APF Emerging Leaders Society Highlight: Registered Architect, Farah Naz Ahmad

Post by Farah Naz Ahmad
Edited by Noor Shaikh and Fatimah Alyas

Farah Naz Ahmad,  RA, LEED AP BD+C is a proud Pakistani-American who has served APF as a Communications Assistant and Correspondent since 2013. She also represented APF at the Paris Agreement Signing Ceremony at the United Nations and recently joined the APF Emerging Leaders Society. Farah volunteers with APF to help strengthen and highlight the Pakistani-American community on top of serving as a full-time Sustainability Professional in Architecture for the City of New York. After an extensive process she recently became a Registered Architect at the age of 28 and is eager to share her journey with the community in this post:

The fight for two new letters next to my name - RA, for "Registered Architect" - is a milestone I set out to achieve more than a decade ago when I submitted my first round of college applications with architecture as my chosen field of study. The road began with a rigorous undergraduate program with a National Architectural Accrediting Board ( NAAB) accredited five-year Bachelor of Architecture curriculum. I recorded over 5,000 work experience hours, as documentation for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. With both experience and education under my belt, I began to study for exams and evaluations. This grueling process took three years to complete--from studying for the initial exams and records review to receiving my issued license number. As of the Summer of 2018, I had completed the big four: education, experience, exams, and evaluation!

Farah at the Paris Agreement Signing Ceremony at the United Nations

Architecture is a dynamic and challenging profession. I want to help demystify the field in order to break barriers and open doors for those who are underrepresented in the field. It is important to understand the multi-faceted role of an architect. The multiple hats we wear in a project as a designer, project coordinator, building code expert, and beyond lend way to specialties in the field. We are the go-to point for clients who look to us for advice on interiors, contractors, regulatory approvals, and more. With a degree in architecture, one can dive into city planning, landscape architecture, building codes, historic building preservation, construction project management, drafting, surveying, building energy consulting, and beyond. The point is there is such diversity in roles, that one can find their passion and place within the profession.

Notably, there is a low rate of women pursuing licensure in this field. In 2017, only 35% of candidates who completed licensure were women. In addition to these demographic challenges, I find the profession to be a mystery to those outside the field. Growing up, none of my peers pursued this major, and even I, admittedly, knew very little about what the process entailed.  Becoming an architect is just as long, if not longer, of a process as becoming a medical doctor. The average time it takes for candidates to complete licensure requirements is a little over 12.5 years. Typically, at least five of those years are spent earning an initial degree.

Pakistanis in architecture are also far and few between in the United States. The profession demands diverse voices now more than ever.  While the process sounds intimidating, it is completely achievable with careful planning.

Farah with the Times Square Ball in New York

If I can obtain my license, you can too! Here are a few tips for becoming a Registered Architect for high school students and college lowerclassmen:

  • Join a chapter of the national ACE Mentor Program for high school students interested in pursuing a career in architecture, construction management, or engineering. Visit the ACE Mentor website for more information.
  • Attend a college accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). Look for schools that offer 5 Year Bachelor of Architecture programs- 4 year programs do not offer the Bachelor of Architecture degree. They are not equivalent and may create obstacles for licensure down the road.
  • Begin reporting your experience hours in college. I led my university's student chapter of American Institute of Architects and was heavily involved in the  U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon  design build competition.
  • Volunteering and engaging in design and construction work related opportunities will give you a head start.

Farah at the Social Good Summit

I am excited to embark on the next stage of my journey and use my knowledge in building systems and engineering, project management, construction documents and services, programming, site planning, construction and materials, and much more, to advance the green building industry. The last seven years of gaining professional experience have been incredibly eye-opening. I am blessed to work for the City of New York and merge my love for both architecture and advocacy. I strive to design the ideal built environment in the most efficient manner, and publish and lecture on my views of energy efficient architecture. Green building is a niche that this profession is still embracing, and I am excited to be living through this revolution. Through this journey, I want to be a leader that leads by example. I encourage youth to pursue this unique, demanding, and ultimately rewarding profession!

I was recently featured in Salem Press'  Careers in Green Energy  comprehensive environmental career guide.  My personal journey to becoming an architect and achieving licensure is featured in the 'Architect' chapter.  You can encourage your school library or local affiliations/organizations to purchase a copy.

Farah on Instagram

Those looking to pursue careers in building energy can visit my  website for professional organizations, campaigns, and advocacy groups. Anyone who needs specific advice on their own journey to licensure, or is interested in pursuing architecture as a field of study, can reach out to me here. You can also follow my journey on  Instagram  and  Twitter.