An architectural internship is integral to a Bachelor’s degree in architecture and provides students with a first-hand experience in the realities of the profession. It is practically a rite of passage for architects and is the only uniting factor in the varying curriculums followed by architecture schools across the country. However, the current approach to internships is one of myriad issues faced by the industry at present, but is a subject seldom spoken about in public.
There are two sides to architecture – both in school as well as in practice. The first is the scope to explore the depths of your creative potential and challenge yourself to constantly design something unique. This is the primary reason why many students opt for architecture in the first place. Naturally every student develops different interests and strengths over the duration of architecture school. In an ideal scenario, an internship should allow for students to explore the fields that they would like to pursue; be it graphic design, photography, production design or other allied fields.
A conversation with Rosie Paul and Sridevi Changali, principal architects of Masons’ Ink, gave an insight into a practising architect’s perspective on the subject. “The beauty of architecture is that it provides you with a foundation to diversify into multiple fields. But for internships to reflect that, the definition of an architect itself needs to undergo a change. As there is so much more exposure today, we would suggest that a student apply to multi-disciplinary firms that align with their interests instead of directly pursuing photography or journalism (to name a few).”
As founders of a multi-disciplinary firm themselves, their statement carries a lot of weight. The scope of an architectural practise has grown leaps and bounds beyond the design and construction of buildings. Today, there are several new firms that are venturing into research and documentation, product, graphic, production and furniture design, or even heritage conservation, landscape, and urban design. And all of this is in addition to the traditional architectural practise. For students who are genuinely interested in exploring these fields, there is the option of doing so at an architecture firm itself parallel to the regular practise. For this group of students, the challenge lies in being able to find the right firm as many of them are not widely renowned.
What about the students who do not wish to practise architecture? A major stumbling block they face is the fact that several colleges require them to produce technical drawings during their internship. Students have found an easy way to circumvent this by including drawings made by other interns/architects in their portfolio. It’s a trade-off that works for firms as well as students as the former gets extra hands on deck for pursuits outside of architecture, while students get to work on what they enjoy. However, this undermines the relevance of an internship, and renders it an exercise in futility. Internships (and students) in India largely suffer from the fact that schools and firms do not see eye-to-eye on what an internship must entail, and this is just one of those instances.
There might be no explicit mention of it, but there is no denying that the approach to architecture has been redefined in the last decade, even if people’s understanding of it hasn’t. Many young architects are taking the plunge and starting their own firms with a focus on supporting architecture through their efforts, and not practising it. Vinay Varanasi, co-founder of Unbind – an organisation that creates learning experiences for architects, is one such example. His team does not practise architecture, but is comprised primarily of architects and designers. Vinay also believes the future of architecture lies in an inter-disciplinary approach. “I feel students from 4-year design courses display greater flexibility and adapt quicker to an inter-disciplinary approach. Architecture students find it harder to make the switch as they’re taught to focus on designing spaces throughout college.”
Vinay also makes the point that he is yet to find anybody as creative as architecture students, if they are willing to unlearn. This brings us back to the point that the course is the perfect springboard to enter multiple fields – allied or otherwise. This makes the internship period all the more important as it gives students exposure to multiple areas of expertise. However, there needs to be a framework set in place to formalize the practise. Unless the critical issues of apathy and unregulated/unpaid internships is resolved, allowing students to intern in fields outside of architecture will not make a difference. It is also necessary to keep in mind that you can enter most fields as an architect, however, you cannot walk back in just as easily. Undergoing a modicum of technical and real-world experience can go a long way in determining whether you stay in the field or enter another. In the meanwhile, one can only hope that schools will make the decision to open up the real of architecture to mirror the realities of the profession at large.