Celebrating Adrienne Stronge, Licensed Architect

Please join us as we celebrate Adrienne Stronge, RA, CSI, CDT, in her achievement of passing the Architectural Registration Examination. She is now a fully licensed architect! Adrienne has worked tirelessly to achieve this monumental goal and we are so proud of her achievement. Her story is telling of the dedication it requires to become licensed and how the profession has progressed over the last two decades.

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Unlike many other career fields, one is not required to hold a license in order to design some buildings. For instance, houses up to a certain size don’t typically require an architect, and some designers go their entire careers only doing house plans to avoid the liability of being licensed and the complicated process it involves. It is also possible to work under the direction of a licensed architect who takes responsibility for your work allowing you to design larger and more complex projects (for instance working on staff at Gaines Group Architects). Legally, you are not an “architect” until you pass the rigorous exams. Each state controls its own requirements and regulations, but it usually takes an accredited degree, 3,740 experience hours under the supervision of a licensed architect, and passing a series of six exams. To be considered an accredited degree, an architect’s education must be either in a 5-year Bachelor of Architecture program or a 4-year undergraduate program combined with a 2-year Master’s program. Adrienne graduated with her BS in Architecture from the University of Virginia School of Architecture in 2006 (a 4-year undergraduate program).

Upon graduating, Adrienne was working multiple jobs, including ecoMOD where she designed and helped build a house that was transported to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She was recruited to Gaines Group Architects when they heard of her passion for doing good in the community. She joined the Gaines Group team to gain experience before beginning a Master’s degree. All within her first few years of graduating from UVA, Adrienne got married and bought a house. The recession hit in 2008 and the architectural industry was hit hard. As fellow architectural firms laid-off employees, Gaines Group Architects was able to avoid layoffs making it through by shortening team members’ hours on occasion and the three partners giving up paychecks for almost a year. During this time, Adrienne and her husband became extremely resourceful and managed to stay afloat via hard work and sheer determination. As you can imagine, graduate school was the last thing on Adrienne’s mind and the idea of adding more student loan payments was daunting.

The economy eventually recovered, and the architectural industry improved. The firm established a strong track record for multi-family design where Adrienne excelled as a project manager. She unquestionably loved her job but continued to feel the pull to be a licensed architect. Feeling a bit stuck, she saw fellow colleagues tackling this achievement while she danced around the official title. She felt confident in her skill set and was performing at a high level within the industry, so she began taking the steps to apply to graduate programs and research licensing requirements in different states. Knowing this was a goal she wanted to achieve, it was difficult to envision taking the next steps as her husband was in the process of starting a business. Adrienne and her husband’s lives then dramatically changed as they welcomed their son, Allister to their family.

At the beginning of 2021, a partner at Gaines Group Architects encouraged Adrienne to attend the Young Architect virtual conference (the firm supported 5 people to attend this amazing conference). It was during this enlightening experience that Adrienne met fellow professionals in the field who pursued licensure through alternate means. She learned there are numerous states in which licensure can be granted through logged experience in lieu of an accredited degree, but this is not an option in Virginia. Inspired by these colleagues, Adrienne activated her records and began documenting years of back hours.

By late September of that year, Adrienne had filed her hours, secured professional references, and was approved by the State of Tennessee to pursue architectural licensure. This opened the door to allowing Adrienne to sit for the six exams required to pass before officially becoming “an architect”. The series of exams are anywhere from 3-4 hours in length and are extremely challenging. To understand the level of difficulty, these exams had an average pass rate ranging from 47%-63% in 2021 compared to the BAR exam’s average of just under 75% in Virginia.

Adrienne buckled down and worked tirelessly to pass all the exams in only a few short months (something rarely done). She completed all of this on top of excelling professionally and balancing her family responsibilities. She credits so much of her success to her husband, Andrew. In reference to him, she said, “I studied roughly 35 hours a week on top of my job, and he sacrificed a lot to allow that to happen. I am so thankful to be married to someone who is so invested in my success.”

She is now waiting on the paperwork to make it all official, but we are not waiting to celebrate her achievement of officially being “Adrienne, Registered Architect.” She is pursuing a certificate that may allow her to earn reciprocity in Virginia in a few years. Adrienne’s story is inspiring as she balanced tremendous responsibilities and overcame numerous obstacles to fulfill a goal she set for herself 20 years ago.

 In Adrienne’s words, “I’m thankful to work for a supportive firm who helped me through this process and has already questioned how we can secure work in Tennessee. Kudos to all of you who are working hard to make your goals and dreams happen. It is so tough, but so rewarding!”

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