We’re sending this issue of ArchVoices from the Sooner Hotel lobby in Norman, Okla., following a lively opening session at the 2002 National Internship Summit. You too can engage in the Summit this afternoon from your own computer between 2-5pm (CST) today. Go to http://www.internshipsummit.org, click on the discussion icon, type in your name, and join the discussion. We’ll see you there.
But first, today’s issue of ArchVoices is an editorial titled, “Architects must reform internship now.” It was authored immediately after the 1999 Collateral Summit, by the former editor of the second-largest architecture magazine in the country–not by some random intern with an axe to grind. Leaders in our profession often express the need to seriously address the challenges of internship–yet in a field that prides itself on creativity, collaboration and execution, these challenges persist.
“Architects must reform internship now”
By Reed Kroloff
They don’t cost much, they don’t mind of lots overtime, and they don’t have family responsibilities. Sound like a Dickensian catalogue of the virtues of child labor? Guess again. That is what registered architects, responding to a survey, told the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) they like best about their interns.
The information drew gasps of disbelief at last month’s Summit on Architectural Internship in Lexington, Kentucky. And though not representative of the profession in general, the comments did underscore the need for the summit: Internship in this country is broken, and to fix it, architects must start looking at the next generation as something more than cheap labor.
What’s clear from the NCARB poll is that no one is winning the internship game. While practitioners find their interns eager, computer-ready, and design-savvy, they decry the younger generation’s poor communication skills, lack of technical knowledge, and shaky understanding of business. In turn, interns enjoy the learning experience of the real world, but are frustrated by low pay, the NCARB paper mill, and poor mentoring from their employers.
NCARB also reported a disturbing parallel statistic. Since 1990, the number of Architectural Registration Exam divisions has dropped nearly 75 percent. Some of the decline can be explained by the shocking increase in the cost of the exam, and the fact that it can now be taken piecemeal over time. But the numbers were tumbling before NCARB introduced the new, computerized test, despite climbing pass rates and a robust economy.
Little wonder. NCARB’s survey reveals that internships are utterly failing to inspire young architects. Nearly half rate their internship as merely adequate–or worse. Further, they feel that offices provide little incentive for them to get licensed: responsibilities don’t change measurably with licensure; neither do salaries. Why bother with the liability?
Make no mistake. This is a serious problem. If internship is discouraging young architects from getting licensed, the profession is headed for trouble. Architects, the AIA, AIAS, NCARB, and the schools must respond now with a concerted effort to reform the system. Streamline the Intern Development Program. Improve mentoring. Or if necessary, scrap the process altogether with a fresh start. The 1996 Boyer report and other studies have offered credible alternatives, none of which have been given serious enough consideration.
Ironically, with continued economic strength and more graduates than ever pursuing a traditional professional path, this should be the easiest time to fix internship. In researching this issue–our annual review of American architecture–we found a generation for whom architecture is a consuming passion. Nurtured on the speed and self-sufficiency of the digital world, these young Americans are more capable and willing than any before them to energize a slow-moving profession.
In this issue, we set out to create a snapshot of what it means to be a young American architect today. We weren’t looking for stars; this isn’t a top 10 list. We weren’t looking for architecturally trained video game designers either. We wanted real people who want to be architects, no matter what path they take to get there, and we want you to meet them face-to-face. Our only criteria were that the subjects had to be under 35, and they had to be interesting.
We found more than we could possibly publish in one issue, so we present only a selection here. They’re an engaging, inspiring lot. But unless this profession begins to care for its own early on, they could be the last of their kind.
(Reprinted from Architecture, May 1999, p.13, with permission of VNU Business Publishing, USA, Inc., and the author.)