2020-03-01 Frame

(singke) #1

How to make internships

mutually beneficial


The appointment last summer
of Junya Ishigami to create the
Serpentine Pavilion in London
sparked a global conversation
about internships in design,
after the Japanese architect was
revealed to be using unpaid
workers. While some, includ-
ing architect Sou Fujimoto and
designer Karim Rashid, defended
the practice, others condemned
it: in December, Cameron
Sinclair – the founder of chari-
table organization Architecture
for Humanity – said unpaid
internships were exploitative and
created a favourable environment
for wealthy graduates.
Since then, Chilean firm
Elemental is among those that
have stopped taking on unpaid

interns, hinting at the potential
for change across the sector. But
exploitation is about more than
just pay: in an industry known for
long hours, interns are often over-
worked, with little supervision
and few benefits. With mental
health and wellbeing increas-
ingly part of public discourse, the
quality of internships is also now
under scrutiny.
It’s true, of course, that
internships are time-consuming
and complicated to administer
properly. If they cost practices too
much, many may simply not offer
them. So how can design firms
structure internship programmes
that benefit both parties? It’s a
question that Rotterdam-based
Studio Nauta has been asking

itself as part of a broader effort
to reduce stress and improve
work-life balance. Founder Jan
Nauta says the firm has rethought
its internships to ensure that,
unlike many other examples in
the industry, temporary graduate
workers are not treated simply
as cheap labour. He lists seven
ingredients that he believes are
key to this, including making sure
any programme is tailored to the
person involved, exposure to a
wide range of work, and construc-
tive two-way communication.
The six-person firm
generally takes on two interns at
a time, each of whom stays for six
to nine months. ‘At the beginning,
we try to understand what interns
want so we can set a road map for

them that’s complementary to
what they learned at university,’
says Nauta. ‘For example, one of
our current interns has a strong
technical background and wants
more exposure to the conceptual
side of projects. The other has
had little technical exposure, so
wants more of that.’ The firm also
tries to offer a broad view of the
industry. ‘Often someone might
be working on one limited task,
but it’s important to engage them
with the wider scope of the project
so they understand why certain
decisions are made,’ Nauta
says. ‘We’re dealing with highly
educated people who are trained
to think, not simply labourers.’
Even so, routine experience can
also be valuable. »






Business of Design 17

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