The Indicator: No More Interns

  • 10 Jun 2013
  • by
  • Editor's Choice The Indicator
Sampson Kempthorne workhouse design for 300 paupers, plan view, via wikipedia

The title “intern” should be banished from the profession of architecture. It’s about time. It has run its course. It’s outmoded and contributes to a culture of exploitation in the guise of opportunity. Frankly, it makes us look so nineteenth century.

More importantly, I’m tired of seeing articles decrying the state of interns every summer when “intern season” kicks in. Can we just be done with this? It’s depressing. Don’t exploit the interns! Pay the interns! No free labor! Class action lawsuit! Solidarity! FU pay me! All very well and good. However, if labor laws and ethics have not fixed the problem, maybe getting rid of the title will. It’s just a title, but it sets a bad precedent.

It’s some weird vestige of early-modernity, anyway. It came about with the birth of the factory and the industrial revolution…and child labor. But in architecture we now have adults cast as interns, placed in child-like roles in which they are dependent on “elders” for exposure and access to the profession.

Sampson Kempthorne cruciform workhouse design for 300 paupers, via wikipedia

This is the gate-keeper mentality of the old guard, the old boy’s club. But contemporary architecture is open to all and architectural knowledge is no longer controlled by a handful of institutions or by firms themselves. Almost anybody can get an architecture degree or study architecture in some form.

The position of the intern is rooted in the idea that an individual comes into practice as more or less a blank slate, an empty vessel—except for what she may have learned in the academy. But these days, that intern may actually know more than licensed long-term practitioners in many respects. He may be a specialist in technology, materials, that design software the old guys can’t seem to figure out. The interns deliver the new knowledge to the firms that have already been around since the days of blueprints and maylines. They propel the profession forward and onward. They get tired of being interns so they start firms of their own. Meet your new competition.

Interns are for internships. From my college days, internships were for volunteering for good causes or for gaining inside exposure to different professions. Internships might be what you did for the summer when you weren’t in school. But in architecture there are no internships, there are just interns. And interns can be interns for years. Ever meet the forty-year-old intern?

Contrasted Residences for the Poor, via wikipedia

I think the AIA was on the right track with the title “associate”. It sounds more dignified, embodies more optimism, and has a higher-paid ring to it. You are an associate, not an intern. In the bigger scheme of things this helps the profession by conveying more value. It also imparts more value and a sense of participation and responsibility to new members of the profession. Something like this communicates a “we take care of our own” sensibility versus the “we eat our own young” approach.

The client is getting team members who are associates, not lowly, underpaid or unpaid interns. The client thinks the intern is the guy who sharpens pencils, makes the coffee, and takes out the trash. The client views the intern as representative of old hierarchies. The client doesn’t want interns designing her hospital.

Children at crumpsall workhouse circa 1895, via wikipedia

Doing away with the title would be a symbolic step toward leveling the profession, shaking up the organization, removing another vestige of factory thinking from the collaborative world of design. Collaboration and teamwork do not need interns. They need creative, intelligent participants who bring their own unique qualities and talents to the mix. Oh, and make your own damn coffee!

Cite: Horton, Guy. "The Indicator: No More Interns" 10 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 May 2015. <>
  • ps



    the concept of internship predates the 19th century and the industrial revolution by many centuries and has nothing to do with child labor or exploitation. quite the opposite, it was a honorary position reserved for those of rare talent or privilege, just as it should still today.

    • public anon

      right.. working 7 days a week, 60+ hrs a week with no pay except for school credit that the intern has to pay (so paying to work to receive credit) is some sort of privilege. not to mention paying for my own meals, gas, AND garage parking.

  • ty vole

    archdaily uses unpaid workers

  • wouter

    Interns enjoy free education in your company, when they learn to work in our profession. Interns have NO or little experience, what results in team members with no single idea of time management, crafts and finance. That experience will grow of course in the years of practice, of our beautifull profession. Those companies using only trainees just as cheap draftsman, deliver not the quality you should expect from an Msc. consultant, but you might wonder if that’s the problem for the client or the intern. At least you are free to choose the kind of company where you want grow.

