There are ample writing resources available online and in print, including a number of classic and widely-used style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association (MLA) Handbook. Neither of the aforementioned are available online in their entirety. Minus a few published essays in books and journals, Writing for Design Professionals (1998), is the only book geared for us designer types. Defying the stereotype that architects can't write, it's authored by Stephen Kliment, FAIA, past editor-in-chief of Architectural Record.

The most comprehensive and easy to use online guide is arguably Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. It is based on the Associated Press Style Book and Briefing on Media Law and comes highly recommended by Lily Thayer, Director of Public Relations for RTKL Associates. is an annotated directory focusing on creativity, the writing process, English grammar, action writing, 'fat-free' writing, style and usage, reference sources, word play, and even tips for overcoming writer's block.

These days, every word processing program has a pretty extensive spell check vocabulary, at least for this type of writing, but you may also wish to utilize a dictionary or thesaurus.  Merriam-Webster offer both online at

Are you partial to any writing resources that are not listed here? Email your recommendations to

did you know?
    "Writing skills were cited as a weakness by majorities of administrators, faculty and alumni." When asked to indicate how strong or weak they considered teaching of writing skills at their school, 66% of administrators, 65% of faculty, 42% of students, and 59% of alumni said 'weak.'"
    --Ernest Boyer & Lee Mitgang, Building Community, p.70 (1996)

    47.2% of respondents felt that "too little" emphasis was placed on verbal/written communication skills in school.
    --ACSA Tracking Study of Architecture Graduates from the classes of 1967, '72, & '77 (1980)

    Of the approximately 140 U.S. newspapers with a daily circulation of more than 75,000, only 13 have full-time architecture critics. The nation's largest newspaper, USA Today, has no architecture critic at all; nor does Houston, Detroit, Sacramento, or Kansas City.
    --The Architecture Critic, National Arts Journalism Program (2000-2001)

reference materials

To spark entrants' thinking, we solicited the following three commentaries on architectural internship and the plight of recent graduates.  The first two were contributed by well-known writers, both of whom care deeply about the profession, although they are at very different points in their career. The third was prepared by the essay competition committee. 

All three commentaries were presented as just that--commentaries.  Entrants were invited to reference them or any other perspectives within their essay.  However, they were not intended, in any way, to set the parameters for the Stage One responses.  

Lost in Space

By Robert Ivy, FAIA

Graduation from architecture school can feel like launching into space from the mother ship. Suddenly jettisoned from the warmth of a familiar support system, you feel keenly alone, free floating toward a profession and a new life while the next mark lies three years away, beyond the visible horizon. You bear the new name "intern" uneasily; moreover, the guideposts shift along the way. The intern's and the young architect's plight is reminiscent of Mel Brooks' 1977 classic High Anxiety.

It's no joke. New graduates face a bewildering array of choices armed with too little information and support. Like the spacewalker, their connections to the profession are tenuous, leading them to feel alienated and disaffected from architecture itself--an unacceptable situation. When the profession requires the talents of every available architect, we need to ask, "What is going wrong?"

Schools of architecture should take some of the heat. While most architects cherish the critical freedom that lies at the heart of architectural education, somehow students do not grasp the distinctions between design studio and the workplace until very late in their training.

The gap widens. Increasingly, graduates find jobs outside traditional practice as model makers, cyber-designers, or builders. Who explains the options to these vocational pioneers? Very few schools offer extensive work/study programs, like the University of Cincinnati does, or active job placement as the University of Nebraska does. Realistic expectations about what they face would mitigate the graduate's disillusionment.

Practicing architects don't get off the hook. Too many practitioners are out of sync with the culture at architecture schools and, therefore, with the labor force. Desperate for workers, principals gobble up young computer jockeys before they've framed their diplomas: The kids may lack information or experience in how buildings go together, but they can draw like demons.

The Intern Development Program (IDP), which promised so much, seems to be floundering. Despite the idealism with which it was founded and the many volunteer hours devoted to the program, author Lee Mitgang reported in our July 1999 issue that architects in training sometimes cheat when filling out training reports, sometimes with the "complicity of their employers." This shocking and cynical state of affairs demands careful investigation and correction, but it offers a strong commentary on interns' attitudes. Some obviously consider IDP criteria a hindrance rather than a help.

