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    INTERNSHEEP : How internships went from a learning stage to a true business model?

    By Polms
    Jan 25, '13 12:45 PM EST

    © 2013 - View Original version

    Last December we posted our first statistics about architectural practice after being graduated from school with the results you all know. Its a difficult job in which you don’t count hours no more than the euros that are on your payslip.
    Without really trying to find an answer to the question “How did we end up there?” we asked ourselves how our profession changed and how its still evolving today. But today’s subject is about one of the biggest change that our profession had to face and its directly tied up to our teaching. I’m obviously talking about the intern.



    In France, its still unusual to be paid 10 000€ per month for an internship so lets start with a small recap on laws towards internships in our country.

    In France, the number of interns per office is regulated by the law. Based on that, a minimal reward has to be given to the intern once its longer than two months. This minimal reward is set to 436.05 € per internship month in 2012, 417.09 the year before. We also have tomention that the employer is not paying any taxes on these 436.05€ unless he pays more than that (not helping for sure).
    The lack of any real salary is often used by employers to hire interns in order to make them work on things that could also be made by a regular employee with a regular work contract. Sometimes the job ad even specify “internship to replace maternity leave” or even “internship to compensate lack of human resource” or “internship to help compensate activity increase” which is absolutely illegal. An internship paid 436.05€ MUST be a teaching experience. Unlike many other sector in which we still think of the internship as a real job with real salary most architecture offices don’t go beyond the bare minimum. Contrary to what one might think, the number of interns itself depends of the office size alone. But in reality, its rarely checked by the authority. A the end, only a real control of the work inspector could decide that there is a law violation and ask for a 3750€ fine.
    In the end the intern is an ambiguous position, depending on the size of the office, on the country and on your boss’ mood. However whats clear is that there is a huge blur around this status : on paper he is an apprentice and in reality he is like a regular employee. Some people are talking about the intern’s skill as a distinctive element but you’ll see that it’s not that obvious. We chose in this article to talk about those offices which are taking advantage of this system and why its not going to stop anytime soon.



    You have now been enrolled in Architecture studies for few years and your fingers are bruised by excessive model making. You’re back now looks like a sinusoid and your eyes are still crying from hours spent in front of a screen. You reached the end of your bachelor and you are now looking for an internship.

    You already know it, it will be long until you get inside an office that will just be the start of it. You heart and you architectural feelings are balanced toward a small internship in your hometown and a big one in a larger international office. In both case your salary will be pathetic and you won’t count your working hours. The “job” section of some website are even protecting themselves from it. Why shouldn’t you just accept these conditions and ask for a prestigious internship in a big influential international office? Come one, you know your teachers, your friends and even your parents and your aunt heard about it and would be proud. You would even think about dropping your girlfriend to get an internship in one of those. You are now fully prepared with you portfolio and your best cover letter and you already accepted the fact that, yes, you are willing to enslave yourself in an iconic architecture office for the next months.
    This fame is obviously based on built project, daring concepts and entries in every major competitions around the globe but also thanks to numerous publications of their projects, writing and theories in every possible media and language. This enviable situation was made possible by fortunate clients, a hard working Public Relation staff and – the arguable fact – that they produced very efficient and creative projects. Those heavyweight architecture offices imply then to their interns that by coming to their offices they will get involved in projects like OMA’s CCTV or work on competitions like Hong Kong Masterplan or Helsinki Central Library. Furthermore, those offices sometimes even promise to their wishful interns that they will host them comfortably with resources that they don’t usually have like laser cutters and infinite model making materials and printings. We’ve even seen offices that are promising to host their interns in dedicated paid flats. You understand that they are not lacking of appealing arguments.

    Meeting with the icon, 1878-Constantin A. Savitski

    This kind of offices are today elevated to the “icon” rank by creating a sort of myth around their way of working and by multiplying anecdotes about their creation process. Their success and prestige are mainly based on their strong identity and their public figures clients. Bjarke Ingels participated to TED ,  Jean Nouvel was invited to multiple TV sets, Zaha Hadid is multiplying talks in schools around the world, Rem Koolhaas will soon be the hero of its own son’s biographic movie and Joshua Prince Rasmus is Brad Pitt’s friend on facebook. Those public figures became true icons in the architecture world and students are deservedly taking their career for example. Having your name in the “former employees” of these companies website is priceless. A lot of people are only thinking to learn from those people. Their way of doing works, it’s been proven.

