building context

  • Unpaid internships are so hot right now

    Kevin MacNichol
    Aug 5, '12 4:25 PM EST

    Design practitioners have many options. The diversity of small businesses in design fields allows employees to find work that truly matches their creative and financial goals. But do unpaid interns have choices too?

    I recently read an article in Spare Change News on the prevalence of unpaid internships. Although it does not discuss internships vis-à-vis architects, the article goes into great detail on the legalities of unpaid work in the United States. View it here:

    The Underground Intern Economy

    I should say that the author of the article is also currently dating me (whasup!) and suggested that I write this post to re-frame her topic for the design community. Here is a summary of the article's salient points:

    • An unpaid internship at a for-profit company is illegal if the intern's work is an “advantage” to the company, displaces paid staff, or is not similar to academic training.
    • Supply of entry-level workers is outgrowing demand, intensifying competition and driving the price of labor (i.e. wages) down to zero for some people.
    • Recent graduates frequently need experience to win an entry-level job (irony?), and unpaid internships are often the only way forward.
    • Unpaid internships are expensive for workers because of housing and transportation costs. These employees therefore pay to receive professional experience.
    • In the U.S., the word “intern” routinely connotes work without pay. It is becoming standard practice to deny wages to interns (although no formal statistical sources actively explore this trend).

    If you look at the infographic I made for this post, you'll see that the cost of an architecture degree is higher than that of a standard 4-year bachelor's. This is not only because of the extra tuition and housing expenses required for a 5-year architecture degree, but also because of a higher opportunity cost. College may be a great investment for the future (and as my notebooks always said, “College Ruled”), but full-time students lose out on potential wages while they earn degrees. Those lost wages are the cost of college: a missed financial opportunity.

    An unpaid internship after graduation raises the (opportunity) cost of attending school. Think of it like a tuition increase. But, unlike other disciplines, architecture holds a 13.9% unemployment rate for workers fresh out of college, not to mention twice the average student debt. Victory is ours. For young architects to then accept unpaid internships requires additional financial resources, attained either by working multiple jobs as baristas and babysitters, or by dipping into Mom and Dad's expense account. The result is decreased diversity in the workplace: affluent parents are able to finance their children's living expenses, allowing them to gain valuable experience and pull ahead of their peers.

    Isn't that gloriously ironic? Not having a salary... is a status symbol. But the fact is that many cash-strapped graduates are simply not able to work in their chosen field because the only job openings are unpaid. In historically prestigious professions, such as law or medicine, the high cost of education and prolonged training periods of minimal pay become barriers to individuals of lower socioeconomic status. Architecture is no different. And with the number of unpaid internships increasing for many other professions as well, it is tempting to see this as another form of unconscious class discrimination in the U.S.

    Why are interns falling over each other to work for free? It may be that design professionals simply champion self-sacrifice: think of repetitive all-nighters in college studios, or the overtime work required in fast-paced firms. In American culture, young people are made to pay their dues to prove that they can handle the pressure of an elite service industry. Unpaid internships fit well into this paradigm, as they illustrate an employee's work ethic and enthusiasm for creativity.

    Many interns enjoy the challenge, and they understand (rightly so) that unpaid jobs are temporary learning experiences that will produce stronger resumes. But for Gen Y, the practice of unpaid internships may soon become the contemporary equivalent of the entry-level job.


    Further Reading:

    A comic spin on statistical thinking:

    Department of Labor Internship Laws:

    Good opinion blog of unpaid internships: 

    View full entry

  • People these days – they think they're so 'special'

    Kevin MacNichol
    Jun 3, '12 2:46 PM EST

    Creative people do creative things, but that doesn't make them architects. Yet why is it that the portfolios of young designers are often crammed with sketches, photography, and sculptures? Should these activities be considered parts of the field of architecture? Of course not, but they are... View full entry

  • Scope expansion

    Nicole Fichera
    May 1, '12 4:51 PM EST

    Hi Archinect! I have a big announcement [scroll down if the excitement is too much for you to bear!], but first, some thoughts: I've been thinking about the theme and content of this blog, and I'm making a slight revision. It started as an exploration of alternative modes of practice, at a time... View full entry

  • The psychological impact of labeling: 'architect' vs 'designer'

    Nicole Fichera
    Jan 11, '12 11:38 AM EST

    Lately I've been noticing a trend. When I introduce myself, I usually say something like "I'm a designer at Hacin + Associates." Then usually I have to explain where the office is, the kind of work we do. And very often, after a minute or two, people will respond with something like  "So... View full entry

  • We interrupt our regular programming to bring you: stacked wood + next-use

    Nicole Fichera
    Dec 14, '11 10:44 AM EST

    Good morning Archinecters: I know this is a professional blog, but I'm deviating a bit today to show one of my school projects. This was my senior studio project, a collaborative effort with Pamela Andrade. Our studio professor was Michael LeBlanc of Utile, and since Pam is also working at Utile... View full entry

  • Alternative architect profile: Nic Granleese ['Para-architect']

    Nicole Fichera
    Nov 28, '11 2:33 PM EST

    [all photos: Nic Granleese,]   Through the magical medium of Twitter, I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Nic Granleese, an architectural photographer in Melbourne, Australia. He is a self-described 'registered, but non-practicing architect'--and after seeing that... View full entry

  • CALL FOR COMMENTS: Panel discussion on the future of the profession

    Nicole Fichera
    Nov 9, '11 10:30 AM EST

    Hello Archinecters! So in recent news, my boss, David Hacin, has been selected as the guest editor for the March issue of ArchitectureBoston magazine--and he's enlisted me as his right hand in putting the magazine together. It has been so much fun so far. I love writing and editing and refining... View full entry

  • Charging for joy vs charging for necessity

    Nicole Fichera
    Oct 28, '11 7:04 PM EST

    I don't have time for a long post, so I'll have to come back and write more on this later. But I can't get this article out of my head. Architects, doctors and lawyers have all traditionally needed licenses to practice professionally. But young architects [including this one] are questioning the... View full entry

  • Keeping the decision makers close brings your vision closer.

    Nicole Fichera
    Oct 24, '11 11:03 AM EST

    My fellow Archinect blogger Gregory Walker posted a link to a Harvard Business Review interview with Frank Gehry [P.S. For folks from Twitter and elsewhere: if you haven't seen Gregory's blog, I advise checking it out. His posts about the profession are both insightful and grounded]. Mr. Gehry is... View full entry

  • How Google Images sees architects

    Nicole Fichera
    Oct 17, '11 1:05 PM EST

    I'm trying to look at what an architect is and isn't. So I typed 'architect' into Google images to get its take. Drawing boards, compasses, hard hats, crazy buildings, floating stairs. View full entry

  • Dots end up connecting

    Nicole Fichera
    Oct 7, '11 10:10 AM EST

    I was surprised at how much I thought about Steve Jobs yesterday. In his 2005 Stanford Commencement address[here in the Archinect Blog Blog], Jobs talks about connecting the dots. I have a lot of very successful friends in other fields, and one thing that strikes me about many of them is their... View full entry

  • Looking forward without looking back

    Nicole Fichera
    Oct 4, '11 5:13 PM EST

    Quick intro: I'm a former student blogger with a terrible track record of intermittent, hesitant posts. I started this blog without acknowledging my own fear of writing for an audience of architects. I was afraid of getting snarked at, so I did the worst thing--and said nothing. I'm now a... View full entry

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About this Blog

We live in uncertain times. Let's use the uncertainty to redefine the way we are valued and the way we measure ourselves, to create the context for the change we want to make.

Twitter: @NicoleFichera

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