October 14, 2015

It is no secret that the world of architecture is in for a change. That world includes academia, the profession and everything in between. For starters, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has just undergone a “repositioning,” the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is changing aspects of the Intern Development Program (IDP) and Architectural Licensing Exams (ARE) and thirteen schools of architecture have been selected to educate the first graduating class of students through the Licensure Upon Graduation program. These organizational and programmatic changes are a reflection of what we are seeing in a new generation of architecture students and emerging professionals as we set the stage for our future.

Recent statistics and economist predictions indicate that architecture firms will have plenty of work in the foreseeable future. With an aging population and workforce, many architecture firms are looking for qualified employees to take on a significant role within their leadership and design teams. This will cause a high demand of architects in the coming years, giving recent graduates increased value and clout as they enter the profession. However, as the demand for architects increase, the profession is experiencing difficulty attracting architectural graduates into conventional firms.

The profession is looking to the AIAS for suggestions of how the profession needs to adjust in order to retain our most talented students.

This has been an on-going discussion for the past few years that’s has gained recent attention due to an article in the Wall Street Journal in late September. The author called for a “gut rehab” of architectural licensing in order to combat the “drain of young talent” in the profession. However, I have to believe that reasons for leaving the profession are even more multifaceted that just our licensing and qualification process.

The gut rehab has to happen in our overall approach and mentality to architecture. Architecture must detach itself from the ego, the hazing and the pride in our profession’s attrition rate. We need to draw a line between the dignified pride that comes from withstanding the rigor and high level of qualification needed to be an architect and the way we create unnecessary barriers to instill an elite, insular and unapproachable aura to greater society. The Howard Roark era of the architect is over and our profession must adjust in order to retain our relevance.

Wondering what I tell curious deans and firm principals? Moving forward, students and emerging professionals are looking for impact. As firms struggle to reach the compensation rates that would adhere to extrinsic motivators for the profession, we need to come together to refocus on the intrinsic motivators. We must create opportunities within architecture that allow for emerging professionals to love their work and see the direct influence they are making on communities. When emerging professionals don’t see direct impact coming out of architecture firms today, they begin to look for alternative options.

Once on the path to licensure, firms need to work harder to keep us there. Intrinsic motivators come in many forms. We can see the happiness of an architectural employee increase with professional and personal mentorship, flexibility in the work place, exposure to clients and gaining an understanding of the entire design process at an early age. We need to see a shift in the culture that encourages curiosity, authenticity, and entrepreneurship. There are many firms already working in this manner or making adjustments to accommodate emerging professionals’ wants and needs. As students, we are being looked at to help foster the climate we wish to live, work and play. We cannot expect our thoughts and opinions to be heard without voicing them and actively working towards our goals from day one of school, through graduation and beyond.

AIAS Members: Join in on the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

  1. Why do you think architectural graduates are choosing alternative career paths?
  2. Do you agree that the qualification regime and the confusion of the licensure process is driving away top talent?
  3. How does architecture need to pivot in order to regain relevance to recent graduates and to greater society?
  4. How can we, as students, drive the necessary changes we are looking for out of the profession?

-Danielle Mitchell,
AIAS President 2015-2016