Chapter Member Highlight
By Glenn Remler, President CSI Miami Chapter
I had the opportunity to interview Craig Aquart, Managing Partner at MC Harry & Associates: RA, AIA, NOMA, CSI, CDT to discuss his inspirations for becoming an Architect, the state of the construction industry, why CSI along with the member benefits, and the value for young professionals to participate. Here are the takeaways from my conversation with Craig.
Tell us about MCHarry & Associates:
McHarry & Associates, Inc. was founded in 1957 by Milton Carlisle. The company's focus on the Public Sector Architecture along with private clients. Such as Higher Education, Municipal Buildings, Courthouses, Fire Stations, Community Centers, Renovations of Church Buildings, and more. Craig became a principal about seven years ago and one of the third-generation owners of the firm. Craig Aquart and Lourdes Solera are now equal partners of the firm.
Why & when did you become an Architect?
After graduating high school, Craig started working at an engineering firm, H&A where he began learning about Structure, MEP, and Geo-Technical Engineering. Craig was in the drafting room and saw a set of architectural drawings come into the room. He asked the head draftsman at the time, what are those? The Engineer explained those are drawings from the Architects who are Dreamers, but the Engineers make it a reality. After a year working at the firm, it piqued Craig's interest, and he wanted to be one of those dreamers. Craig applied at Caribbean School of Architecture, UTECH in Jamaica. From 500 students who applied, Craig was selected out of 35 students to participate in this school and graduated with Master of Architecture.
How did you hear of CSI and your involvement with the association?
Craig came to the US in the latter part of 2000, working with Apex Consultants (Sister firm in Jamaica). Richard Solomon was a past president of CSI Miami and a great advocate. Richard recommended joining CSI and applying for the CDT. Craig studied and passed. Being new in the US, he found the tools useful and the networking from the chapter quite helpful being new in Miami. Craig took the CCCA exam and passed that exam as well.
Experience with the CDT:
Reading the project manual was eye-opening, especially from the Caribbean, where their learning was from the British learning system. Craig needed to learn how to tie the specifications with the construction documents and tie into the variety of team members (Ownership Team, Design Team, Construction Team) and what it takes to put together significant construction documents. It's made Craig a better professional through the certification program then into practice.
What practices do you use from now having the CDT:
Craig oversees the construction documents daily and introduced CDT to their project managers and associates. They do follow CSI standards and cost estimating, which is done in-house but has great respect to the Master Format Standards.
What value can younger professionals get from participating in CSI?
Craig is a member and part of Leadership at AIA Miami, member and Leadership of the National Organization of Minority Architects, Leadership Black Architects in the Making and believes being part of organizations allows you to network and get to know people. You become better within the association. Becoming a member of CSI, you become more knowledgeable from members who have experience in specification writing, understanding construction documents, along with best practices for working with industry trades.
As the Principal of an Architect Firm, what are your thoughts when a candidate has CDT, CCCA, CCCS certification applying for a position?
Craig sees dozens of resumes from candidates each year, mostly from students. What you learn at the University mainly theoretical and how to think. Architect firms are looking for students who can hit the ground running and put together a set of documents together, understand relationship construction drawings, specifications to contracts, and so forth, which you don't get in school. Those students with the CDT certification get moved to the front of the pile of candidates. That person will have a better understanding verse their peers. Having the CCCA certification and running a project as a project manager to understand how the contract applies to the owner, contractor, and the architect is key to any successful project. Again, having that certification from CSI puts you at the top of Craig's list for working at MC Harry & Associates.
As an industry professional, what is the value or importance of having certification from the CSI Program?
MCHarry & Associates have CDT professionals in their office and listen to their recommendations as the firm's leaders. Employees share their value and appreciation for participating in the exam. By having the CDT or CCCA, you see the bigger picture of how everything comes together on the project. Even the seasoned professionals or older guys who take the exam are surprised and admit they have been doing it wrong for many years and now clear from taking the examination.
CSI has a broad reach into the AEC Industry than other associations do. How do you see it?
CSI has made it very clear whether it's an Architect, Engineer, or Contractor, the difference between quality assurance vs. quality control. Craig stated you don't get that knowledge from any other exam as you do with the CDT & CCCA Exam.
For younger professionals coming into the industry, what advice would you give them?
While knowledge is power, it's the application of knowledge that strength lies. Being part of a network is essential for your growth. You can’t succeed in your profession by going to work and going home. Being part of a bigger picture and being part of CSI or other associations is the first step. Not just being a member but be part of leadership or committees will help you grow. Next, find a mentor you can speak with on a formal or non-formal level. The mentee must seek out the mentor. The mentee needs to be the seeker of this information and a desire to learn. Up to you to meet with a mentor regularly. Final suggestion, complete the task your set out to achieve. Whether you’re an Architectural Graduate, Engineer Graduate, or Interior Design Graduate, the last step is to become licensed or certified. You have invested a significant portion of your life and the pursuit of this goal. You can’t stop because some parts or the final steps are frustrating. You must preserve and finish them. A significant number of graduates don't obtain their certification. Especially if you’re a minority architectural graduate, so you can adequately represent your identity in the profession. Black architects are a small percentage (2% are black architects). Encourage everybody to complete that last step to get licensed or certified.
Looking at Architectural today, what are the styles that interest you the most?
Involvement in the community. Architecture is about people. It's not about buildings, styles, not about inanimate objects, but about relationships and how people use these designs and how architects create for the owners, how the team put those buildings together by the user, client, architects, and engineers. One thing in common is that we're all people. The relationships we have during the process of design is significant because it can reflect into the community. As Architects, we need to forge that relationship with the community because our structures affect how people think and feel. Whether a school, church, fire station, etc., as architects, we influence how people use and how people feel about the use and think of these buildings. Engaging the community to understand what they want; they would like to see us to understand the client's requirements. The more we interact, talk, engage with the community, the better our architecture will be because architecture is about people. Most architects can give you a modern, traditional, classical or style building; it's about talking to the client and getting to the function and relationship with people. Maya Angelou says:" People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel". The better you have a relationship with your client, they will come back with you. The better your relationship with your consultants, the better the project will turn out, and they won't let you down. The better your relationship with the users, the more you'll understand what they want and how the space will function. The better your relationship with your staff, the more they will produce quality work. Everything from your family life or your working environment is based upon building relationships.
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