Bridging the Gap: Public-Interest Architectural Internships

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Georgia Bizios & Katie Wakeford, editors
2011, available for $9.63 at lulu.

public, public interest, Georgia Bizios, Katie Wakeford, Bridging the Gap, internship, NCARB, IDP, Intern Development Program, Victoria Beach, Andrew Caruso, North Carolina State University, Christina Calabrese, ecoMOD, University of Virginia, ivory tower, Luke Weldon Perry, Luke Clark Tyler, Peachtree-Pine, Atlanta, Sam Valentine

Bridging the Gap: Public-Interest Architectural Internships

Bridging the Gap is a compilation of 19 perspectives on public-interest architectural internships as voiced by senior practitioners, professors, and interns. The book is divided into three sections: facing the issues, at the universities, and beyond the ivory tower. The discussions are current and refer to the recent economic downturn and newly established internships. The book is not a reference for available public-interest architectural internships; there is no comprehensive list of opportunities. Rather, it is a discussion of the future of the profession in the public sector, the role of interns, the creation of service opportunities, and alternate career paths. It provides thought provoking discussions beneficial to architects early in their career or to those who desire a career in public architecture. Current internship programs, resources, and websites are embedded in the essays throughout the book.

Important issues such as the structuring of internships, compensation, and the role of the profession in the public sector are highlighted in facing the issues. As noted by several public-interest interns, it is often not possible to complete IDP (Intern Development Program) as administered by NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards) through a public-interest internship: an architecture intern is often forced to prioritize either service work or licensure. Yet, as several of the essays in Bridging the Gap discuss, the benefits of a public-interest internship can exceed those of a traditional architecture internship. Victoria Beach observes, “With logistical hurdles aside, a public-service internship program offers an ideal model for independent practice. Right from the outset of a project, interns are given a broad range of responsibilities without having to beg for them. Interns then lead while experts assist, not the other way around.”(8) Although many of the authors advocate such benefits of a public-interest internship, a counter viewpoint is offered by Michael Payatok: “What is interesting about projects executed within mainstream corporate offices is that they are, more often than not, larger in scale and impact than projects undertaken by nonprofit community design centers. The scale of these projects and their technical complexities offer educational opportunities that are not readily available in the smaller projects of community-design centers. . . . I think young interns should spend at least ten years working in mainstream offices, supplemented by their volunteer work during evenings and weekends, before joining community-design centers.”(41,43)

The majority of the public service internships cited in the book are for academic credit, for very modest pay, or performed pro bono. In Bridging the Gap, several authors discuss compensation and give concrete examples of how existing internships are funded. Often, a public-interest architect must not only initiate a project, but also find the funds to support it. Andrew Caruso notes, “Serving a community that cannot afford design services does not necessarily mean that such services must be offered gratis; assuming so limits the potential of these for-profit/not–for-profit partnerships. . . . Thus, designers must be as creative with how they fund and deploy their ideas as with the design of the ideas themselves.”(66)

Look Inside: Bridging the Gap


Bridging the Gap
is an extension of Georgia Bizios & Katie Wakeford’s work on the Home Environments Design Initiative at North Carolina State University, which experiments with offering public-interest internships through the university. This type of program is the focus of at the universities. The editors note, “Universities are leaders in innovation, education, and increasingly in community engagement, making them ideal laboratories for testing new models of public-interest internship. . . . Universities are well positioned to seek funding and leverage faculty expertise and qualifications for supervision of public-interest interns.”(74) The majority of essays in this section are authored by the directors of university based programs, such as ecoMOD at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Christina Calabrese offers a student’s perspective. She discusses in detail her experience with four public service opportunities, all tied to the University of Virginia, where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Architecture. Included are the eligibility requirements, cost, compensation, and expectations of each opportunity.

First person narratives from public-interest interns give readers insight into the developing field of public architecture. The seven internships presented in beyond the ivory tower are quite diverse. The broad scope of experiences supports one of the reoccurring themes in the book: a career in public architecture does not have a defined path. For example, Luke Weldon Perry and Luke Clark Tyler share their Peachtree-Pine experience. Peachtree-Pine provides many services for the homeless of Atlanta, including shelter, transitional housing, and advocacy. The focus of the internship was the design of a master plan for Peachtree-Pine, one that would create a positive image and connect the center with the community of Atlanta. Both of the interns lived at Peachtree-Pine during their internship and offer insightful perspectives on public-interest architecture. Perry notes, “We have to acknowledge that this work isn’t a good fit for everyone. Expanding the reach of such opportunities might formalize something that may not need to be formalized. . . . Blindly diving in to change the world can actually do more harm than good. If you don’t have the capacity or interest to deeply understand both people’s lives as well as the forces that shape them, your efforts may very well be in vain. Regardless, we really do need more designers doing this kind of work.”(210)

Look Inside: Bridging the Gap

Also included in the seven internships presented is an example from a landscape architecture intern, Sam Valentine, who encourages one to be open minded about opportunities and expanding boundaries of the profession. “If I had been told, even months before finishing school, that my first step after graduation would involve a two-hundred-year-old house, uniformed park rangers, and gaggles of eight- and nine-year-olds, I would likely have scoffed at the apparent irrelevance of the opportunity. . . . But, with time, I slowly broadened the perceived boundaries of my career, and since then I have found my experience challenging, rewarding, and surprisingly relevant.”(222,223)

Bridging the Gap assembles diverse individual viewpoints into a current, relevant discussion on the profession of architecture and the emergence of public-interest architectural internships. An increasing interest in community based internships combined with limited opportunities makes established programs extremely competitive. Currently, the supply of architectural interns eager for public-interest work far surpasses the available projects. Georgia Bizios & Katie Wakeford bring attention to this gap and advocate for expanding the field of public-interest architectural internships.

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Amy Fashimpar, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Amy Fashimpar received her master of architecture degree from the University of California Berkeley and is a registered architect.

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