An Aspiring Architect's Take on the Intern Title Debate

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). 

I had the privilege of serving on the NCARB Future Title Task Force this past year. As an unlicensed professional who is two exams into the licensing process, the topic of titling is both current and personal. To my delight, NCARB compiled a committee boasting diversity in age, experience, and geographic location in order to foster a well-rounded discussion of appropriate titles in architecture. The recent publicity our recommendations have received gives me hope that this topic will generate fruitful conversation within our profession. 

The Bigger Picture

To start the conversation, we had to detach ourselves from our personal careers and consider larger industry goals. Where should the architectural profession be and how should it progress? Who are the decision makers and how do we facilitate upward mobility? In order to progress as a profession, we need to think more critically about how to stay relevant in a modern world. Architectural delivery is evolving, individual roles are changing, and internal restructuring might be required. Recognizing that these changes could be facilitated in a symbolic way, while balancing the traditional nature of our profession, is paramount.

The task force began by researching titles in other professions. We identified the different educational, experience, and examination requirements for lawyers, doctors, and engineers, as well as their associated titles. Engineers, for example, have the most similar path to architects. Emerging designers in that field are called “Engineers in Training.”

Why Titles Matter

Emerging professionals frequently feel undervalued for their hard work, and their title within the profession may play a key role. Many jurisdictions have laws restricting the use of the title “architect.” Yet being called an “intern” does not inspire feelings of confidence or respect. This issue is less about wordsmithing and more about accurately describing the work being performed. In many cases, an intern is responsible for coordinating systems and developing designs—it’s time they earned a title fitting of their job.

In the end, the task force recognized that “intern” is not the best title for aspiring architects. At the same time, we agreed to protect the term architect. I personally look forward to the right to call myself an architect. I respect the process, and will continue to chip away at my exams. As a student of architecture, I constantly find myself balancing tradition and progress. I make a point to respect the path taken by experienced architects, while encouraging more progressive stances as our industry evolves.

This task force’s action was the first step of many in the development of a new title for emerging designers, as they play a critical role in most architectural firms. Without the growth of these designers to project architects, firms would crumble. I am energized by the idea that in future titling debates, the industry will generate a creative way for respecting this emerging group of fun young individuals.

About the Author

Suni Dillard is a designer currently working for HMFH Architects in Cambridge, MA. Originally from Washington state, she graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon. While in school, Suni co-authored a master plan for the city of Salem, OR, that addresses sustainability issues with a cross-disciplinary approach for the Sustainable Cities Initiative. Her passion for integrating sustainable solutions into design challenges of all sizes—from individual buildings to whole cities—is reflected in her work at HMFH, where she is an active leader in the firm’s sustainability committee. Suni also recently participated in the NCARB Future Title Task Force, a group charged with exploring the titles used by the full continuum of those in the architecture profession.