Making Architecture Your Path with Michael Riscica

As architects, we may have tight schedules, especially after graduation when we are eligible and decide to start pursuing our architecture license. Just trying to do an 8-hour office time and then study before and/or after can take the soul out of you. Still, people ARE doing it. You must have the discipline to prepared yourself physically and mentally to achieve your goals, just like every milestone you set for yourself. If not, there are great resources online that can put you into the right direction.

The architect Michael Riscica, founder of, has become one of the resources to place you on track with the ARE’s. His experiences, study material reviews, and insight has inspired young architects to pursue their license and upscale their professional journey.

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Linked In.

AOC: When did you realize you wanted to become an architect?

MR: I hated school when I was a kid. I was a special education student, and the idea of becoming an Architect wasn’t my reality. In fact, I wasn’t supposed to go to college. It was a big struggle for me just to graduate from high school, and it almost didn’t happen. After high school, I worked in restaurants, did construction, and had all sorts of odd jobs.

When I was 20, I randomly landed a job doing CAD for an interior design company. I started by learning architectural drafting, which led me towards architecture.

Once I learned how to draw like an architect and started studying design, I discovered I had many, many skills, which translated nicely into doing architecture work. But I’d never tapped into them before.

Being a special ed student, I was really insecure about going to architecture school, but I ended up doing really well and being proud of the work I did. In fact, my life drastically shifted in a really positive way during that time.

Architecture was never really a choice for me. It was the first time I’d developed a deep, passionate obsession for something.

I never said: “Maybe I’ll become an Architect, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try another career, like investment banking or real estate.” 

Architecture chose me, not vice versa. Choosing another career has never been an option to me, and it probably never will be. There’s nothing else I’m as passionate about.

AOC: Other than the ARE tests themselves, what inspired you to create the blog?

MR: I have a lot to say. That’s really the root of how I got started blogging. I sometimes feel like no one paid attention to what I had to say until I started writing and broadcasting it across the internet.

When I started Young Architect, I already had a little bit of blogging  experience. I kept an online journal when I was in high school, and I kept extensive journals chronicling my bicycle rides across America. All of my previous journals got some traction, but they were always about a specific moment in time.

After the ARE was over, I needed something fun to work on that allowed me to express myself. It took me 4.5 years to complete the Architect Exam. During that entire time, I felt like my creativity had been severely suppressed.

I was attracted to architecture because I’m a highly creative person. Studying for the ARE is a lot of non-creative work. It’s all about thinking inside the box and following the rules. In some ways, I felt like being a creative person was making it harder for me to complete the exams.

I always wanted to start an architecture blog that was dedicated to helping other Young Architects be more successful. So when I obtained my license in December 2013, and I started Young as a place for me to express myself.

It was never my goal to become “The ARE Guy.” I wanted to write a few blog posts about it, say what I had to say, and never talk about it again. Just like everyone else.

But every time I wrote about the exam, I just got a hugely positive response, so I kept writing, published a book, and created a powerful program that helps people get started with working on the Architect Exam. At this point, I’ve spent 10 weeks helping 121 people get started studying for their first exam and then seeing them succeed after they have taken my program, has been really rewarding.

Part of me always wanted to teach at an architecture school. But I wouldn’t have ever been allowed to do that having a corporate job, so I just started a blog instead. I think it worked out better for me in the long run.

AOC: What is your advice to recent graduates that are starting their career?

MR: First, understand that the profession of architecture is HUGE, so there’s room for everyone. I think students are spoon-fed this idea that everyone needs to be a licensed, practicing architect, who owns their own firm with employees and interns. But that just isn’t the case.

Everyone doesn’t need to become a licensed architect, and you shouldn’t pursue it unless YOU truly want it.

Maybe your gift to the world is project management, CAD/BIM, interiors, design, model-building, consultation. So having a license to practice architecture wouldn’t help you. Or it’s something you don’t even want. If so, don’t go for it.

I regularly hear old-timers say things like, “You’ve wasted your education unless you become a licensed Architect.” And it drives me absolutely bonkers. I personally know many people who graduated from architecture school and are massively successful without being a licensed architect. In fact, most architecture graduates do not become licensed architects.

You might have a wildly successful career and make millions of dollars being a consultant or an expert on a technology that hasn’t even been invented yet.  Hell, if someone told me 10 years ago that I’d have a successful architecture blog and would be helping people pass their architect exams, I would’ve been really confused and thought they were insane.

Second, question everything.

