NCARB Shares Insights From Its Futures Collaborative

What will the role of an architect look like in 25 years? As part of a multi-year effort to ensure licensure programs and standards keep pace with an evolving profession, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is sharing insights from its Futures Collaborative. Established in 2017 to explore challenges and opportunities facing the profession, the collaborative is composed of leading architects, experts in emerging technologies, and architectural licensing board members.

Over the past two years, members have met with innovators in the AEC field who are embracing cutting-edge technology, data analytics tools, and design solutions. By asking challenging questions, the collaborative’s goal is to understand trends that could transform the way NCARB, and its members, facilitate the licensing and credentialing of architects. Eventually, the results of their work will be used to inform updates to NCARB’s education, experience, examination, and certification programs.

“While we won’t ever have all of the answers, NCARB and our Member Boards have a duty to ensure architectural licensure keeps pace with the world around us,” says NCARB CEO Michael J. Armstrong. “Understanding emerging trends and influences will help us prepare for the future—whatever that may bring.”

Having consulted with architects and designers from Autodesk to WeWork, along with collateral organizations in architecture, the collaborative identified several trends that are shaping the future of architectural practice and licensure.

Technological Advancement

In the span of 25 years, the profession has transitioned from paper-and-pencil drafting to Building Information Modeling (BIM). While no one technology will completely alter the architect’s role, the collaborative anticipates that three technologies will have the greatest impact on the profession: generative design, computational analysis, and automation.

Generative design software, which enables users to input project goals and quickly evaluate solutions, is changing the design process. Similarly, computational analysis allows design solutions to be tested in a virtual environment for various performance factors before a project ever breaks ground.

Code compliance—previously considered one of the most important roles of an architect—is also being automated through BIM.

“As software becomes more advanced and user-friendly, the future may have clients creating completely code-compliant solutions that meet their program requirements,” says 2016-2017 NCARB President and Futures Collaborative Chair Kristine Annexstad Harding, FAIA, NCARB.

While technology has the potential to fully automate functions related to health and safety, it also provides an opportunity to better assess welfare. Instead of asking, “Is this a good building solution?” architects may find themselves with data that allows them to answer, “Is this the best building solution given the parameters?” The architect’s role is therefore likely to shift to focus more heavily on welfare. Once the collaborative has completed its research, NCARB could begin exploring expanded definitions and assessments of welfare throughout the licensure process—including possible questions on the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) and requirements for NCARB certification.

Changes Within Practice

According to the AIA 2018 Firm Survey Report, firms have become increasingly multi-disciplinary, offering a range of services such as interior design and engineering. And while small firms still account for most of all practices, firms with 10 or more employees account for more than 80 percent of all staff in the industry. The convergence of these trends has led to increased specialization and collaboration, as well as debates over who maintains responsible control of a project.

“We are wrestling with regulating in an increasingly collaborative environment where the lines between work product are becoming more blurred,” says Futures Collaborative Member David H. Barkin, AIA, NCARB. “We will need to determine what an architecture license of the future will mean, and what responsibility the license will carry.”

Advances in technology, as well as shifts in market trends and client expectations, are pushing AEC professionals to specialize in niche areas like building systems, 3D rendering, artificial intelligence, and immersive virtual reality. The current licensure framework ensures that architects are competent in a broad range of skills—effectively providing a generalist license. But as specialization and project complexity becomes more pervasive, so will the need for increased collaboration. Architects already work closely with engineers and construction managers; many are collaborating with building envelope specialists and acousticians, and delivery methods such as Design-Build and Integrated Project Delivery continue to grow.

As the design process continues to become more collaborative, can one architect truly have complete control over a project’s design decisions? While large firms often establish management structures to ensure responsible control is distributed to the most appropriate team members, others may only have one or two partners signing and sealing all of their firm’s work. Given this shifting landscape, the collaborative encourages NCARB to consider updating its definition of responsible control, as well as the current one-size-fits-all approach to licensure.

Positioning for the Future

Advances in technology have transformed architectural education, practice, and regulation, and NCARB is working to adapt to the constant state of change. In 2015, the organization launched the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL), giving students the opportunity to complete their experience and examination requirements while earning a degree. Now, over 400 students are enrolled in an IPAL option, with several earning their licenses shortly after graduation. With 26 programs at 21 colleges around the country, NCARB anticipates a growing demand for programs that combine theoretical and practical learning.

The Futures Collaborative will continue its work throughout 2019 and beyond. The group will take a closer look at how trends in sustainable and resilient design are impacting the profession. The collaborative will then recommend charges to NCARB’s committees, which shape everything from architectural education, experience, and examination to the organization’s policies and standards.

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