Architectural Ellipsis

... Intern Architect ...

  • NCARB Punted the Intern Title Debate

    Preface: The news is out and already old. This post has gone through plenty of iterations. I've tried writing a response to the news that NCARB is sunsetting the term intern various ways and none of them seem to really sit well with me. I've tried to discount their stance. I've tried getting angry at it. I've tried determining what I think the best title for those who will be formerly known as interns. I've even tried to support it ... none of it works for me. In the end this is what I'm left with. I don't think it quite accurately describes my full feelings on the subject, but at least it continues the debate in a way I haven't seen anyone else comment on. Taking advantage of the football metaphors yet to come, I felt a lot like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football ... full of hope and excitement, then disappointed and embarrassed at my naivete in putting my trust in something I should have seen coming the whole time.

    (Image source)

    Despite their claims otherwise, NCARB didn’t tackle the great intern title debate … they punted it. By way of explanation for the uninitiated, in [American] football, a tackle is a defensive maneuver used to control and stop an opponent attempting to advance the football toward their goal.* A punt is when your opponent has prevented you, or your team’s incompetence has prevented you, from advancing the football and your only option is to give your opponent the ball by kicking it downfield, attempting to extend the ground your offense must cover in their subsequent offensive possession.

    I have not been able to find a copy of the final report online from the Future Title Task Force, but based on NCARB’s statement, their recommendations (which were unanimously accepted by the NCARB Board of Directors) were that NCARB restrict the role of title regulation to the title “architect” and that those pursuing licensure do not need to be regulated. First, let me agree that the title “architect” should be regulated for the reasons that NCARB outlines. However, where I disagree is where NCARB punts the intern title issue downfield by saying that it doesn’t need to be regulated.  

    NCARB wants to get out of the intern title ballgame. If there is any question as to why, look no further than NCARB’s President, Dale McKinney, FAIA, and his comments that the title debate is “fraught with controversy.” Consequently, NCARB wants to take the easy way out. They want to focus on the title “architect” (which is already widely agreed upon and accepted) instead of focusing on a meaningful debate on what to call those of us working toward licensure. I suppose it is easier to simply say that if you aren’t an architect, call yourself whatever you want, “just don’t use ‘intern.’”

    Overall, this approach seems misaligned with NCARB’s influence when it comes to the profession. NCARB is not solely focused on registered architects and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public by regulating the title “architect.” If they were, no one would have to deal with them until they became licensed. A big part of what NCARB does is administer the Intern Development Program (IDP) and the Architectural Registration Examination (ARE). Both of these are focused on those who aren’t architects yet. Additionally, the recommendations of the task force are counterintuitive with regard to focusing on only regulating titles where needed to protect the public. They make statements that aren’t focused on regulating a title in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public when it comes to architects after retirement.

    There are three groups in the general lifespan of an architect’s post-graduation career. NCARB and the task force identify them as follows:

    1. Those who are pre-licensure (now formerly known as interns),
    2. Those who are practicing and post-licensure (widely acknowledged as architects),
    3. Those who are post-licensure and post-retirement (which some jurisdictions honor with the title “emeritus”).

    The task force confirms the title for group 2 as “architect” and will encourage jurisdictions to regulate this title through resolutions, model laws and regulations. Group 3 was addressed by the task force as well. According to the published comments, “architect emeritus is an acceptable term because it identifies those who have obtained a license but are no longer practicing.” 

    NCARB focuses enough effort to confirm that “architect emeritus” is appropriate for someone after they are done practicing architecture. They say this provides “appropriate notice to the public,” but what notice does the public need for someone who isn’t practicing? Is there any threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public if grandma or grandpa says they used to practice architecture without actually having been registered? No, the regulation of this title isn’t about protecting the health, safety and welfare if the individual isn’t practicing. These are honorary titles that are granted by some jurisdictions that now apparently NCARB and the task force is helping to define. I'm not certain if this term will make it into NCARB's Legislative Guidelines and Model Law in the future. Currently "emeritus" only appears in the model regulations when noting that continuing education requirements need not apply to architects with an inactive status.

    NCARB is willing to advocate for and acknowledge proper terms for architects and post-architects, but nothing for pre-architects. Compared to post-architects, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the health, safety and welfare of the public to promote a title that identifies those who are actively doing the same job as the architects, but do not carry a license and a stamp? This is, at its essence, what the purpose of IDP is; aspiring architects are to gain experience doing the things an architect does, under an architect’s direct supervision. Between you and me, sometimes aspiring architects even do more of the work of an architect because the architects don’t want to do it anymore (and they’ve earned that ‘rite’ to delegate menial tasks … right?). This whole ‘pre-architect - architect’ relationship is by design, NCARB’s design. NCARB makes aspiring architects dependent on the actual architects for admittance into the profession. NCARB makes aspiring architects do the work of actual architects for admittance into the profession. Now NCARB doesn’t want anything to do with defining a title for those that NCARB itself is creating (or more accurately, not directly creating but at least advocating for the creation of the group by individual jurisdictions through model law, regulations and code).

    NCARB is turning its back on an integral group of the profession that I feel deserves some sort of title. If not deserved out of simple respect, at least deserved out of a duty to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Previously, NCARB advocated for the title of “intern architect” or “architectural intern” in NCARB’s Model Law. Now, most likely because the issue is “fraught with controversy” they want to get rid of the title “intern” but they have fallen short by not offering an alternative regardless of whether or not they advocate for regulation of the title. 


    *The football metaphor that NCARB chooses to use is one that causes me to question where they feel like they stand on the issue. Tackling is a defensive maneuver; did NCARB feel like it was on defense with the intern title debate? Were we, the interns, actually on offense the whole time? Did we punt the issue to NCARB to begin with by not coming to some agreement on a title that better served us? If NCARB punted the debate, are we back in control? Do we need to come to an agreement on our own and start advocating for ourselves rather than waiting on NCARB to come up with something? 

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  • Let's talk about ...

    As you might have gathered from the description in the sidebar, this blog is about the parts of the profession that we tend to gloss over, omit, or just don’t talk about; what I call an architectural ellipsis. Perhaps a few quick examples may be helpful in understanding what I mean. An...

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About this Blog

An ellipsis [...] is used to signal an omission, an unfinished thought, aposiopesis, or brief awkward silence. Architectural ellipses are those aspects of the profession we (perhaps intentionally) omit, gloss over, or let dwindle in silence. Generally applied this blog should encompass many aspects of the profession. Yet, as an intern architect I'll focus primarily on the architectural ellipses that occur in the internship process.

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