The concept of getting an “F” on anything typically indicates you have failed to do the thing required, correct? However, an “F” takes on a different meaning in the sphere of the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), and the Construction Specifications Institute. For these organisations and many others, getting an “F” in front of your credential or the word “Fellow” after it, such as LEED Fellow (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), indicates you have proven yourself to be in the top tier of the organisation’s membership. Let’s break down what that means. 

Above Standards. WELL above. 

In the American Institute of Architects—for those wondering what is AIA—gaining an “F” requires working above and beyond the profession’s standards of practice. Creating beautiful architecture that works well for the client and/or users, delivered on time, on budget and as intended is not enough. Even when faced with challenging schedules and inadequate budgets. The person pursuing an “F” for their “AIA” also indicates they have been an AIA Architect member in good standing for a cumulative ten years. 

For the ASLA, the “F” recognizes exemplary leadership and other aspects involved in the practice of Landscape Design over an extended period of time, with the minimum time not defined. For an “F” from CSI, they are looking for distinguished service in the construction industry for which five FCSIs must attest to. 

Thinking about the work of architecture, or these other disciplines, this way presents professionals who have long believed being an architect was enough. Only two to three percent of AIA architects become Fellows—the percent varies among the different AIA resources on the subject and from year to year. The numbers for ASLA and CSI are not readily available. 

How to Get There

The path to gaining an “F” best begins by surveying the extensive American Institute of Architects resources on the topic (AIA Resources for Fellowship) and, for landscape architects, resources from the ASLA. As professions that require concentrated understanding of contracts and project requirements, it remains surprising how few individuals give these resources the focused attention necessary to gain a comprehensive awareness of the criteria, format and online details of submission. Many rely on staff or consultants to do this but taking the time to grasp their parts and pieces will go a long way to kicking off a solid submission.

The second step on the path presents the greater challenge. Individuals seeking to join the ranks of “F-holders” must first set aside every bit of marketing language they and their teams have taken years to amass. Then, the prospective candidate must turn their lens of understanding on their work and its meaning around and focus directly on what they—the individual nominee—has done. 

While both professions, and the other specialties noted above—produce work based on collaborative models, “F-ness” is about the individual acting to overcome a challenge to produce a result that changes things for others. See Architect + Action = Result for strategies on how to accomplish this sometimes practice-bending take on the professions. 

Time is an Ally 

Seeking to reach the top echelon of your chosen field takes time and introspection. Gathering the full scope of project work, service, teaching, volunteerism, publications, awards and other elements that make a successful case for Fellowship takes time—months. 

The introspection required to understand your specific intentions, actions and their larger meaning for others requires contemplation, self-assessment, honesty and patience. Give the pursuit the gift of time. 

By Manali