R. Steven Lewis (1984)

This essay was first published in the NOMA Magazine, Fall 2008 issue.


The Architectural Licensing Exam: A Right Of Passage
by R. Steven Lewis
Licensed 1984

As a young teenager, years before the thought of pursuing a career for myself as an architect entered my mind, I can recall the day when my father received the results of his licensing exam in the mail.

Months earlier, my mom, along with me, my brother and sister drove into Manhattan at the end of the final day of the then week-long exam to pick him up from the Coliseum at 59th Street and Columbus Avenue. The International Style structure designed by Leon and Lionel Levy with John B. Peterkin Embury and Eggers & Higgins, was built in 1954 and stood as one of New York City’s most well known monuments until it was demolished in 2000. We hadn’t seen dad since earlier in the week, when he decided to stay in the City for the remainder of the grueling right of passage. We found a spot nearby to park the car and then all got out and embarked on our search and rescue mission. Through the mass of humanity crisscrossing the plaza out in front of the Coliseum, we caught sight of a figure that vaguely resembled my dad, except for his disheveled appearance and a scruffy beard. The glimmer in his eyes removed any doubt that the man we might have easily mistaken for a transient was indeed our hero. He had survived the architectural licensing exam and would share with us all of the associated trials and tribulations that occurred throughout the week-long ordeal.

After a shower, a shave and a couple of days rest, the adventure faded from our consciousness until that fateful day when the results arrived in the mail. He was sequestered in the upstairs bathroom when my mom simply slid the envelope under the door. He stayed in there for an awfully long time until we became concerned that he might have disappeared down the drain, when all of a sudden the silence was broken with a roar.

For an instant, my dad was the king of the jungle. He emerged beaming, his grin stretching from ear to ear. “I passed.” And with that, his name was added to the ranks of licensed architects – Roger C. Lewis, black, proud and prolific. Many years later, I enjoyed my own version of his story, obtaining my license in November of 1984.


R. Steven Lewis is an architect in Detroit, work as Urban Design Director for the Central District at City of Detroit Planning and Development Department. He formerly practiced in southern California and has worked for Parsons and the General Services Administration (GSA). He is an alumni of the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University. Connect with Steve HERE.

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