Firm Culture

The co-authors of the 1996 Building Community report noted that, "In short, we feel that only firms prepared to treat interns as investments ought to hire them" (p.123). There are many fantastic architecture firms out there, but finding them can often prove difficult. That's where InsideArch comes in.

InsideArch is a web-based resource dedicated to collecting information and perspectives about the work, culture, and employee experience in individual architecture firms. This resource was created by a single young professional as a means of collecting and comparing the qualitative work experience at firms across the country. The site has over 500 individual firms reviewed by real people who have taken the time to share their work experiences with either current or previous employers.

InsideArch exists as much to highlight the great firms as to help you think twice about others. If you work at a great firm, you should tell the world. If you think you can help future interns avoid a big mistake, your review can highlight some of the tough questions to ask.

Intern Exploitation
As a result of the importance of the personal and social relationships within the architectural profession, recent architecture graduates are occasionally willing to work in high-profile architectural offices for free in order "to get a foot in the door." At the same time, many well-meaning architecture firms need extensive labor to complete the significant and time-consuming tasks required to produce detailed models or intricate drawings and computer renderings. As a significant amount of innovative architectural design work is achieved through competitions, much of this work is pursued by architecture firms with little chance of receiving any remuneration. The willingness of some architecture school graduates to work for free, combined with the moral and legal flexibility as well as honest ignorance on the part of some architecture firms, occasionally results in significant socially retrograde practices.

Intern exploitation can take a variety of forms, but typically relies on a combination of the enthusiasm and naiveté of the intern and the ignorance and hubris of the employer. Some people have actually worked in high-profile architecture offices entirely for free, either to get "a foot in the door," or to add an impressive line to a resume to get future jobs. This situation came to a head during the recession of the early 1990's, when architectural jobs were uniquely scarce. In the early- and mid-1990s, the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) led an effort to eliminate this practice by encouraging the AIA and ACSA to require design award winners, conference presenters and even elected officers to sign a declaration that they paid all their employees in accordance with Federal Labor Laws.

What was perhaps more widespread and continues most extensively today, is the practice of inappropriately classifying intern employees as professional, salaried employees, exempt from overtime compensation. Many aspiring architects work well over 40 hours a week, but do not exercise the professional discretion over their work and scheduling required by Federal Labor Law to exempt them from being paid overtime. Very few young people are being paid time-and-a-half for every hour worked over forty.