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The Rich History of Architectural Internships

Architecture has an intern problem. Like many industries, the exact meaning of the title, and issues of compensation and responsibility, have been debated for years. The role "has been perceived as negative by many in the architecture community," says Dale McKinney, President of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), which recently decided to drop the title of intern architect and work on a replacement. While titles may change, the importance of internships, mentorships and first jobs has shaped the careers of many famous architects, many of whom went out of their way to cut their teeth with the legends of the field. As the debate over how to name and quantify the position continues, Curbed takes a look at how previous mentors have shaped the field.

Frank Lloyd Wright Worked for Louis Sullivan
It's arguable that the foundations of modern architecture took shape during Wright's tenure as a draftsman for Louis Sullivan in Chicago. Wright called himself "the pencil in Sullivan's hand," and while working for his "Lieber Meister" (beloved master) on numerous projects from 1888 to 1893, from Chicago's revolutionary Auditorium Theater to the Charnley-Persky home, a proto-modernist residence with an unadorned exterior and organic interior shapes, their shared sensibilities and desire for a homegrown American architectural style manifested themselves. Wright even designed Sullivan's home before they had a falling out, the result of Sullivan discovering his young associate's freelance work. Decades later, the two patched up their relationship, and Wright wrote a moving obituary for Sullivan in 1924.

Richard Neutra Worked for Frank Lloyd Wright
For decades, an apprenticeship or study with Wright was almost a right of passage, and scores of skilled architects and Prairie-school acolytes developed their practice under the eyes of the master. Viennese architect Richard Neutra, who spent time with Wright, made an assertive play to get in the door. After introducing himself to Wright at Louis Sullivan's funeral, he camped out in front of the architect's door until he got his chance. Neutra would later name his eldest son Frank L. Neutra, but it wasn't until he set out to California and became an acolyte of the International Style that he truly established his legacy.

Mies van der Rohe Worked for Peter Behrens
The turn-of-century German architect, who coined the phrase "Gesamtkunstwerk," or "total work of art," was a Renaissance man who also worked as a bookbinder and graphic artist. Apparently, the literary bent rubbed off on his protege Mies van der Rohe, a devout reader of philosophy and just one of his talented young associates (Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius also put in time in his office). Behrens's work with the German Werkbund, an early design collective, elevated industrial design across Germany, and when he was given the commission for the AEG Turbine Factory in 1907, which would become a hanger-like cornerstone of Industrial modernism, he assigned young Mies to work on the glazing of the west wall. Behrens's feedback when presented with Mies' early sketches? "Less is more."

Bjarke Ingels Worked for Rem Koolhaas
Ingels spent just a few years (1998–2000) working at OMA before founding his first firm PLOT (BIG came in 2006), but it was during a pivotal time for the firm. Ingels quit after playing a role in the important Seattle Central Library project. Ingles has said Koolhaas was one of his entries into conceptual work —"I read Rem Koolhaas before I read Le Corbusier," he once said—but also notes that his office has a much different attitude than his mentor. He once described the competition against Koolhaas for the Miami Beach Convention Center commission as "oedipal."

Renzo Piano Worked for Louis Kahn
Piano has worked in a series of creative collaborations over the years, including Richard Rogers, but his formative work in the office of monumental builder Louis Kahn from 1965-1970 helped shape his career. Piano started working with Kahn on sketches for the lighting of an open-plan factory in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and while Piano has become one of the foremost museum architects in the world, his use of light and urban views may have been strongly influenced by some of Kahn's buildings, such as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. In fact, Piano was recently given the honor of designing an addition for his mentor's masterpiece, which has often been referred to as a "conversation" between the two greats.

Dirty Word: NCARB to Drop the Term Intern [Architectural Record]