Casius Pealer: Unlicensed Architect and Real Estate Attorney
Casius is not your average “unlicensed” architect, nor is he your average real estate attorney. In his own way he has contributed and continues to contribute to the more sustainable development of the built environment.
Casius Pealer is trained as both an architect and an attorney, with 17 years of experience practicing in affordable housing and community development. In addition to private practice as a real estate attorney, Casius has worked in the public sector as Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA). He also served as the first Director of Affordable Housing for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in Washington, DC. Casius is currently Director of a graduate program in Sustainable Real Estate Development at Tulane University, and also Of Counsel in the New Orleans office of Coats | Rose.
Relevant to his perspective on the architecture profession, while in architecture school Casius was elected National Vice President of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS). In this role from 1996-1997, he served as the student member on the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) board of directors and the NCARB/AIA IDP Coordinating Committee. He was also appointed to the AIA’s National Associates Committee from 1998-2000 and was co-founder of ArchVoices with John Cary, Jr. in 1999. John and Casius published over 250 issues of ArchVoices from 1999-2005, as well as two National Internship and Career Surveys (with AIA) and organizing the 2002 Internship Summit. ArchVoices received a Collaborative Achievement award from the AIA in 2005.
One quirky fact not in most bios is that in 2014 Casius became a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and a member of the National Registry of EMTs. Although there is no formal internship period for EMTs and he is legally certified, Casius is still very much a novice EMT. He volunteers one day every other month as an additional (third) EMT on an ambulance for the New Orleans Emergency Medical Service.
The Quick Details:
Name: Casius Henry Pealer, III
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation: unlicensed architect
Title: Director, Sustainable Real Estate Development, Tulane University School of Architecture
Degree(s)/Education: B.Arch./M.Arch., Tulane University School of Architecture
J.D., University of Michigan Law School
Your personal hero(s): Lately I’ve been thinking recently about one Mary Hamilton, whose story reflects the importance of language and the words we use, either to internalize existing power structures or to uncover them.
Mary was a black woman in Alabama who was arrested in 1963 for participating in civil rights protests. At the time in many parts of the country it was customary for judges and prosecutors to address white witnesses by their last names (“Mr. Pealer”), while referring to non-white witnesses by their first names (“Mary”). This seemingly small indignity was not nearly the top priority civil rights issue to address in 1963; but Mary Hamilton was willing to risk jail time and a significant fine over this detail. More to the point, the judicial system was prepared to impose jail time and a fine to continue even the most trivial aspects of the status quo.
At her hearing, Mary Hamilton refused to answer questions unless she was addressed as “Miss Hamilton.” The judge sentenced her to five days in jail and a $50 fine. The Alabama Supreme Court denied her appeal, but in Hamilton v. Alabama (1964) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that this treatment amounted to racial segregation in the courtroom.
What first made you interested in architecture?
What I liked most about studying architecture in school was the diversity of activities we engaged in. In just one day, you could be drawing in studio, making in the shop, writing in the library, talking with a “client,” presenting in the lobby, and collaborating back in studio again. Most everyone studying other fields seemed to always just be writing papers.
What frustrated me as an architecture graduate in 1996 in particular, was that architecture firms weren’t at all like this. CAD was starting to be incorporated into offices, and the term “CAD Monkey” was coined in reference to much of the work that recent graduates were expected to do at that time. This is much less of a problem now, not least because even senior architects and principals mostly understand how to use the computer in their practices. But I still think that if you took away the word “architecture” and just had architecture graduates seek out meaningful jobs, very few would end up in the places we now call architecture firms.
What do you do now?
I do a variety of things, mostly focused on the students and alumni of the Master of Sustainable Real Estate Development (MSRED) program at Tulane. The MSRED program is a one-year, practice-based graduate program in the School of Architecture. MSRED coursework and activities combine education in sustainable design and planning, with real estate finance and community development. This is the fifth year of the program, and about 40% of our students have prior backgrounds in architecture, and about 40% in business.
About half our students come to New Orleans from outside the New Orleans region, and importantly just over half tend to stay in New Orleans after graduation. Although there are a handful of real estate programs based in architecture schools nationally, many of which have been started in the past 5-10 years, our program is a direct result of the challenges and opportunities in New Orleans post-Katrina. “Sustainability” is not just a buzz word for the communities, companies, institutions, and people who experienced the aftermath of the failure of the federal levees here in 2005. We train our students to be successful in the industry right now, but we also expect they will transform and lead the industry in the future.
Do you apply your architecture background to your current job?
I come from a family of public school teachers—middle school, high school and community college. Teaching to me is a profession unto itself, and one I am still learning on the job. Clearly my background in architecture is valuable, but that’s just incidental really. Architecture/design is why I was interested in green building, but my work as a real estate attorney and in public policy is really what content I bring to my job as MSRED Director. Or rather the best answer to this question is perhaps that real estate and community development is a holistic, integrated set of disciplines and disparate skills. And what better background for fusing multiple disciplines than architecture?
What’s in store for the future of the architecture profession?
When I graduated from architecture school 20 years ago, it was commonly accepted that approximately ½ of all graduates go on to get licensed and practice Architecture. Today we have data proving that old adage remains true: The 2015 NCARB By the Numbers publication shows an annual average of 6,000 graduates with NAAB accredited degrees, an average of 3,500 IDP completions annually, and about 3,300 ARE completions annually (since ARE 4.0 was implemented in 2008).
The 2,700 NAAB graduates each year who never complete IDP or take the ARE represent a huge loss of energy, talent, diversity and strength for the profession of architecture. It’s as if we have a pipeline that has been leaking 45% for over twenty years, and we just accept it. Some of our leaders even think it’s a good thing, whether they are willing to say so publicly or not.
What’s different now, I think, is that those NAAB graduates who never get licensed by a particular state board aren’t simply disappearing. Increasingly, they see themselves as architects too. And they see the profession as too focused on the economics and business interests of registered architects, resulting in a diminished standing of architecture as a discipline.
As AIA Gold Medalist (posthumous) Sam Mockbee said, “Architecture has to be about more than just architecture.” It’s long past time to make the profession as large as the discipline. The future of architecture depends on whether we can do that.
Any additional thoughts?
Very few registered architects would agree that a state legislature’s legal definition of “architecture” accurately describes the complete practice of architecture. Yet most registered architects are adamant that a state legislature’s legal definition of “architect” is the One True Definition of the term. They even think the state should take action to prohibit people from using the term more broadly, through fines and perhaps even detention if necessary. Where there is a genuine risk of public safety hazards, yes. But not to protect a parochial business interest, or because of a magazine article.