More on CSI Exams (Because this is SO important)

There are some excellent posts on a CSI LinkedIn Group discussion.  I’m going to quote them here, since not everyone can see that discussion. 

Robert Johnson posted a quote from Kevin Phillips, who wrote about a time when he was starting his first intern job:

“About a month after I started my employment, I took my CDT (Construction Documents Technology) exam offered through CSI. This was my first introduction to CSI. I passed my exam and received a certificate as a Construction Documents Technologist. Studying and taking that exam opened my eyes to a whole new world. I learned so much about construction documents and the industry as a whole. I felt that I had a HUGE advantage over my peers because I learned much more about the industry than they had…in a short period of time.”  (Kevin Phillips)
And I wrote a follow-up:

“The SHORT PERIOD OF TIME is key. A lot of architects think that learning about construction contract administration has to be EITHER a ‘baptism by fire,’ OR ELSE a decade-long apprentice period involving a lot of copying over of someone else’s shop drawing review notes. 

“There is a third option – study for the CDT exam (in conjunction with a little baptism by fire and some copying over of shop drawing review notes) – and you’ll have such a greater understanding of what your role is as the architect on a construction project, in a MUCH shorter period of time than it takes others who don’t take the CDT!”  (Liz O’Sullivan)

Robert Johnson followed up:

“I agree with Liz about the basic knowledge that the CDT education course will give you about contract administration – the roles of each of the elements of the contract documents and the basic roles and responsibilities of the participants during the construction stage.

“Taking the CCCA education course after CDT will carry that to a much further depth. You will now learn more detailed information about the roles and responsibilities of the owner, contractor, and design professional during each of the activities of the construction period. This will include preconstruction submittals, preconstruction meetings, submittals, meetings, closeout submittals, site visits, quality assurance and quality control, interpretations, substitutions, claims and disputes, measurement and payment, and project closeout to name some of the topics.

“As with other similar areas, you can take the long and painful route of learning from your experiences without any education to go with it. The quality of the resulting education will relate to the quality and knowledge of your mentors and how comprehensive your experience is in terms of involvement in all the construction period activities, types of projects, types of project delivery, etc.

“The CCCA education will make your experience much more fruitful and better prepare you for new unexperienced situations in the future. The combination of a good education and experince can’t be beat! If you have contract administration responsibilities and don’t take the CCCA education course, you are shortchanging yourself.”  (Robert Johnson)

Here’s a link to the members-only discussion.  If you’re a CSI member, you can become a member of the group.

CSI can help you put yourself in the shoes of others… and achieve a smoother construction process.

Spec writers joke about how one of our career requirements is the ability to read minds.  We are joking, of course, but sometimes we’re quicker to realize what the architect and the contractor are trying to communicate to each other, and we end up acting as translator between them.  Sometimes this can happen during construction; sometimes it can happen during construction documentation, when a contractor is part of the project team.

Why is it that some spec writers have this ability?  Perhaps it’s because so many of us have taken CSI Certification exams, and are active members of our CSI Chapters. 

CSI draws its membership from specifiers, architects, engineers, contractors, facility mangers, product representatives, manufacturers, and building owners.  So if you’re active in a Chapter, you get to know all kinds of people who use construction documents.  You get to know people outside your immediate field, who can be a tremendous help to you in your work.  For example, architects can get to know product representatives in a setting different from the typical “box lunch” presentation, or a meeting about a specific product for a specific project.  You can get to know people on a more personal professional level, outside the context of a specific product or specific task, and get an overall understanding of how that person does his or her job, and how that person can help you do your job.

There is SO MUCH to be gained from preparing for CSI Certification exams.  The CDT (Construction Documents Technologist) exam covers a wide base of knowledge about preparing, understanding, and interpreting construction documents, and the roles of different groups in the construction process, such as architect, owner, contractor, suppliers, and product representatives. 

When you better understand a team member’s role in your project, you can better communicate with that person.  If you can put yourself in the shoes of another construction project team member, you can have clearer documentation, better communication, and a smoother construction process.  CSI can help you do that.  You don’t even have to be a member to take a Certification exam. 

If you register by Friday, January 28, 2011, you get a discount on registration for CSI Certification exams.  Final deadline is Saturday February 26, 2011.  Exams are offered at computer testing centers between March 28 and April 9.  Check it all out at


Ummmm, What is He Thinking? AIA chief economist Kermit Baker suggests that architects should do what they do best—design—and hire paraprofessionals to do the rest.

This month’s Architect Magazine has an article about using design “paraprofessionals,” written by the AIA’s chief economist, Kermit Baker. 

“AIA chief economist Kermit Baker suggests that architects should do what they do best—design—and hire paraprofessionals to do the rest. Try it. Your profitability might just skyrocket.”

I think Mr. Baker is misguided, or misunderstands how our profession works.  Here’s my response, which I posted on the website.

“In this scenario utilizing paraprofessionals in architecture firms, who would train the interns?  What would they learn?

“Since interns who want to become licensed someday have to work under the direct supervision of licensed architects, what would they be learning if the licensed architects aren’t doing anything technical?

“The best way to learn how a technical detail is supposed to look is to draw that detail from scratch.  If interns never learn that, we would be very, very poorly training the future leaders of the firms.  What we are licensed to do is to design safe and sound buildings.  We are not licensed to just design whatever we want. A good start to designing safe and sound buildings is to understand building technology.  We are not training architecture students in building technology in architecture school, and if we stop training interns in building technology, we are headed for much tougher times for the profession.”

Medical students receive 2 years of clinical training, working in hospitals, while they’re in medical school, before they graduate as M.D.’s.  Architecture students have no official training working in architecture offices while they’re in school, but they don’t graduate as Architects.  They go to work as architectural interns after they graduate.  They receive their training on the job, before they’re allowed to sit for their licensing exams and, if they pass their exams, become Architects.

In school, we do not train architecture students in what they need to know to become licensed.  If we quit training them them in technical matters on the job, how will they even become licensed?  And if they do become licensed, how will they be able to oversee the paraprofessionals working for them, if they actually have no technical understanding themselves?  Who will do the construction contract administration?  The licensed architects are the ones who need to seal the drawings and specifications.  The licensed architects are the ones with the professional liability and obligation to design safe and sound buildings.  That’s what they are licensed to do.   

It’s not all about profitability.  Unless the system of architectural education and training completely changes, architects have an obligation to train interns in practical and technical matters.  We can’t shift that responsibility to paraprofessionals.  Soooo… if we have paraprofessionals doing the work that interns and young architects usually do, why would anyone hire an intern?  And if there are no interns, who will be the architects of the future?