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Take Five: Today’s Intern, Tomorrow’s Architect

By Robert Ivy, FAIA

The AIA’s EVP/Chief Executive Officer recalls his early experiences as an architect and the people and institutions that helped shape his career.

Scratch the surface of any licensed architect, and you’ll find the emerging professional just underneath. We all remember how it feels.

In my own situation, I graduated from architecture school and emerged from the academic cocoon at the nadir of a previous recession that required me to interview at 34 offices before I finally found a job. I had to have work to help feed a family of four. Rather than settle in the urban oasis of a booming city, ultimately my family and I returned to my home state of Mississippi. And that was just the start of a process that left me feeling isolated and unsure of my own future. Where would this education take me?

In my case, I had the good fortune to land with an employer who was forward-thinking and an enthusiastic member of the AIA. He was a national board member and encouraged all the staff in his four offices to join, and he helped the young architects with their dues. He sent us to the state convention, where we made invaluable connections that remain to this day. He supported the state’s AIA publication, where I began my personal writing and editing odyssey. And, at a very young age, I found myself as the program chairman for the Gulf States regional convention. The rest is history. I owe Matt Virden, FAIA, for his devotion to this organization, knowing that it would help young architects find their own ways. I did.

Other young architects may not become editors of publications nor committee chairs, but the AIA still stands ready to help during the transition toward licensure. Virden, and other caring architects, served as mentors to me, and today the AIA still offers formal and informal ways of helping young architects-in-formation to grow. Mentorship, particularly during the internship period, can make a tremendous difference to a young professional. When you feel alone, an experienced hand can steer you and change your motivation.

Today, in some ways, it may seem even harder to become an architect. Certainly, this ruinous economy has been hostile to career development. Design and construction, however, have always followed the sine curve of the economy—down in this cycle, up in the next—and will again. What fixed points can we find? What forms of help? The AIA stands ready, with programs for students, intern architects, and newly licensed architects, all of whom are experiencing the same pressures of jobs and money and experience.

If you are an employer, pay your interns well. Serve as an IDP supervisor. Take time to get to know the individuals who are assisting you in your own professional advancement. Ensure that they see the range of possibilities that architecture can offer—take them along on site visits or allow them to join you for a business lunch. Join them if they pick up a hammer at a volunteer activity. This may be your chance to build something unexpected.

While we value those who ultimately find other uses for their degrees, we promote licensure, which offers the most options for the emerging professional. We also honor the women and men use their credentials in a variety of ways. Not all of us make buildings; some of us become editors, or deans, or teachers, or even clients. But we’re all architects.

And we remember, each one of us, the vulnerability and worth of each young professional struggling to make their way, because we’ve all been there. The challenge for all of us—emerging professional and seasoned old hand—is to continue our dialogue, and for the architect who has made it, to reach back and give the next generation a much-needed helping hand. Demographics teach us that, despite the current lingering slowdown in design and construction activity, we will need more and better projects by a new generation of architects to shelter a growing population. At some point, emerging professionals become tomorrow’s architects, and they become us.


Robert Ivy, FAIA

Photography by Noah Kalina


Back to AIArchitect November 18, 2011

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