    • rob

      Zaha, is that you?

    • mn

      people work, they get paid…simple as that
      I simply do not believe that somebody who went trough 5 years of school can not bring something to the company and get paid for it

      enough with the free work

      • wouter

        the point is, you don’t work, you learn to work
        if you don’t get that difference ..

  • archidozer79

    If you’re tired of being called an intern, get your licence. If “Almost anybody can get an architecture degree or study architecture in some form” then almost anyone should be able to get their licence, right? If you want to get recognized as someone who makes a difference aside from making the best coffee…then do something about it. Get noticed for working hard, solving a problem, something other than complaining about a term that has meaningless merit in where you are on the ladder of the firm you are in. The 40 year old intern doesn’t work for free…same as the 30 year old partner…that doesn’t happen without proof of what you can actually accomplish.

  • XX_CHI

    The truth is we work for “free” most of our careers.
    Sure, we get some sort of salary, but we never spend 40 hours in the office. Maybe one week we do, but the next we’ll be ordering food at 11pm and eating it at our desk. There is something fundamentally wrong with the profession of architecture and the way we get compensated for what we do and how much we do. We not only need to step up internally and remove “free internships” but we need to get our client to have a better understanding how expensive rotating a bathroom really is…

    • pocahontas

      spot on! maybe even advice the client not to make a rotating bathroom at all.

      • jp

        no way, the rotating bathroom stays.

  • __less_is

    We need to clarify a few things first.
    When I was in college I did “internships”, some for free, some paid.
    When I worked for free, I lived in a dorm, had plenty energy and was eager to learn. It was great, again, both paid and unpaid. I added projects to my portfolio…Listed good companies on my resume, couldn’t ask for more. Post graduation I was lucky enough to get a decent job (when the recession hit), and I am still here. But some of my friends were unemployed, and were desperate. They did work for free, they needed to keep going, at all price. The couldn’t stand being at home and pretending that it is ok. I mean how many competitions are you willing to do? Being desperate, and someone taking advantage of that desperation is NOT OK. We went to college, have a degree, and we paid a lot with hard work and big checks/loans. We didn’t go to college to become “volunteers”. I went to architecture school out of my passion for it, but first and foremost, this is my profession, my job, and my career.
    The term “inernship” is ok, for those who are still in school and are learning. It is NOT OK to call those who are skilled, educated, and with a degree, “interns”.

  • Nick Knack

    As a recent intern, really!? You have to pay your dues! Of course the client doesn’t want someone who is just entering the work force to design their hospital. Lives are a stake here, literally… It’s a hospital…

  • mime

    Architecture….. most schools do not teach you architecture. They teach you design. That is why, when you look for work after school you have no idea of what actual architects do. School’s should teach you how to be an architect, not a designer. It is a flaw in the system. You go to school and you do not even get a license…..why? because you do not know what an architect is required to do. Many things need to change, I think mainly it is the attitude of architecture students. They need to understand that a greater knowledge and experience of finance and even more so construction and management is required in order to succeed as a true architect. If you have no interest in these two other factors then you my friend are a spacial designer, not an architect. p.s. AIA contracts are also a huge factor of why architects suffer so much. Architects get paid once but are expected to change the product as many times as the client desires with minimal added costs….. ok ill stop now. cause this can go on and on.

    • Melissa

      I am curious as to how the school fails to teach architecture students anything but design, and yet you say its the students attitude that is the issue. That doesn’t add up. If the institution is failing to teach about the entire profession, then that is where we need to direct the changes.

      • mime

        Do schools teach you how to draw a complete set of working drawings?…which is the main product that architects get paid for.
        I put the responsibility on students because once the students change then institutions will follow.
        Why would you wait for an entire flawed educational system to change when you yourself can do it instantly?

