Walter Netsch, Architect
I haven't earned the right to call myself an architect. People occasionally refer to me as one in conversation, and I'm always quick with a correction. I did go to architecture school, I'll explain, but that doesn't make me an architect. To use that title, I'd have to undergo a lengthy internship and pass a grueling examination, in accordance with state and national regulations, and I haven't done either.
Walter Netsch, on the other hand, is eminently justified in using the title of architect—no matter what the state of Illinois has to say on the matter (“Illinois Pulls Walter Netsch's License Over CEUs,” July 2007, page 26). Architects work hard for the right to call themselves architects, and our readers are justifiably outspoken when we incorrectly apply the term. So when I refer to Chicago's Netsch as an architect in the headline of this article, I do so with considerable forethought.
At 87, Netsch is an elder statesman of the profession. A retired design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, he was responsible for major projects such as the Colorado Springs campus of the Air Force Academy, which was named a National Historic Landmark in 2004. Netsch is now in poor health and forced to rely on a wheelchair since the partial amputation of both legs.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) reportedly has been on Netsch's case for some time, in a scenario that smells a bit like bullying. The state did agree to grant him a medical waiver in 2005, but only after a bit of prodding: in other words, Netsch filed suit. In March of this year, the state finally lost its patience and informed Netsch that the waiver would no longer apply. The reason? The requirements for fulfilling continuing education requirements can now be accomplished online.
Is it fair to assume that every octogenarian owns a computer or knows how to use one? Here's an even better question: What possibly could be the benefit of pulling Netsch's license? He's no longer in active practice, so lives aren't at stake. What is at stake is the personal and professional dignity of an 87-year-old man. For many, “architect” is more than a job title—it's an identity.
The IDFPR (and all members of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) should rethink the policy of stripping older architects of their professional status. There has to be an alternative to the bureaucratic, black-and-white status quo. Some nations have created a special designation for elderly artists—ningen kokuhô, or National Living Treasure, in Japan, for example, and Maître d'Art, or Master of Art, in France. UNESCO, for its part, has created guidelines for the development of national “Living Human Treasures” programs to protect the interests and talents of venerable artists. I'd like to send a copy of the guidelines to the IDFPR. They may not name Netsch a “Living Human Treasure,” but “Architect Emeritus” would be a start.