Supporting Intern Architects
published Nov. 2014
The path to becoming an architect can be a long and arduous one that requires a NAAB-accredited degree, 5,600 hours of documented experience in specific areas of practice, and passing the multipart Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
It’s tough for an aspiring architect out there, but it’s also tough for firms that may not see the value in devoting resources to training. In the spirit of supporting emerging professionals and architects alike, the AIA and the NCARB annually recognize firms that go above and beyond to help intern architects with the IDP (Intern Development Program) Outstanding Firm Awards.
This year’s award recipients have proven their dedication to the profession by encouraging their interns in innovative ways:
- BLT Architects, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Eppstein Uhen: Architects, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, New Orleans, Louisiana
- Payette, Boston, Massachusetts
- Seay Seay & Litchfield, Montgomery, Alabama
- VOA Associates, Washington, D.C.
A Higher Standard
“When you get to the point where you can teach, it’s your responsibility to teach others the best you can,” says Jim Seay Jr., AIA, a principal and founder of Seay Seay & Litchfield (SS&L), one of this year’s award recipients.
And Seay would know: His father, Jim Sr., who founded SS&L in 1977, was an architect and engineer who taught at Auburn University. Jim Jr. now works with the AIAS chapter at Auburn to help them prepare students for the internship process.
SS&L’s principals are dedicated to mentoring aspiring architects, whether they end up staying at the firm after licensure or not, says Seay, who is also an Architect Licensing Advisor for Alabama. SS&L takes the IDP program a step further by pairing their interns with more experienced architects so that it becomes a more collaborative dialogue—in which each side learns something new. Seay and his team also structure the experience by giving the interns progressively more responsibility as they master core IDP competencies. One intern, who is now on staff, was managing an $18 million construction project within two years of graduating.
SS&L’s culture of collaboration and teaching is not unlike that of Boston’s Payette, which in 2000 created the Young Designers Core (YDC), a leadership and professional development network.
YDC co-founder Jeff DeGregorio, AIA, who joined Payette in 1998 as an intern and is now an associate principal, says that the group’s purpose—one part intern’s union and one part communications network—is to empower aspiring architects during a challenging time in their careers.
“When we first conceived of the YDC, we were recently out of school and there was a loss of continuity between the education we received and [the internship experience],” says DeGregorio.
“Our approach was that the practice of architecture has an obligation to maintain this continuum and teach its staff. This obligation goes beyond the traditional ideas of how to detail a building, but includes the additional layers [such as] the development of a firm culture, seeing the making of buildings first-hand, ethics, a direct engagement with senior staff in the office, and a much larger understanding of what it means to be an architect beyond what a person’s role on a project could give on a day-to-day basis,” says DeGregorio.
Payette and his principals recognize that interns bring value to the table. “[Interns] challenge us and give us new ways to think about things. Architecture is constantly evolving, and there is never a time when you are not learning, even for principals,” says Hilary Barlow, who interned at Payette in the summer of 2012 and joined the staff as a junior designer a year later.
The philosophy for YDC is that “elevating interns elevates the practice as a whole,” and so the firm actively schedules informal cultural events that produce mentorships organically.
The work culture at Payette further supports intern development with its entrepreneurial nature and the layout of the office. They designed the current studio as an open environment where projects are posted in design spaces along the interior wall. And there are no offices; people can see all the work that their colleagues are doing and pop by to offer their input. There are weekly showings to ensure a constant feedback loop, which encourages a cross-pollination of ideas and sharing of expertise. This gives interns a greater exposure to different projects. In addition, the firm encourages all staff to take initiative—if they see a design opportunity, they are given the freedom to pursue it.
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR) of New Orleans, also the AIA’s 2014 Firm of the Year, has a dedicated licensing advisor (IDP coordinator) tasked with keeping interns on track to complete the licensure process. The firm also offers support in numerous ways, such as providing ARE study materials and hosting “Lunch ‘n Learn” roundtables.
“The IDP program is such an important tool for professional development,” says Michael Glenboski, AIA, EDR’s licensing advisor. “As an intern completing my licensure [at EDR], the Intern Development Program gave me the exposure necessary to really understand our industry, and in doing so gave me the tools and confidence to take on larger project responsibilities and grow as a professional with the support and mentorship of my supervisors.”
Interns are offered incentives for earning a license, such as bonuses and invitations to join the principals and directors at their AIA component’s state or regional conventions—at the firm’s expense. The firm also covers state licensure fees and a portion of AIA membership. Adding ceremony to the process, EDR has an annual celebration at which those who achieved architect status that year formally change their titles from intern to Architect.
While IDP is a means of tracking hours on the long road to licensure, the spirit of the program is about creating a continuum of trust and collaboration. This year’s award recipients bring that continuum to the fore and raise the bar for all firms.
This article was written by Erica Malouf and originally published by the American Institute of Architects here.