rather than design expertise or lasting value.

Many firms are struggling against commoditization by trying to be all things to all clients. Others are becoming bloated and unfocused by taking on any and all projects just to bring in revenue. These reactionary tactics can lead to a race for survival among competing firms.

How can you avoid commoditization? The first step is to define your value proposition. A value proposition is a succinct statement that explains why a client should choose your firm over the competition. Your value proposition needs to communicate exactly what services your firm is offering, and what differentiates your firm from the others. It should also clearly convey the value your service can bring to a given project.

One of the best ways to define your value proposition is to perform a “Dangers, Opportunities, Strengths” (D.O.S) analysis.

Begin by making an honest self-assessment of your firm. Assemble your firm’s leadership and key-stakeholders to discuss your firm’s dangers, opportunities, and strengths. Ask questions such as: What do we do best? What is our current specialization – healthcare, hospitality, cultural facilities, etc.? Who are our preferred clients?  Who are our competitors? What differentiates our firm from our competition?

Next, ask your clients the questions from their perspective. Talk to your top 20 or so clients and ask questions about dangers, opportunities and strengths. The following are some example questions that can help you formulate your client-facing D.O.S. analysis:

Dangers: What do your clients see as obstacles to their projects – project financing, divergent interests of stakeholders, community pressures? What are they most concerned about during the construction process (issues arising from delays, changes to the plans, etc.)?

Opportunities: What do they see as the prime opportunities for their projects, for example: building a legacy, visible impact, community improvement, etc.?

Strengths: What influenced their decision to work with your firm? What does your client see as your firm’s advantages and differentiators?  How will this/these projects support their vision and their strategy?

Review your clients’ responses and compile their common top three answers on dangers, opportunities, and strengths into one list. When you have that list, compare it against the list of answers from your internal review. Are you on the same page as your clients? Do they see your D.O.S. the same way you do? Are you adequately addressing their concerns? Do you understand your clients’ aspirations in the opportunities column? Does your client see your firms’ strengths the same way you do? Identify the gaps between your clients’ answers and your firm’s answers and determine a strategy to bridge those gaps.

Now you are ready to define your value proposition. Go back to the questions you first asked yourself: What do we do best? What is our specialization? Who are our competitors? What differentiates our firm from the competition? Use your D.O.S. analysis and the input from your clients to refine your answers. Make a pro-active plan to mitigate the dangers, take advantage of your opportunities, and refine and reinforce your strengths.

Your value proposition needs to be simple and direct. Explain how your firm can meet your clients’ needs, the specific benefits your firm can deliver, and why the client should choose your firm over the competition. Above all, keep an eye out for changes in the market. Revisit your D.O.S. analysis as necessary to identify how your value proposition can fulfill a unique niche in the current market.

Knowing who you are, what you can deliver, and understanding your value proposition will help you break free from the commoditization trap.

– – –

Steve Whitehorn is the author of the upcoming book, Ensuring Your Firm’s Legacy, and Managing Principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., and is the creator of The A/E Empowerment Program®, a three-step process that helps firms create a more significant legacy and empowers them to achieve greater impact on their projects, relationships, and communities.

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Empowerment by Design Series: Maximize ROI by Maintaining Discipline

Employing a clear “go/no-go” decision-making process will help maintain discipline and lead to greater ROI.

by Steve Whitehorn

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in the Empowerment by Design series by Steve Whitehorn of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., providing A/E professionals with practical tips for a more successful, profitable practice.

During the worst years of the sluggish economy many firms took absolutely any work they could get in order to keep afloat. As the economy improves architects are finally beginning to see the projects flowing in, and again, the temptation is the same — grab up any projects possible in order to grow the firm and increase the bottom line.

So why should a firm resist the temptation– isn’t all work good work? The short and the long answer for firms concerned about their ROI and reputation is no! The principle for both fat and lean times remains the same: maintain discipline.

Exercise a simple go, no-go decision-making process to maintain discipline and adhere to the firm’s objectives.  Go/no-go is a term that comes from the tool and die trade, and refers to a simple gauge tool used to test a workpiece- there are only two outcomes: go or “go/no-go”.  When selecting work for a firm the two most important considerations to test with “go/no-go” strategy are client selection and project selection.  The criteria evaluating clients and projects must be grounded on the firm’s goals. Here are some pointers for maintaining discipline in your practice.

Establishing Goals

Firms should establish clear financial and reputational goals and stick to them. Principals should have a shared design philosophy, and a clear vision of how the firm should present itself in the marketplace.  Determine the firm’s financial goals – make the 1-year and 5-year plans. Be pro-active and creative in meeting financial goals but above all maintain the discipline to stick to the firm’s established standards.

Client Selection

Establish common ground with potential clients – make certain they share the firm’s values and motivation. Does the owner have the money to do project, and realistic expectations? Is the contract reasonable and have timely payment terms? Does the contract make the architect responsible for contractor performance, or design changes? Is the client known to be litigious?

Project Selection 

Project selection should be based on a thorough ROI evaluation based on both financial and reputational goals. Is this a project that fits within our firm’s creative vision? Has the firm done this kind of work before? Do we have the capacity? Can we do a good job and meet our financial goals?

If a firm has established clear goals and maintains the discipline to stick to those goals, making a decision on a project can be as simple as “go/no-go”.