Just because someone gives you advice that made sense to them, that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Before I started Young Architect, much of my career was a wild goose chase that was guided by information that wasn’t applicable to me or my situation.

You must be your own advocate.

Our professors, bosses, and mentors have a lot of collective knowledge we can learn from. We’re lucky to have them, and you should always be picking their brains.

But just because they’re a great professor, boss, or mentor doesn’t mean they always know what’s best for you. The best decision for them might be the worst decision for you.

Advice often just gratifies the decisions from the person giving the advice. It is always soo biased.

AOC: What is your advice on taking the ARE’s?


OK, if I didn’t just delegitimize myself with answering the last question, here’s today’s Young Architect advice for the ARE:

Focus on becoming a better Architect and stop doing the minimum.

Sure Michael, what does that even mean?!??

Let me ask you a question.

When you were in architecture school, did you work on your design projects until you had enough to get a passing grade, then throw in the towel, hang out with your cheesy high school friends, and wait around for the final review to arrive on the calendar?!????

No! Of course you didn’t. You kept plugging away it, trying new things, constantly improving. We spent weeks building final models and rendering our presentation drawings. We stayed up all night and put our hearts and souls into those projects. We pushed our selves to become better designers.

So how come when it comes to the Architect Registration Exam, most people approach it with wanting to do the least amount of work to get through the process as quickly as possible?!???????

Studying for the ARE is an intense education in how to practice architecture, execute projects, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. If you take it seriously, this information will change your career, your ability to make a living, and the impact you have as an Architect. It did for me.

Why do most people work so hard in design studio, then complain so much about having to understand the details about how a project is executed in the real world? Getting this education is much more important to the rest of your career than having a perfectly rendered thesis project.

My advice is to focus on this every single time you show up to study: How is studying for these exams making you a better architect?

Spend your energy on showing up consistently day after day, week after week, year after year. Showing up to study is the hardest part. Learning about how to practice architecture is actually quite enjoyable and very aligned to the work we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives.

If you can focus on becoming a better Architect and consistently showing up, completing all your exams will become a byproduct of having a successful architecture career.

The real world doesn’t care about what a great designer you think you are, or what happened in architecture school. The real world cares all about your ability to successfully complete the work. Studying for the ARE will teach you how to execute, so you’ll have a more successful career than the people who don’t get this education. It’s not about the license; it’s about the education.


Slow down, and take it seriously.

AOC: What is your insight on how the profession has become today, and what it may become?

MR: Between advancements in technology, communication, the baby boomers retiring and all the millennials moving into the profession.  I know for a fact the profession of architecture is going to change more in the next 15 years than it has in the past 100 years.

“…the way it’s always been done.” is starting to be questioned more and more. I’m excited to see the profession move away from the paradigm that architecture is a bunch of old white dudes.

The future of architecture is no longer a bunch of old guys with ivy league degrees. It’s mine and your profession, just as much it’s theirs.

That’s exactly what inspired me to start The Young Architect blog.

AOC: And lastly, what inspires you to keep working hard?

There are two things that keep me inspired.

I need/have to keep growing.

Everything is going to change; that’s the only thing we know for sure.

As a person and especially as an Architect, I feel like I need to keep growing and changing as society and the profession evolves. I don’t want to be left behind; I worked too hard to get here.

I have a relative who learned web design, and they became really successful building websites in the 90s. But then they got lazy, and since then, everything about the internet has changed. That person was comfortable and didn’t feel like they needed to grow. So while everything changed, they got left behind. Now they complain about how they’re a victim to technology evolving and how things SHOULD be.

I WILL NOT become that person.  But I’m grateful I can learn from them.

I want to make a difference.

I never dreamed that Young Architect would grow as quickly as it has over the last 3 years.  From the first day I started the blog, readers started emailing me and asking me to not stop writing. I now get emails every single day from people who read my book or blog posts, thanking me for helping them pass their exams.

If I didn’t get such a positive response from the Young Architect Community, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now and writing this guest blog post. The Young Architect Community encouraged and inspired me to get passionate about trying to help the profession of architecture.

I feel like Young Architect is the most important project I’ve ever worked on. I mean yeah, sure, I have a respectable resume and portfolio. But honestly, no project has ever kept me as engaged or excited as creating Young Architect has.

Thank you for reading, and giving me this opportunity to talk about how cool I think I am. I’m really just a big nerd that spends wayyy too much time on Facebook.


Keep working hard. You can do it!


Michael Riscica AIA CSI

1 Comment

  1. […] Our friend Jorge Fraticelli interviewed me for his blog Architect on Coffee. […]


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