The Indicator: Toward a New NCARB

Despite never formally becoming a licensed architect, Le Corbusier would for ever alter the profession with his writings (including "Towards a New Architecture") and designs. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, c. 1950. Image © Sureh Sharma

A few days ago I took part in an AIA-organized Twitter discussion (#aiachat) focused on the subject of IDP, or what we here in the US call the Intern Development Program, administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

I periodically get sucked into these Twitter discussions when I’m busy procrastinating and not writing what I’m supposed to be writing. Call it a weakness for provocative questions thrown out on Twitter by faceless moderators: 

Q1: What advice do you have for interns getting started with IDP?

Q2: Many states allow concurrent completion of IDP and ARE4. What are the benefits of participating in both at the same time?

Q3: What resources have you used to help navigate IDP?

And so forth. 

The discussion brought back painful memories of my own tortuous IDP experience. By the time we got to Q7 or Q8 I came to a conclusion: IDP needs to be radically overhauled and re-conceptualized.

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You readers in the EU and elsewhere must be wetting your pants, laughing so hard at us “emerging professionals” and “interns” over here in the US, where it takes an average of 8.5 years after graduation to obtain a license. Furthermore, according to a recent NCARB survey, it takes 5.33 years just to complete IDP (which, by the way, they tout as an improvement). By NCARB standards, Pritzker Prize-winner Peter Zumthor, missing a few credits in certain knowledge areas, wouldn’t qualify. Bjarke Ingles would be an “intern.”

As Amanda Kolson Hurley reported in Architect Magazine, “Mickey Jacob, FAIA, the 2013 president of the AIA, is equally concerned: ‘Unless the industry leaders from all the collateral representative organizations come together to seriously address this issue, we will find ourselves facing a much more serious problem 10 to 15 years from now—a shortage of licensed architects unable to meet the demands of the marketplace.’” The article suggests cutting the time to licensure down to 7 years, but is this good enough to make a real difference? Is anybody listening to the president of the AIA when he says there are major problems with the licensing process that need to be addressed?

Before everybody starts writing comments, let me be clear and state that I understand the purpose of IDP and the existence of NCARB and all the state boards that seek to protect the public by regulating the standards of the profession. I also appreciate the hard work NCARB’s 80 full-time employees do to further the architectural profession.

However, I, like many, view the process of jumping through IDP’s hoops as unnecessarily time-consuming, expensive, restrictive, and complicated. In fact, candidates should earn a few credits just for figuring out how to keep track of the whole system: proving eligibility, tracking credits, reporting credits, maintaining credits, working with coordinators and mentors, paying fees, filling out forms, etc.

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What if NCARB, the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB - the body tasked with accrediting US professional degree programs in architecture), the AIA, and state architecture boards all agreed to radically transform IDP toward the goal of making it more efficient? IDP could be compressed and fast-tracked for the benefit of candidates and the profession as a whole. But how? Allow me to give my own two cents.

Currently candidates are required to achieve 5,600 credit hours in the core areas of Pre-Design, Design, Project Management, and Practice Management. If we divide 5,600 hours by a 40-hour work week (though I don’t know anyone in architecture who works a mere 40 hours), we get 140 work weeks. This is roughly equivalent to just over 2.5 years. So, if all you did for work was IDP you could conceivably finish in 2.5 years. That basically cuts NCARB’s 5.33 years in half. That difference is where the problem resides and where a solution can be found.

Does IDP really need 5,600 credit-hours? What if we went down to 3000? Would that still be enough? Do you really need 240 hours of Construction Administration? 1,200 hours for Construction Documents? 80 hours of Programming? What are these numbers based on, anyway? Scientific studies? Why not 1,000 hours for Construction Documents instead of 1,200?

So my first suggestion? The credit-hour requirements should be reevaluated and adjusted down.

Secondly, schools should include earning IDP credits as part of their programs.

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As it is, it’s a good thing NCARB allows candidates to begin earning credits in school. But this could be refined so schools could facilitate IDP through studios and courses, require working in firms, and allow students to sit for the ARE exams prior to graduation (currently candidates have to complete their degrees first). This would allow students to rack up significant IDP credits before they graduate. Then it would be conceivable for IDP Associates (let’s not call them interns anymore) to graduate from architecture schools with licenses in hand, ready to serve the public as full-fledged architects.

Of course, this would take serious coordination between schools, ARE, NAAB, and NCARB to make it work. But why not?

Then again, the way things stand, it would take a student close to ten years to graduate in a program that included all of this. Many IDP credits require working on real projects and engaging in the day-to-day business of architecture - things that just can’t be gotten in school (nor should). OK. So maybe graduating with a license is a little extreme.

But what if the entire system were overhauled to not just allow candidates to make significant headway on credits during their school years, but then to complete them with a post-graduate year of solid IDP-dedicated work?

Hence, suggestion number three (and the most important): Establish an “IDP Year.”

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In other words, that first year out of school, while (hopefully!) working for a reputable firm, you would be engaged full-time with an IDP coordinator to fulfill credit requirements. Your work would be IDP. Think of it as an intensive residency program.

How is this different from what we already have? The first difference is that it would take significantly less time after graduation to finish. The other difference is conceptual. By implementing IDP Year as central to the program, work assignments would follow IDP rather than the other way around. It would also bring more focus to the process. In the long-run this would benefit firms because their associate architects would ideally transition more quickly to full professional status.

Additionally, during IDP Year, a candidate’s work load should be limited to 40 hours per week to allow more time for ARE exam preparation. There will be plenty of time for those long hours later.

Of course, to take the cynical view, you could say NCARB might not be interested in reform since, though they are non-profit, they do depend on a steady stream of fees to keep their complicated operation running. Are they worried that making the process easier would flood the marketplace with too many architects?

But by being so “rigorous” about the path to licensure, architects end up looking like a joke in comparison to other professions, such as law or medicine, where it takes far less time and the process is far more systematic. Maybe the simplest thing to do would be to scrap all this new stuff NCARB paid for and go back to the old paper system. How long did that take to complete? Four days (IDP didn’t come around until 1976). Is the system really better today? NCARB keeps telling us it is, but, like many, I have my doubts.

Guy Horton is a writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to authoring “The Indicator”, he is a frequent contributor to The Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, The Atlantic Cities, and The Huffington Post. He has also written for Architectural Record, GOOD Magazine, and Architect Magazine. You can hear Guy on the radio and podcast as guest host for the show DnA: Design & Architecture on 89.9 FM KCRW out of Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyHorton.

About this author
Cite: Guy Horton. "The Indicator: Toward a New NCARB" 11 Sep 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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