Internship at the Speed of Professional Practice

November 15, 2004 · by Denise Scott Brown

Some entrants paint pictures of architecture as sweat shop. We practitioners, too, sometimes can’t believe the stress we are under, but we do it, all the same and, in the end, with love.

Internship in a Professional Life Cycle
I feel the interns are at a peculiar stage in their careers—in “purgatory,” if this means being between two places. This breeds uncertainty. I remember myself then—I told you about that. Put that together with, perhaps, a bad experience in an office, and I could see why it could be difficult for interns to formulate ideas about the future and about internships in general, right then.

This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. But they may be a lot better, during the internship, at voicing what is wrong with the situation than at prescribing how to fix it. I feel they should not be penalized for that. Do we criticize the Biblical prophets who saw only the black side? I suggest criticism should apply if they do that badly. If they do it, like Jeremiah, enormously well, we should award the doom criers.

There is a valid case against what I am saying and the consensus may be to award only the upbeat. But if this is so, then I recommend we give definite guidelines beforehand, saying “Please don’t dwell on everything awful you are experiencing, try to help us think about the future.” This should be made explicit.

Poignantly, I felt for several entrants that they will find opportunities greater than they can now perceive—that they will be able to produce the honorable architecture they describe but, at this moment, don’t expect they will achieve.

Literate Architects
It’s certainly nice if an intern can write. We need verbal and eloquent architects. But not all are trained—or have the frame of mind or ability—to write creatively. And certainly some talented designers, who are halt verbally, contribute greatly to architecture. I believe schools of architecture should teach expository writing. They won’t learn this in the English department which is mired in Deconstructivism (or the next fad), but engineering schools teach their students how to write professional prose and we should too.

Nevertheless, architecture draws to itself people who think visually and express themselves through visual means. That’s why our students choose us. So in judging these essays I don’t think we should assign primary importance to the ability to write eloquently and gracefully. Clarity and logic should be required, but architects who wield the English language like a blunt instrument should not be penalized if their content is good.

A Certain Something
If we’re not looking for a forward-facing strategy, and we’re not necessarily requiring graceful prose, what do we want? I’d say a spark. Great energy—coming out perhaps, at this point, as a Jeremiad. Passion—expressed perhaps more clumsily than one would ask of an English major. Something that reveals a great young person in architecture, who gives promise of getting somewhere wonderful, without necessarily saying, just now, where that will be. Encouragement to such a person is, I think, a valid function of this jury—although I’d be very happy to entertain prizes given on other bases as well. This one, though, I feel we missed, in our jurying.

Internship in General
I feel internship is an excellent time to get experience in construction and documentation. Once missed, this is hard to make up later. But I regret that it’s difficult for an intern to work much with me, on campus planning for example, because they are so mandated to get the construction experience, and are afraid they will delay their registration if they spend too many months on other aspects of architecture. Yet, working with me gives them experience with clients, budgets and project management at a younger age than is possible in architecture, where construction knowledge is needed for project management. They can also learn ways of thinking about design and planning, from the city, to the sub-area, to the building, which will be valuable to them as architects, because it augments their view of the scope of architecture.

If I keep an intern for any time on a planning project, I try to ensure that the next project she or he works on will have documentation and construction experience. A few are prepared to delay registration in order to gain the type of campus planning experience our firm can offer. But should this be necessary?

Interning networks in the office should include:

The Statistics
Though I am a registered architect in the United Kingdom, I never became registered in the United States. Having a child, running a firm and doing projects at the same time prevented me.

The statistics on internship, registration and continuance in the profession of women and minorities are still devastating. They suggest, for one thing, that the only women who will be in a position to win the Pritzker Prize will come from outside the U.S.—and this will be due, not only to initial problems of internship and registration, but to conditions of practice and the views of architects, clients and the media, all the way up.

We should compare architectural internship with the experience in law, where women are leaving in droves. Why?

The School/Practice Dichotomy
How will the bifurcation of schooling and practice affect the long-range chances of the intern? I believe that the stress on design and theory in school is good training for all types of architects for the long haul. But it leaves us in the profession with the responsibility (and the need) to ensure that education continues in practice.

What could be more fun than working with a bright, shiny, new intern? It’s one of my joys in the office. Yet running a mini-university in the office is expensive.

Hearts
Take heart, dear young architects! It will be possible to find all the qualities you are looking for—I have—and in extensive projects as well as small ones. But one must look hard to find the right office and project. I wish you the ability to draw wonder out of the hard-stubble you describe as practice—not dodging it, but grappling with it; pulling a kind of beauty out of it.

We should all ask ourselves what should the AIA/firms/interns do on Day One to start a change?

and Roses
Some entrants paint pictures of architecture as sweat shop. We practitioners, too, sometimes can’t believe the stress we are under, but we do it, all the same and, in the end, with love.

And we have rewards like no other. If all of us in architecture can’t stop to smell the roses, can we bring the roses to our drawing boards?

They’re very much here for us, as I work seven days a week. But that’s my choice, and there were no roses in my first job after school.

Interns should not work as hard as I do. But in the end, we hope they will find intense rewards and actualization through their professional lives.

Denise Scott Brown is an architect, planner and urban designer as well as a respected theorist, writer and educator, whose work and ideas have influenced architects and planners worldwide. With partner Robert Venturi, Denise participates in the broad range of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates’ projects in architecture. She is principal-in-charge for projects in urban planning, urban design, campus planning, and architectural and facilities programming. Under her direction, VSBA’s planning and urban design have achieved distinction for projects that link social, economic and political requirements imaginatively to the functional and aesthetic qualities of architecture. Her years of experience in interdisciplinary work and teaching contribute to the firm’s unusual breadth and depth in architectural design. This article was first published by ArchVoices, www.archvoices.com

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