We need architects in the world. Architects are, and should continue to be, the interpreters of building owners’ needs, the problem solvers of the construction industry, the people who communicate their design solutions to the people who build the solutions. Architects, and future architects, are critical to our built environment.
Right now, unemployment and underemployment among architects in the U.S. is high – very high. Student loan debt from architecture school is astronomical. Architecture firms’ billings and architects’ salaries are, well, not very high. And they rarely ARE very high. Architects are part of the construction industry. The fortunes of architecture firms rise and fall with the economy.
Yesterday, there was a call by the American Institute of Architects and the American Institute of Architecture Students “for Congress to pass legislation that includes architecture school graduates in the same programs that offer other graduates loan debt assistance if they donate their services to their communities and elsewhere.” Here’s the press release from the AIA.
The press release compares recent grads in architecture to recent grads in medicine, law, and teaching.
Everyone needs doctors, and we have a shortage of doctors in rural areas across the country. All children need teachers, and we have a shortage of teachers in underperforming schools across the country. We don’t have a shortage of lawyers, but we do have a shortage of available, affordable legal help for many disadvantaged people who need legal help, and can’t afford to pay the types of rates that many attorneys charge.
I don’t know much about this, but my understanding of the types of programs that offer loan relief for recent grads entering the types of professions mentioned in the press release (medicine, law, teaching) is that, in exchange for some loan relief, the new doctors go work in rural areas, or the young lawyers go work in low-paying public interest positions, and the freshly-minted teachers go work in underperforming schools. These medical and legal positions are lower-paying than positions in different medical arenas and different kinds of law firms. These teaching positions are much, much harder than positions at other types of schools. These positions are hard to recruit for.
We don’t have a shortage of architects. We don’t have a surplus of people who are in need of the services of a design professional, but who just don’t have access to one. We don’t have easier-or-harder types of architecture jobs for emerging professionals. We don’t even have huge differences in pay for intern architects at big firms vs. small firms, or firms in big cities vs. firms in small towns.
We also have the internship factor to consider. If they wish to become licensed someday, architecture grads must work for a number of years under the direct supervision of a licensed architect. They must become licensed in order to practice architecture on their own. If they are to be the design professional in responsible charge of the construction documents for a building, they must be licensed architects. In this country, nobody, not even an architecture school graduate, can call himself or herself “architect” unless he or she is actually licensed. If they pass the board exams given at the end of school, doctors are M.D.’s when they finish medical school, and can practice medicine on their own. Lawyers are licensed, and can practice on their own, once they pass the bar exam, which they usually take a couple months after graduation from law school.
Many architecture grads and architects already give away, or nearly give away, their services, whenever they participate in a design competition. Sometimes these design competitions are for non-profit organizations, or for governments, but sometimes, these design competitions are for for-profit businesses.
Some interns are willing to work for free for big-name starchitects – although this practice is absolutely NOT condoned by most of the profession, including the AIA. But this is the mindset of some emerging professionals, and a very small number of architects (work for free for the sake of the portfolio – the portfolio will lead to future, paying, work.)
This breaks my heart, but I have to say that I just can’t imagine how a loan relief program like this for architecture grads would work.
What do YOU think? Do any of you problem solvers out there have solutions to this problem?