It may sound hopeless, but the situation for interns and young architects contains good news, including a backlog of ample work. Enlightened firms are looking beyond the quick fix and are investing in internal training, with firm principals leading sessions on leadership and other topics for new recruits. The volume of national debate on the internship dilemma is increasing as well.

While the heat is up among individuals, firms, and institutions, we are far from resolution. The stakes are too high for carping or backbiting among the stakeholders where the future of architecture is concerned. Interns and young architects are free-falling, when they deserve a lifeline.

Robert Ivy, FAIA, editor-in-chief of Architectural Record, has combined two disparate careers--that of practicing architect and editor--into a single job. During his tenure, Record has grown to become the world's largest professional architectural publication, encompassing both print and the Web. A frequent spokesperson for the profession, he travels extensively for the magazine and has broadened its coverage to include more international projects. Born in Mississippi, he earned his BA in English from the University of the South and his B.Arch at Tulane University. His book on the architect Fay Jones was re-released in soft cover in May 2001. The piece was adapted and reprinted with permission of the author from the October 1999 issue of Architectural Record.

Tools for Change
By Kirin Joya Makker

The architectural interns' checklist for issues as expressed at the 2002 Summit on Architectural Internship included receiving better pay and hours, conscientious guidance, diversity of experience, and opportunities to embrace the public. With the exception of the first rather straightforward issue of fair compensation and treatment, each of the other needs expressed by young professionals is broad and less easily defined. A recent M.Arch graduate and observer of the issues of architectural internship mostly from sidelines, I wonder if the combination of these phrases as they emerge in these dialogues about what interns want suggests a more noble and far-reaching set of needs. Perhaps "range of experience" and "embrace the public" together speak to larger concerns (which may or may not be on our profession's agenda) about active participation in the built environment as it affects the public, about social and environmental responsibility, and about mentorship and leadership by individuals who share these values.

Coincidentally, the model of our internship system was not created in a culture of such optimism and warmth toward the public or the environment. Our profession's approach to practical training is based on European models from the time and culture of the industrial revolution. Here we are, embarking on the 21st century, a country having experienced the breakdown of a manufacturing society and birth of the environmental movement, as culturally diverse as it's ever been, and we still cling to an internship system created in a place and time that barely resembles the character of American life today. Our method of practical training is outdated and embedded in a profession that doesn't necessarily seek the sweeping changes voiced at the 2002 Summit that would see NCARB's Intern Development Program (IDP) succeed. The seeds of our problems as interns are spread throughout the profession and it's quite possible that changes will not happen from within.

A long-time NCARB supporter stood up at the 2002 Summit and suggested that "everyone needs to buy into their responsibilities." As much as I feel that this statement describes this national organization's condescension to the issues affecting young professionals in architecture, I also feel that, in a sense, this person has a valid point. Although, my interpretation of what we "buy" is probably not what NCARB would wish. Our responsibility, as I see it, is to take on these larger issues from the outside.

I'm speaking from a personal perspective. My route over the next few years will take me into the classrooms of sixth graders, not to expose them to the career track of an architect, but simply to help them notice the designed environment. I'll be volunteering on a local arts council offering my thoughts on the public art projects in our town. I'll author articles for our local newspaper on design, green development, and human habitation. I'll be exhibiting my drawings of local neighborhoods at the town library in hopes of exposing non-designers to how designers see. I'll be participating in seminars at a local university on the relationship between narrative and the built environment. And about the only time the profession will recognize my work is when I'll be working at an architecture firm.

Proposing that we go outside the current training structure doesn't mean giving up on an internal struggle. But the goals, as interns have voiced them, clearly can't occur within a system that has roots in something as archaic as the culture surrounding the atelier system. Those interns weren't happy either.

Our profession needs to buy into its responsibilities to society. To the public, we're seen as designers and have opportunities to give to our communities, even if we can't call ourselves AIA members. If we don't participate in society in the ways that we'd like our mentors to participate, how can we ever effectively change as we age into their positions? Because we will get there eventually, and we don't want to bring with us as our main perspective the narrow experience of IDP.

