Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Okay, in all fairness, I found this on Lulu Brown's blog for architecture interns, but as an architect I love it. This guy/group of people/whoever has started a blog that calls out architecture firms that advertise unpaid internships. Here's the thing about internships: if you do work from which the firm directly benefits and that firm is not a nonprofit, you have to be paid--it's the law. Architecture firms will occasionally try to hire interns to do drafting and/or 3D modeling for them and not pay them, under the guise that "any work is some experience to put on a resume", but in most cases it's illegal. (If you get college credit for the work, then hey don't have to pay you. Other rules apply--check the Department of Labor's website for details.)
While work is slowly coming back for us architects (some places slower than others), I'm still a little fearful for my colleagues, especially the newest among them. When they need just a few more months' worth of experience hours to sit for the ARE, they'll be sorely tempted to work for nothing just to get those last hours of experience. And why do my fellow architects even do such a thing as ask interns to work for free? Is it avarice? Is it not charging enough for their time and expertise in the first place? Is it thinking that the architect is so amazing and skilled that the newest of our profession should be leaping at the chance to simply bask in the light of the architect's countenance? I imagine it's a combination of all of these and maybe more.
Architecture as a profession has a weird culture, seemingly based on the Taliesin model set up by Frank Lloyd Wright. In Wright's model, the apprentices were paid little to nothing and lived in tents on the architect's property (at Taliesin West, anyway) and barely got by in order to sit at the Master's feet and absorb his (and always a his) philosophy and skills. Wright himself was a brilliant designer and engineer but a piss-poor businessman, always seemingly going into, coming out of, or on the brink of bankruptcy. It seems as if even those of us architects that might revile Wright's work still live in his shadow when it comes to the business side of our profession. We undercharge for one project in the hopes that it gets us another project with that client (or with a bigger client), and perhaps that second project will pay for the first one...but it seems that payback never comes. We can barely bring ourselves to ask for additional services when asked to do work outside of our contracts, saying yesyesyesyesyes ofcoursewecandothat anythingyousayOmasterwiththecheckbook without reminding ourselves now and again that we do live in a capitalist society and money is a form of respect due its members for skilled services rendered. As my friend Eric over at Blue Architecture says, "Architects are so focused on helping the world and 'being noble' that we forget that being able to pay your bills and make a decent living is 'noble' too."