One common complaint is that although NCARB's licensing requirements were designed to take roughly five years to complete, it often takes twice that long. That time line, by itself, doesn't strike Jim Cutler, FAIA, as out of proportion. He compares it with the 10 years physicians spend in school and completing an internship and argues that, like doctors, architects are capable of doing enormous harm, whether or not they are able to shelter people beautifully. Even so, Cutler admits that licensing pre-IDP was less fraught. After finishing up his master's degree in 1974, he apprenticed for three years, stamping his first set of drawings by 1977.

Perhaps in hindsight, Cutler sees architecture as a highly experience-based, generalist profession. “On a daily basis, I am looking at the diameter of bolts on a plate; how a toilet flushes and how I will get the effluent out given a certain floor thickness; how light is reflected as it hits the floor and bounces around the space; how the compression of a door will emotionally impact people as they move through it,” says Cutler, of Bainbridge Island, Wash. “It takes a really long time to integrate all that information to a point where you can synthesize it into your own work. Even in terms of competency there are so many pitfalls that the idea of not being registered and not having apprenticed for several years so you can learn those pitfalls would be the height of foolishness. It would be lawyer fodder.”

What irritates Cutler is the exam itself, which he describes as “a bit puerile and childish on occasion.” Registered in eight states, Cutler says that in some jurisdictions, test-takers are expected to read the study guide and spout back the answers verbatim, or fill in multiple-choice answers. “To me, that's like high school,” he says. “Having architects sit down with a group of peers and be questioned about the depth of their knowledge of architecture and ethics seems to me to be a better way to register architects.”

ironing out the idp

Still, the IDP training units, which some view as overly prescriptive, are the punching bag for internships that drag on. The IDP was begun in the late 1970s as a voluntary program to make sure interns got a broad range of experience. Over the years, more and more states made it mandatory, until now 50 out of 55 jurisdictions require completion of the training units. In 1996, NCARB increased its political grasp by requiring the IDP for certification, which helps architects get reciprocity in other states. So what could be wrong with this picture? Critics complain that it's virtually the only track to registration, that it hasn't changed measurably since its inception, and that it hasn't been proven to be more effective than an unspecified (and generally speedier) internship. “IDP was never intended to be regulated or mandated,” says John Cary, of ArchVoices, Albany, Calif., “so it just doesn't function well as a standard program.”

The idea was that the IDP would provide superior training. However, the first empirical study of the program, commissioned by NCARB in the early 2000s, didn't support that premise. Beth Quinn, writing in the May 2003 Journal of Architectural Education, concluded that, although there were some positive findings, there were no significant statistical differences in satisfaction and rates of learning between IDP interns and those in unstructured programs.

Stephen Kieran, FAIA, Kieran Timberlake, Philadelphia, is another architect who breezed through a three-year internship before all the reporting and monitoring became de rigueur. He offers several reasons why the IDP can be an impediment to licensure. Contrary to Cutler's analogy, he believes the generalist medical model on which it is based is less relevant to architecture. “Many architects wind up in specialties of different sorts. There's an increasing argument that the full depth and breadth of the required training isn't as relevant as it was 50 years ago,” he says.

And because the success of the IDP ultimately rests on the goodwill and resources of the employer, in the wrong firms it can take more than three years to fulfill the requirements. Even if a firm is committed to the IDP, it has to make money off of employees, and architecture firms have relatively low profit margins. “I wonder if there could be some revisions made to the requirements that are more difficult to get, such as field experience,” Kieran says. “I think there could be more of an averaging—‘Here's the range of experience we want you to have; get 80 percent of this range.'”

Speaking as a historian, Braham also notes that a safety net exists that wasn't there 50 or so years ago when licensure began. Some of the things a license ensures have been taken up by building officials and engineering firms.

knowledge vs. practice

A second part of this debate revolves around whether interns should be able to take the ARE during their internship, which could shorten the time line. Senhauser says the AIA's position is that interns should indeed be able to sit for the test upon graduation, but be licensed only after putting in the internship hours. Russell DiNardo, AIA Associate, agrees. DiNardo, an architect at Michael Graves Associates, Princeton, N.J., graduated in 1995 and passed the ARE last February. “If the exam is set up to test minimum knowledge to enter the profession, why does it matter when you take it?” he asks.

DiNardo says the IDP didn't expose him to aspects of practice he wouldn't have gotten on his own, and that the intuitive understanding he gained during internship had little to do with what's on the exam. Two years ago he enrolled in a seminar with a well-known professor on how to pass the graphics division. When DiNardo said the information wasn't what he learned in school, the professor replied that he wasn't teaching architecture, he was teaching how to pass the exam.