Clearly, we need a different system of architectural internship, one that gears us towards becoming more active members of society as we use our skills and talents to better human habitation. However our profession sees us, we need to be doing what we can to engage society now. The educator, poet and activist Audre Lorde once stated that, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." When we're handed the tools of the national organizations, I want to have another set, collected during my diverse experience as I embraced the public as a young intern. Let's get prepared so we cannot only dismantle, but also design something that reflects a more noble set of values for our profession.

Kirin Joya Makker is the editor-in-chief of Crit, and recently earned her Master of Architecture from the University of Maryland. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas-Austin and a Master of Arts in English language and literature from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Components of Internship
By the members of the ArchVoices Essay Competition committee

For the purposes of exploration, we have broken down the sum total of internship into a system of abstract components. There is a great deal of interchange among these components, making them open to an equal amount of interpretation. Treat this information as the beginnings of research, of contextual analysis. Your challenge as a contestant is to create an essay that speaks to this context; you will intervene within it.

Again, this document is only a beginning. Your writing is by no means restricted by it. We have tried to be as objective as possible in this presentation, but your response has no such requirement.


Under the present system, the education of the architect is the responsibility of two entities: the academy and the profession. Two national agencies, the ACSA and NAAB, qualify the nature of pedagogy, and one, NCARB, monitors the education of the intern. In essence, one of the roles of the intern is that of a student. Because the NAAB has so specifically defined the parameters of academic education of architects, it has also defined what architectural education does not teach. It is the responsibility of the profession at large to provide the balance of an architect's education. It is perhaps this disjunction and division of education that fosters the largest conflict in the development of an emerging professional: the transition from academically driven pedagogy to professional tutelage.

Consider comparing these additional resouces:


It is often said that the present system of academic education provides freedom for creative growth. It is important, then, for an emerging professional to look within and discover how this finely tuned creative process can be applied to "the real world." Under the apprenticeship system of the early 1900s, the application of learned abilities was closely tied to the firm that taught them. Today, the emerging professional has the freedom to choose how those skills will be applied to culture and society. More specifically, there is a trend in emerging professionals to explore non-traditional routes to licensure, or even divergent careers. Community-based design centers, public policy think tanks, teaching, urban design firms, and consulting firms are all potential career paths that a developing professional can explore, although none of these alone fulfill NCARB's requirements for licensure.


Association with colleagues is an important aspect in the development of any professional, regardless of the profession. Yet, unlike school where close bonds develop between students, interns are as a rule far-flung and insular. There is no national organization of developing architects, although interns can retain membership in AIAS and be Associate members of the AIA. Both organizations are interested in maintaining ties with interns and addressing interns' needs. The Web has perhaps become the most reliable link between interns. Several websites are dedicated to interns and function as clearinghouses of information for interns, fostering dialogue, identifying resources, breaking through the isolation of the office.


Mentorship is an idea often discussed in conjunction with architectural internship. Many agree that retaining a committed mentor is the single most important factor of a successful internship. There are no resources, however, that qualify what exactly an effective mentor is, or what responsibility a mentor has to a mentee. Moreover, there is no agency that trains or certifies individuals on how to be a good mentor, although the AIA national component is trying to develop such a system. Who then does an emerging professional choose as a mentor? What factors should an intern consider when choosing a mentor?


The firm an intern works for is in essence the sponsoring party of her continued education. There is a different role for a developing architect beyond that of a simple employee. Some firms have the resources to integrate the internship process formally, and set up in-house programs tailored to the needs of the intern. Other firms address the education of the intern informally. Some do not recognize any obligation of sponsorship at all, save a paycheck (most of the time), and leave the developing professional to find their own way. There are also some programs that identify firms that sponsor interns well, such as the IDP Outstanding Firm Award or the AIA Firm Survey. Sponsorship, though, is a two-way street. The developing professional has an undeniable responsibility to the sponsoring firm. The intern must weigh her needs against the firm's needs. Ideally, these agendas would mesh instead of compete, but the world is not ideal.


This document attempts to identify some elements of the context of architectural internship as it exists today. It is your responsibility as a contestant to further examine the issue of context and develop your response, your relationship with it.

We look forward to reviewing your essay.

The ArchVoices Essay Competition committee is composed of individuals who participated in the 2002 National Summit on Architectural Internship. In the months following the Summit, they have worked together to create the intellectual framework for this essay competition.