    Rem Koolhaas teaching on a spaceship named Notaben in the children area.
    The Simpons, Season 23, Episode 19.

    It could be the start of a new career but its also the end of tranquility, a sort of  a way to guaranty an easier job seeking. To be a good intern, they have to keep using their – already well trained – stressful deadline working skills and sometimes even pushing it to its limit. Accepting to lose few kilos, invest half a salary in anti-wrinkle creams, spend a huge quantity of energy and creativity on ideas that might never carry their names are not without consequences but their motivations are bigger than everything. Their main – and single – goal is to give their resume a maximum weight in exchange to their soul and work hours. The objective is not money but education, skill learning and professionalism. They might never come back in those offices but it might – with luck – act as a jumping point to other great position in other offices around the world. On the market, an architect gets more valuable along with the list of competitions and projects he have been working on. In fact, at the end, its the game of who has the biggest and most interesting linked profile page. Have played a role in the conception of BIG’s Europacity project or on OMA’s centrale School is not given to everybody. Its a given opportunity compensated by long working hours that you can read on faces.

    In the end, there is a quite low risk factor for today’s architecture students and they will definitely improve their chances for the after-diploma part of their life where – usually – internships time is over. But is this system as valuable for you than for these big names? In an architecture competitive reality we all have to withdraw ourselves from others but by accepting this system aren’t we all participating in another problem? Did the interns became the essential fuel of all these offices?

    End of the year party at Clive Wilkinson's.



    Architecture is a difficult job because its one of these professions where you have to be able to combine global conception and small details. That is by the way this – incredible – skill that worth us the image of a perpetual creative, an artist, a maestro only because  having the ability to go from those two scales must be explained by a sort of miracle. In the end, the architect is the conductor who is able to work with all the unplanned elements that comes along a project conception. He is the one who is suppose to judge structure performance as much as the project’s global cost while keep answering to the clients’ wish and whim. Since always the big architects question is: how to conceive together to be efficient, profitable and still original ?

    Generally, most of the architecture offices all have their own methods with more or less variation. Rem Koolhaas’ firm is one of the offices that – at the beginning of 90s – already gain notoriety. This lead to two things: first of all, the number of internship request exploded and this international mix of brains was just a godsend for an office which is promoting a global architecture that lies on out of context subjects. Second of all, partners had to travel a lot, their presence at Rotterdams HQ was then lowered. They had to find another way to conceiving their projects through the same people but maximizing creativity even if the people in charge were not already here. From that, decisions could be taken easily and quickly and possibilities in each phase would be increased.
    From those thought appeared a new pyramid method that look more or less the same:
    - Select the best option from a set of proposals that would be – in turn – deepen through another set.
    - If the work needs multiple people then the project leader select a first work axis – like on site volumes – and then the team produce an infinity of variations to answer to the given question.
    - Then, for the next step, the same scheme is reproduced again and again until the project is finished.
    Even if this process looks quite simple it really allows to deepen the project one step after another to get the best possible result. At the end, intermediates are reduced with this method: The office partner is in charge of the client’s main wishes like budget or materials. The project leader is answering to the partner’s direct order. He is most of the time young, hard working and he is also here to maintain the office graphic identity. The interns are on the last step, they mass produce without really having knowledge of whats happening on the upper levels.  Its then quite easy to add work “ants” for deadlines since  it doesn’t require any change in work system and hierarchy.  Those “ants” can be issued from very different cultures, they all received different architecture education in their own countries and those variations can all be integrated and sometimes get deepen. Their personal skills are however not put aside, if the intern can 3D model he will be called on every projects when he is needed. How more flattered can he be? Model making materials are also chosen to be match this system: uniform and clean foam, easy to read and to build without any way to personalize it. Visualizations are also made like a collage of different environments, individuals and materials issued from the who world.  The circle is now ideal and complete

    BIGsters in Japan / 100 persons from New York and Copenhagen office flew to Japan for a study trip. October 2012

    Rem Koolhaas once said: “If you want new nice things, just hire young people”.

