Nobody goes into architecture because it’s quick and easy. There’s no siren’s call of money or power, and there’s just a tiny mouse-squeak promise of fame. Instead, the discipline requires, well, discipline: an unflinching capacity for late nights, glacial career advancement, and low pay. Hardship is an integral part of the professional culture. Many architects take pride in the inflexible, boot-camp trek to full membership, and with good reason: The few, the proud, the licensed.
But while it takes 12 weeks of boot camp to make a Marine, it takes more than a decade to become an architect in the United States, from college matriculation to the final attainment of licensure. Year after year, schools produce a host of hardworking potential architects, eager to make their mark. How does the profession receive them? Not with an exam and a license for those who pass it, as law does, but with thousands of hours of work requirements and a degrading label: intern. That’s not much of a welcome wagon.
It’s hard to blame Millennials—and Gen Xers and Boomers—who gripe about architecture’s cumbersome Intern Development Program (IDP) and an educational system that too often provides insufficient preparation for the realities of practice. The average time it takes in architecture to go from graduation to licensure is 8.5 years—that’s an eternity compared to the one year it takes in law and the four years it takes in medicine.
Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder that young designers increasingly question the value of licensure, that a third of those laid off during the Great Recession say that they will not be returning to architecture, and that the profession can expect to face a serious labor shortage in the not-so-distant future.
In other words, it simply won’t suffice to ignore the situation. It’s a matter of survival. The profession must come together, address its attrition problem, and make some difficult choices about academic curricula, internship, and the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Fortunately, the institutional powers that be—the ACSA, the AIA, the NAAB, and NCARB—are proving themselves increasingly open to the possibility of reform.
The 2013 AIA president, Mickey Jacob, FAIA, is a particularly outspoken advocate of change; he provided Architect with the following statement on the subject:
Unless the industry leaders from all the representative organizations come together to seriously address this issue, we will find ourselves facing a much more serious problem 10 to 15 years from now—a shortage of licensed architects unable to meet the demands of the marketplace.
Change is hard and in a lot of cases uncomfortable. But if we as an industry do not commit the collaborative leadership necessary to address the arduous challenge associated with the licensing process, then I fear we will not be able to attract and keep the young talent so necessary to the healthy and prosperous future of the profession.
Taking advantage of recent changes to NCARB’s regulations for IDP, proposals are already on the table for architecture curricula that would qualify students to take the ARE right after graduation. These ideas, while now just thrilling experiments, hold the promise of architecture’s future.
I don’t believe anyone is suggesting that the profession compromise on the quality of knowledge and experience necessary to become an architect. But there must be a more effective, inclusive, and efficient process. It’s time to design a better boot camp.