The profession of architecture and the world around us are radically different than they were even a decade ago. The advent of email, in particular, has given young and old professionals alike the ability to stay connected and share ideas, almost instantly. The history of ArchVoices speaks not only to the power of web-based communication, but also to personal initiative and the small world we live in today.
In the early-90s, five membership groups that refer to themselves as the “collateral organizations” commissioned a multi-year study of the profession by an outside agency called the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The profession eagerly awaited the results of their independent assessment, and a great deal of energy, ideas, and overdue discussion followed the 1996 release of the Building Community report.
Most of the initial attention was focused on education, but the report also called internship “perhaps the most troubled phase in the life-long education of architects.” Consensus soon built around the idea of having a profession-wide “summit” on architectural internship. Position papers were written by each of the collateral organizations, two national surveys were conducted, and the first-ever Summit on Architectural Internship was staged for April 1999. The Internship Summit concluded with a promise that the first official presentation of the results would be made a month later at the AIA Convention.
The Moon Shot
The room was packed. An opening statement by well-known educator Wayne Drummond cautioned that the Summit was just the start of what would necessarily be a long process. Drummond’s analogy was to Kennedy’s moon shot–Kennedy didn’t know exactly how to get to the moon, but he set a ten-year goal and inspired people to meet it. Entirely new technologies had to be developed that no one had even considered in 1960. Drummond’s point was that truly meaningful change would take time, and it would require new structures that no one in 1999 had even considered. The 1999 Summit was the start of a journey–a journey that would take at least ten years.
The structure that the 1999 Summit produced in the short-term was the ubiquitous “task force.” Ironically, for the first few months, this Collateral Internship Task Force (CITF) did not have an intern representative–in short, it was neither a new nor innovative structure. Following Drummond’s presentation, a group of interns asked the CITF chairman how this “Internship Task Force” could proceed without even a single intern. He responded: “I could solve 90% of the problems of internship without talking to another intern…. If you don’t feel represented on this task force, you need to find your own representation.”
The Journey Begins
One of those interns, Casius Pealer, left the AIA Convention convinced that the moon shot was the right analogy, but this intern-less taskforce wasn’t up to the task–at least not alone. He didn’t know what the answer was, but he felt it started with better communication. So, he sent out an email to 200 friends and colleagues and hoped for a response.
To his surprise and amazement, the response was overwhelming, with interns responding to emails that had been forwarded ten or eleven times. The young people who responded were in a complete void of information about internship, such that a random email from a complete stranger was welcome relief. And so Casius sent out another email. And another. And then he moved to a banana field in a remote village of a developing country.
Almost a year earlier, Casius had volunteered to teach carpentry in the U.S. Peace Corps. So, in July 1999, he got on a plane with 54 young people he didn’t know, to spend the next two years in an island nation he had never heard of, living with people he had never met. He happened to bring a laptop computer, and soon had phone service and thereby dial-up internet access, in addition to running water and electricity. Meanwhile, emails from young professionals throughout U.S. wanting information about architectural internship continued to pour in. Quite frankly, he had expected someone else or some real group to start coordinating these emails, but it didn’t happen. So, ArchVoices developed in what we call a developing country.
Through this same time, John Cary was serving as the AIAS National Vice President, working out of the AIA headquarters building in Washington, DC. This was still in the wake of the 1999 Internship Summit, but you’d have never known; it was business as usual for the collateral organizations. John was both confused and impressed that the only regular source of information about internship was coming from a banana field in the West Indies. To do his part, John started contributing whatever extra time, energy, and ideas that he could to ArchVoices as the newsletter started being published monthly. Then, in November 1999, ArchVoices added a monthly resource issue, and, in August 2000, twice-monthly editorial issues.
Believe in the Future
More than five years after its establishment in 1999, ArchVoices exists as an independent, nonprofit organization and think tank focused on young professionals and the future of the profession. In addition to sharing ideas and information with thousands of people each week via our email newsletter and website, we also host regular conferences, co-sponsor a biennial survey, and coordinate an annual essay competition.
ArchVoices’ mission remains the same as it was in that very first email over five years ago: increasing communication among and about young professionals, as colleagues who are facing similar challenges with similar hopes and aspirations. Ours is clearly not the definitive word from interns or young professionals, and we would hardly expect such a disparate group to speak with one voice. However, we continue ArchVoices in the interest of having our peer group become less disparate and more involved.