Education: Then and now

Ralph Liebing, RA, CSI, CDT
I still remember the phone ringing that evening on December 10, 1963—it was my dad.

“Congratulations, Architect!” he said.

“Don’t kid me about that, Pop,” I replied.

Then he went on to tell me it was not a joke—it was right in the newspaper on the bottom of page 5, right at the fold. I had passed the registration exam on my first time through.

Five days of exams, and only one was the massive fill-in-answer-square format. All others were written or drawn—CAD, never mind building information modeling (BIM), was still a gleam in someone’s eye! I had to pass all portions and maintain an overall score of 75. It turned out, I had one at 93 and one at 75 and the others scattered betwixt. I was a Registered Architect (RA)! Of course, I was registered on November 30, and then had to renew for 1964 by January 1.

This was all 50 years ago, but it is still clear in my mind. I wish such a day and event on every one seeking his or her professional designation—whether as an architect, engineer, specifier, or technical product representative. I also wish them much, if not all, the education I had: the depth of instruction, the breadth, the ability and knowledge of my professors—some of whom built their new homes with their own hands. Those teachers, with their ability to use insight and sense to guide our efforts and bring out our best, were key to me becoming an architect. They gave us a well-rounded education from design through project documentation to legalities and site observation. It was all there and, coupled with good co-op employers, rather complete as it was augmented in the offices and in the field.

The parallel of education provides the start of the requisite relationship of the architect and engineer and product rep—that unique relationship so vital to successful projects.

Of course, the product reps also need education in the context of their relationship to suppliers, distributors, and trade contractors who have both proposed and active projects. This is unique in another way, but also vital. Additionally, there is need to combine both ‘educations’ because they are most essential to the success of any rep.

However, there should be no misunderstanding that education needs to cover the basics of materials (i.e. their unique origins, construction, and installation), as well as what is currently in-place, developing, or happening. The historical information about construction, assemblies, and techniques is essential for creating a perspective and foundation for using the past construction information and knowledge in a matter that can be employed in new processes, formats, and software.

Misuse of the material leads only to problems onsite and the need to take additional time—time we rarely have—to review, research, and develop the knowledge. Even for the newest, most cutting-edge, innovative project, use of older information is necessary to ensure flexibility in both design and construction.

CSI has come to recognize this situation, and has found wide support among its members for a solution. The board commissioned a feasibility report investigating whether the institute can provide the needed instruction. With the board moving to formation of an implementation task team, help is on the way. This help will be open to all construction industry members from entry-level student to grizzled and experienced trade workers. Even outsiders may access the program to satisfy their interest.

There is no doubt the CSI effort is meaningful and important. Over the last 50 years, so much has changed, but, oddly enough, not always for the better. With the Internet, building information modeling (BIM), and the rest of the tsunami of technology-driven improvements in data, many emerging design professionals have grown up forever armed with machines that seemingly contained everything that was ever needed. It is not just a matter of having all the data, however—it is also important to be able to sort, judge, and interpret it.

Otherwise, the prevailing perspective for graphic documentation of projects is totally askew. The ‘information of old’ becomes forgotten and seems to be taught less and less in the classroom. Eventually, we will run out of the old guard, and its trove of knowledge and experience that gives credibility and stature to what we do. CSI’s continuing education program on building science and technology has been approved and is ready to be ‘born’ for the industry.

Ralph W. Liebing, RA, CSI, CDT, CPCA, CBO, is the senior architect of specifications for Hixson Architects/Engineers/Interiors (Cincinnati, Ohio). Throughout his 50-year career, he has been active in every phase of private practice and was the building commissioner for Ohio’s Hamilton County for 14 years. Liebing is a certified professional code administrator and building official in Ohio. He has taught architectural technology, professional practice, and construction regulations/documentation at the university level. Liebing has authored several books, covering a project’s progression from inception to occupancy, providing introductory information about specifications, and elaborating on the mechanics, process, and techniques for detailing. He offers a weekly e-mail commentary, PerSpecTives, on aspects of the design practice. Liebing can be contacted via e-mail at

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