Steve Whitehorn is the author of the upcoming book, Empowerment by Design and creator of The A/E Empowerment Program.® He is also Managing Principal of Whitehorn Financial Group, Inc., which helps its clients create a more significant legacy and empowers them to achieve greater impact on their projects, relationships, and communities.

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Editorial – Proposed IDP Changes

In reviewing the proposed revisions to the IDP program I believe that both the short and long term measures are problematic and can ultimately be detrimental to the profession at large.

Phase 1 abridges the minimum reporting hours from 5,600 (3,740 Core Hours + 1,860 Elective Hours) to only include the 3,740 Core Hours. The contention that the elective hours do not necessarily demonstrate an effective means of developing competency in protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public is fair. The response to eliminate literally 1/3 of the apprenticeship period (reducing the approximate 3 years of training to 2) is misguided, unbalanced, and reflects poorly on the perception of our field compared with other established professions.

  • The definition of a “professional corporation” typically is reserved for lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers, and certified public accountants. Here is a brief synopsis of the educational / training requirements encountered for these other professionals.
    • Lawyers – 4 year undergraduate degree + Law school (typically 3 years) + licensing examination
    • Doctors – 4 year undergraduate degree + Postgraduate degree + Postgraduate training depending on specialization (ranges from 3 year to 6 years)
    • Engineers – 4 year undergraduate degree + 4 years qualifying work experience + licensing examination
    • Certified Public Accountant – 4 year undergraduate degree + 1-2 years of work experience + certification examination
  • In reviewing these estimates it is clear that those professionals whom have the greatest relationship to preserving HSW are those that uphold a post-graduate training or education period of no less than 3 years. (CPAs manage finances which I would contend is not a fair comparison).

I believe that the crux of this argument is to further enable an expedited licensing process for young design professionals. It is important to nurture talent and keep this younger generation engaged in the practice of architecture. The ongoing problem with many leaving the profession due to a lack of jobs in the marketplace or lower wages will not be ameliorated by getting licenses in their hands faster. If anything it will hurt them more because a company looking to hire will expect to pay more for a licensed architect than they would for a draftsman but concurrently they will expect a greater degree of knowledge. Those that elect to pursue independent practice on their own will be more susceptible to act quickly without necessarily understanding the consequences of their decisions because their training was never really completed.

Accrediting bodies will not be the ones to fix the “brain drain” effect, only practicing architects that can give them opportunities to grow, learn, and mature in the profession while still making a living wage will fix this problem. Current academic practices do not teach to the Architect Registration Exam nor does actual work experience always translate one to one, however each provides components that inform the material of the ARE. We would do a disservice to younger designers by rushing this process while devaluing the body of knowledge that we have fostered over generations. If anything the abridgment reads to me as a surreptitious means of getting more people to qualify to test sooner, resulting in a larger body of people paying to take tests that they are likely less prepared for but which would result in more money flowing to NCARB by way of testing fees.

Time in internship matters. If the argument is that 1,860 hours of service are irrelevant in the current system because they cannot be quantified empirically as useful, the response should be how do we rethink 1,860 hours of service. A simple answer would be to keep them as elective hours but evenly distributed over each of the (4) experience categories. If upon further review the argument arises that some experience categories are more valuable than others, the 1,860 hours can be divided proportionally according to perceived value. Alternately, the hours need to be reapportioned within the (17) experience areas. It is of paramount importance that NCARB cease the endless litany of decisions whereby problem resolution occurs solely by means of total elimination of the problem (eg. the drafting software for ARE vignettes is outdated and fails to match with tools used in daily practice, the response is to eliminate the vignettes in lieu of fixing the software.)

Regarding the Phase 2 plan to revise the (4) experience categories to (6) that each align with the ARE exams is a logical direction to go in however the proposal goes too far. Trying to maintain multiple systems of documenting experience (one via the workplace and the other via testing) is burdensome and can be confusing for interns. It is a good idea to match experience categories with examinations however if the suggestion is to overhaul the system eliminating the (17) experience categories, then once again we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is imperative that these specific categories be structured into the (6) larger experience categories rather than removed. It may be prudent to even expand upon these categories as a means of reapportioning the 1,860 hours described previously. While I agree that the complexity of the current system exists, the problem lies in the broad definitions of the experience categories themselves. Personally I do not agree that reducing complexity results in fewer categories I think it translates to more categories with less ambiguous definitions. The ultimate key though is that the categories of experience match firmly with the intent of the associated ARE exam. The broader focus presented in the narrative explicitly states, “the current 17 experience area of IDP, in combination with their respective minimum hour requirements, reflect an extremely specific and detailed format that keeps internship focused on the details rather than the broader picture.” Even Mies van der Rohe knew that “God is in the details.” We as architects live through details. It is only through rigor, passion, and a commitment to details that we can effectively uphold the health, safety and welfare of the public. We do not need a holistic, feel-good approach that won’t adequately prepare the next generation, we as practitioners need to better mold our workplace to foster their growth so that they can thrive and be successful both at the apprenticeship level as well as throughout their careers.

 

Respectfully submitted,

  Andrew W.J. Kollar, Associate AIA

  

The above article is an Editorial submitted by an AIA-NJ Member, views expressed are not the views of AIA New Jersey.

 

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