  • John

    Doesn’t Walmart call its employees “associates”? It reminds me of a scene in SEINFELD, in “The Bookstore”, which takes place at the coffee shop:
    (Elaine enters and sits down)
    JERRY: Sleeping in the car again?
    ELAINE: Cocktail flu.
    JERRY: (Remembering) Oh, right. The big party..
    GEORGE: You, uh, didn’t dance again, did you?
    ELAINE: (Angered) No, I found a better way to humiliate myself. There was this guy, and we had a few too many..
    GEORGE: You went home with him?
    ELAINE: Worse. We made out at the table like our plane was going down!
    JERRY: (Rubbing it in) Ah, the drunken make-out. An office classic. Did you end up xeroxing anything?
    ELAINE: (Gives Jerry a look) Do you know how embarrassing this is to someone in my position?
    JERRY: (Confused) What’s your position?
    ELAINE: I am an associate.
    GEORGE: Hey, me too.
    (A waitress, passing their table, speaks up)
    WAITRESS: Yeah, me too.

  • architina

    I can’t tell if the author here is trying to say that the title “Architectural Intern” should change (it should!) or the actual period of “internship” should go away (it can’t unless the education process changes!)
    Calling someone with a Masters in Architecture and 2-5 years of working experience is misleading. In any other field an intern is someone who is in college, possibly even working for college credit.
    As a profession we need to do a better job of describing things in ways that make sense to our clients and the general public- our professional titles would be a good start. When I tell people (who aren’t architects) I’m applying for architectural intern positions with almost 2 years of student intern experience and a Master’s degree they don’t believe me. Associate, apprentice, Architect-in-training, jr designer… these are all better terms to describe people who have completed college and are working through IDP but still are not licensed.
    The “internship period should be covered by school” conversation is a much bigger problem that also requires discussion, but a lot of players would need to be at the table for it to be a productive discussion.

  • js

    work for pay, pay for work,…not a difficult concept.

    • Jack Hauss

      ok pay for work. so if intern messes something up do they fix it for free?

  • anna sophia

    i think interns should be paid. but not much.

  • RMD

    Architecture students are generally highly intelligent to begin with and then spend 5 or 6 years at school, learning to design primarily, but also how to think critically and solve a range of complex problems. Although lacking in experience it doesn’t take long for a graduate to learn the roles and responsibilities of a fully capable architect, especially if they are given adequate support, guidance and are allowed to make mistakes. Most graduates currently working as ‘interns’ would relish the opportunity to run with their own project. Not paying interns is symptomatic of some of the systemic problems in the profession. If we treated our own younger generation with more respect, we would in turn demand more respect as a profession in general.

  • mash

    Interns should get paid. I work in a studio that is based in the US, but works and employs internationally. We pay interns, and the interns are still in school. We pay architecture grads…what you call them, is all about semantics…we don’t call them interns anymore, they are architects – unlicensed. There is a big step between interns and associates. Most of our Associates are registered in the states with a decade of experience building projects all over the world. Architecture is unlike finance or law in the use of the title ‘Associate’. You get paid according to your experience and ability…and we’re always looking for interns juiced up on the latest plug-ins.

  • Sam

    Most of these posts are probably from people who have never hired an intern, they cost an employer money, it is a losing proposition to hire an intern. If you are truly training them and helping them grow, it usually takes a year or two to get a return on your money. Most who are fresh out of school lose money for the company for a few months up to a year on average and I end up billing for about 25% of their time because they are so slow and always focused on things that are not important or not realistic. Despite this, we still pay our interns. It is just part of respecting people and helping them get their “foot in the door”

  • Meto M


  • Liz O’Sullivan

    There are 2 separate topics here that should not be confused with each other.

    First – the title we give to unlicensed emerging professionals. Right now, that’s “intern,” a term that, as currently used in the mainstream, might not fit very well anymore. (This is just a word, and may indeed have become outdated.)

