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.
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?
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.
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!