    “Young peoples” must feel quickly integrated and part of a shared work spirit so that the whole thing works properly. In these office, its often time for self-gratification once a project is won or have been published on prestigious newspaper (especially when they’ve been given birth in pain). All the employees suffer and give their body and soul for a common cause as long as its in a brotherly and friendly atmosphere. This atmosphere comes from a simple politic: First of all, all the office staff must come from around the world, its helping with the image of an open minded and very talented office but its also in order to get interns, employees or even project leaders that are young, tough and most of all rootless. Their new family is their work family. That family is always here, they share the same schedule and issues and they are always willing to party after a long week of hard working deadlines. Second of all, they must all be on the same level, from the intern to the – slightly older – project leader in order to give to the intern a good work environment filled with increasing responsibilities. Easier to manage than a simple worker the intern feels valuated by suggesting directly is own ideas.

    Through his founder’s writings OMA was able to product a new kind of architecture that deeply changed the way of drawing and conceive projects from Europe to Asia and South America. But through all of that they also rethought work logic and  architectural projects conception methods in order to match their needs for an international office in which interns are part of a way bigger engine.  Rotterdam’s office is well known for being one of the most trendsetting office of those last 20 years but it might also be known for its strong capacity to suck dry people. The former-intern-list of office is never ending but stay a well known guaranty of an architect who learnt how to work with specific methods that we will still hear in 50 years. Today, there are countless offices who adopted this work system, pushing it to its limits. We can’t be surprised anymore of those internship advertises where candidates have to fill up really accurate skills list like 3d modeling, modelmaking or autocad skills..



    You now understood, your first work experience in this job might be harder than you thought. Those deadlines won’t be easy to avoid and the atmosphere in this kind of moments might be oppressive  The underlying question might then be: In which context do you want to prove your abilities? It’s important to remember that a good internship is an internship where you learned a lot.

    Today’s world is pushing us to be more and more competitive, it became a requirement to prove yourself better than the average mass even if it requires to bypass your principles. An internship is also a personal test: you bring face to face your learning to the job reality with sometimes good surprise. That’s also an occasion to meet people that share the same passion and uprooting. The feeling of teamwork become also a need, the chimera which make us stay late at night.
    The problem appeared once the interns became an inseparable part of the office. First of all because the asked work is not – or poorly – paid. But this generate also a larger problem: an intern hired for bigger and bigger period is also an architect who stays longer and longer unemployed. That’s also making us wonder how important it became: today, an intern position in one of those praised office is maybe as valuable in your resume as any regular job. We’ve even witnessed the progressive apparition of the post-diploma internship which is already an aberration. Its nevertheless reassuring to see that all those internship adrift didn’t reach France yet but we saw before that no laws stops offices to hire 30 interns… The architecture is evolving and tend to become bigger and bigger groups of architects. These new offices are the heavyweight of today’s architecture scene and learn there is obviously a good experience but … is it the right choice?


    To go further:
    Brute Force architecture and its discontents -
    Unpaid Architecture Internships Come Under Fire - 
    Internaware - 
    Unpaid Internships are so Hot right now -
    Exploitation of interns coming to an end? -


    © BloggyMary 2013 - View Original version


    • crimsondream

      This is too much of a rant. Advice would be not to search a job at an architecture firm but propose an architecture project and search for the client.

      Jan 25, 13 1:28 pm  · 

      Was at REX's employment website recently, and found this interesting.  A titan with a conscience:

      "REX does not accept offers for unpaid internships. This practice devalues our profession and provides lawbreakers an unfair market advantage."

      And it seems that we are partially to blame as well.  There are many of us who apparently offer ourselves for free.

      Jan 25, 13 7:32 pm  · 

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About this Blog

BloggyMary is held each year by 5 different master degree students of the architecture School of Versailles, France. We are posting daily OUR selection of fresh architecture news but we are also bringing out for you: internships that are worth trying, suitable competitions for students and reviews on Parisian exhibition. As often as we can, we'll also post an in-depth article dedicated to a subject that matters nowdays. /

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