It’s 2013, otherwise known as Year 13 of Andrea Dietz’s quest to become a registered architect. Dietz may technically be an intern, but her résumé doesn’t read like it. The assistant graduate chair of the Woodbury University School of Architecture, she previously worked for the activist design practices of Design Corps and Estudio Teddy Cruz—jobs almost any young designer would envy, but which didn’t confer much credit in the Intern Development Program (IDP) because they failed to meet various criteria for work experience as established by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).
Dietz has now logged around 7,000 IDP hours, far more than the 5,600 required, but with overages in some categories and shortfalls in others. So she’s managing construction projects on Woodbury’s campus to make up the difference. She’s enrolled in a prep course for the architecture registration examination (ARE) and plans to take the tests later this year. “I come from a family of professionals—doctors, lawyers,” Dietz says. “They find it [her path to licensure] mind-blowingly bizarre.”
Dietz’s story isn’t typical, but it’s not that uncommon either. According to statistics kept by NCARB, which administers the IDP, the mean time it takes for a graduate to finish his or her architectural internship is just over six years, and the average time from graduation to licensure is eight-and-a-half years.
By comparison, most law school graduates take the bar exam in July after earning their diplomas in May, and are then qualified to practice law. Medical school graduates complete a residency of between three and seven years, depending on their chosen specialty, and usually complete their licensing exams by the end of the second year.
In many European countries, architecture school graduates usually earn the title “architect” sooner than in the United States. In Ireland, for example, five years of architecture school is followed by two years of practical in-office training and a professional exam. Robust continuing education (or continuing professional development [CPD]) takes up where the practical training ends.
In this country, the drawbacks of the long, often twisting path to architectural licensure are clear: intern attrition (due to job changes or job loss, life events, or sheer frustration); career stall-out for those who remain in the profession without a license; and the risk of an architect shortage.
“The long fuse … to become licensed in the architecture profession is worrisome,” says James P. Cramer, Hon. AIA, chairman of the Greenway Group consulting firm and the publisher of DesignIntelligence. “It’s perceived to be a disincentive for young people considering architecture as a career. That is the irony: A system developed to protect quality may be doing just the reverse.”
Mickey Jacob, FAIA, the 2013 president of the AIA, is equally concerned: “Unless the industry leaders from all the collateral 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.”
Though it’s hard to quantify the problem of attrition, both Cramer and McGraw-Hill Construction predict an architect shortage as soon as 2014, if current trends continue.
Enter Renée Cheng, AIA, who directs the architecture school in the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. (Cheng also sits on the Architect editorial advisory committee.) She and a group of her colleagues, including Jim Lutz, AIA, and Blaine Brownell, as well as Laura Lee, FAIA, a professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, have thought for years about ways to streamline the licensure process and better integrate it with curricula. And now they have finally moved beyond speculation, piloting a new, research-intensive program that could dramatically shorten the time needed for students to become licensed.
They hatched the idea after NCARB unveiled significant changes to the licensure process in recent years. First, NCARB stipulated that 930 IDP hours be awarded for attaining an NCARB-approved post-professional degree. Second, students can start accruing IDP hours earlier than in the past—from the end of high school. Third, students can earn 1,860 hours for teaching and academic research.