    Second – the unlicensed emerging professional’s actual professional capacities. Many recent grads do indeed know how to use the latest tools much better than their older colleagues. This does not make them architects. Remember, software is just a tool. Architects also have to produce construction documents that can be built from, and have to administer the contract for construction. Yes, the tools, and the interns, help with production of those documents. But whoever stamps and signs those documents better not be letting the tools and the interns do everything by themselves. That would be foolish, a disservice to the client, highly risky liability-wise, and illegal.

    As you wrote, “the client doesn’t want interns designing her hospital.” But she actually doesn’t want ANY unlicensed people designing her hospital. Trying to equate a recent grad to a licensed architect with years (or decades) of construction documentation experience and contract administration experience HURTS the profession. And might anger the client.

    Experience and examination requirements aren’t about “gate-keeping.” They’re to ensure a minimum level of competence so that clients can be served by capable licensed and regulated professionals – people who have something to lose (their licenses) if they do not serve the client competently.

    It’s true that many people “can get an architecture degree or study architecture in some form.” But we can only learn how to practice architecture, as regulated by the states, by working under the direct supervision of licensed architects. If we don’t keep it this way, consumers lose protections that they need, and the profession loses the thing that keeps us alive – regulation.

    Don’t mix up these 2 separate issues!

    • Eris Rodriguez

      This is the best comment so far.

  • John

    Great debate.

    Sam! – How the hell did it take you a year to see a return on hiring an intern?!? Most interns can do work you can charge $100+/hour and there’s no no way you’re paying them more than $20/hour. Unless it takes them a week to do a day’s task then there’s no way that adds up. Remember to make sure your intern can perform basic tasks and read before you hire them.

  • ml-arch

    I really love architecture. Have been in it a very long time. But real changes are needed for the profession to survive, much less prosper (beyond just the intern designation and/or practice of utilizing unpaid or nominally paid junior participants). Respectful to pay interns something decent for their efforts. If they cannot contribute, maybe they should not be working with you. Only in US are significant numbers of experienced architects not admitted to practice and denigrated by the inaccurate title “intern”. Only really appropriate during first few years working when there’s a truth to having to learn a lot not taught in design schools. Whole structure of profession sort of like fighting over a sliver of pie rather than thinking of how to make a bigger pie or more to go round. Contractors have lots of work. Last I checked most engineers had work and were mostly pretty well paid. No big issues bringing newbies into those fields.

  • Dru McKeown

    I would think architects of all people would understand the adage of “You get what you pay for”.

    Why would I reliably anything of quality out of someone working for free? I would think I was the very last of that persons obligations. I much rather pay for quality and commitment. Firstly to ensure that my needs would remain the focus of the intern/employee’s efforts and secondly to instill a sense of value in knowledge and work.

  • William Strouse

    Graduate architects are more valuable today to an office than they have ever been. These young architects should be paid a starting wage in the range of $18/hr+ in Washington State plus benefits. If properly directed and supervised they should generate profit from day one to the firm in one way or another. Since the law forbids calling them architects they should be called associate architects. I have two working for me at the moment and they have more enthusiasm, excitement, energy, skill, commitment, resilience, and problem solving potential than most of the architects I have worked with over the years. Any architecture firm that does not pay a fair wage to the people who work for them is a cheat and they know it and they should be ashamed of what they do. Every profession needs to change and adapt and this has always been the case and always will be. Architects will do this because solving problems is what they do best and as long as they continue to work for the greater good, which most make a serious attempt to do,they will continue to succeed.

  • Silver L.

    After working 14 months as an intern – after my Master’s graduation – for great offices I feel ashamed to receive answers like this one “Hey, we love your work. Do you want to work for us? We will pay 200€/month.”
    When I tell them I have my student loans to pay, I’m not rich and I need a bed and some food, they answer me: “If you don’t feel comfortable with this salary, this is not the place for you.”

    And yes, I’m starting to feel like architecture is not really the place for me. It’s just frustrating. And not fair.