Peter Eisenman on unpaid internships

Wiktionary – Snarky

In response to the deleted post here at Eikongraphia about the working conditions as an unpaid intern at SANAA, Matthew Allen has send me the following conversation between Peter Eisenman and Jeffrey Kipnis. It’s the fourth of December 2007, GSD Harvard:

Audience: ”I would really appreciate it if you could give us your perspective on the employment of unpaid interns.”

Peter Eisenman: “I think that I want to answer the question clearly because, first of all, it’s a practice that occurs in journalism, it occurs in art, it occurs in film, et cetera. I know more people that are unpaid interns, that want to get experience. First of all, we are not allowed to pay people without work permits and most of our unpaid interns are in fact foreign workers, and the way you get into our office, is – an internship is three months, you can’t do anything for three months anyway – and then we usually hire those people who survive, et cetera, and pay them, and get them working papers, and get them into graduate school, and give them seminars, et cetera. So, I don’t want to even deign to even give that question – because it was meant in a kind of snarky way.”

Jeffrey Kipnis: “No it was not!”

Peter Eisenman: “It was! It was meant snarkily.”

Jeffrey Kipnis: “I don’t think it was.”

Peter Eisenman: “I want to respond to it and say: thank god for people who are unpaid
interns. When I started in architecture, I was an unpaid intern. I think the practice is fabulous. People who move up in the world all start as unpaid inters. Thank you.”

Jeffrey Kipnis, pointing to Jacques Herzog: “They don’t have any unpaid interns.”

Peter Eisenman: “No. They only pay people.”


An interesting reflection on old and new tradtions. As far as I am concerned, not paying for the work of your interns is unethical and archaic: it stems from an elitist attitude when only the wealthy could properly participate in this wonderful field (architecture) – it has little to do with driving out all but those with an obsessive drive to participate and who will sacrifice any means of supporting themslves monetarily, because that just isn’t possible in today’s society.

Good find!

I’ve always said that if you work for nothing, then you’re worth nothing. If students and other young architects wouldn’t AGREE to work for free, then it would no longer be a problem. Obviously, as you can see, we cannot rely on the beneficence of people like Peter Eisenman to change the unfortunate and abusive practice of unpaid internships… so the change is going to have to come from the interns themselves.

I think architects offices in general, even the progressive ones, are actually quite conservative in their organization. Mostly they are top down organized, based on fear and status. Even when you’re paid you are submissive to the regime (see for my own experiences here.

Collaborative design is possible however. See Linux, see Wikipedia, superior products made by highly respected and motivated collaborators (though unpaid). In those cases the leaders understood that they had a serving role and stayed in the background.

Unfortunately in so many cases the sole purpose of the architects offices is not architecture, but the architect.

Peter Eisenman can eat me. Unpaid internships are an archaic practice and are intolerable in today’s world. The AIA essentially blackballs architects who undertake the practice, and are right to do so. I get so disgusted with the “Well *I* had to do it so *you* have to do it” attitude that so many older generation architects have.

I remember that conversation, I read about it elsewhere, I was not aware of your previous post on that subject, so I am wondering what you want to imply?
Frankly, I worked at Peter’s office of a while as unpaid intern, although in perfect world that wouldn’t be tha case. You have unpaid interns all over the place however, even in the Netherlands. And in this case Kipnis’ argument won’t bite, because, H&deM only take interns for a whole year and yes, all of them do get paid, but that situation is indeed different.

The practise of employing unpaid interns is unprofessional and unethical. From a business point-of-view it equals slave labour. The intern does labour and those are billable hours. The architect or architecture agency is being paid for those hours.
In Industrial and Automotive Design there is no such thing anymore as unpaid internships…with the exception in Italy.
I think this practise is a disgrace for the profession. Mr. Eisenman reasons are also not very valid: the fact that he did doesn’t mean that all architecture students have to through it. Also it is possible to get studentvisas and hire interns for six months instead of three.
Perhaps unpaid internships are seen as a sort of initiation…

Well I guess unpaid interships are reserved for desperate foreign workers seeking working papers… oh well, I didn’t want to donate my time anyway.

Working hard anywhere, whether for free or a (small) wage is always a good start -emphasis on hard,and not free

I think it’s hipocracy of condeming unpaid internships, they are virulent in many professions, not only architecture. of course there are offices which do pay interns, and as intern you can always choose to go to one that actually pays you.
and by the way, as a foreigner with a student visa you can’t work in the states, exept if you are enrolled at an university and after your studies you might do so, not before. you actually need a working visa which is a bit more difficult to obtain.
lot’s of students only want to work during their holidays, i.e. during the summer.

I also work for a starchitect as intern and thankfully I am paid resonably with lots of benefits. They surprisingly take care of our interns and let us try a lot of task that we know nothing beforehand. We are also taken to construction sites of other project teams and stayed with the architects-in-charge for a while to gain some short site experience.

I can’t agree more with the point that unpaid interns are no difference with slave and that’s a very unprofessional way.

i just wonder whether those unpaid interns are able to learn much or they are just unpaid for working all days and nights for photoshop coloring and foam cutting for city blockings.

Unpaid internships are archaic practices for exploiting people. It uses to be called slavery. The only different (and relevant) thing of our times, is that this ancient practice is assumed as a part of a natural process, where slavery becomes part of education.

Don’t take the job. I can think of far better things to do with my unpaid time. Sometime, life can give you easy decisions like this.

The question should go to those unpaid interns. Why do they do it? From economic standpoint, no one works for nothing, so there must be something these interns value other than monetary return. And we all know what the returns are. From the starchitect standpoint, they can never rely on the unpaid intern on any accountable task because there is no guaranteed someone who works for free will show up on time or at all to work on any given day. So it goes both ways. Archaic or not is irrelevant, as long as people are willing to do it and not breaking the law.

If you want to have the name “Peter Eisenman” on your resume, than suck it up and deal with being unpaid. If, however, you would rather do the more intelligent thing of working for a well-respected, well known large firm, than go with someone like RMJM Hillier, CUH2A, Gensler, NBBJ or Perkins and Will and get paid a decent amount for your time like a sane person should do. Frankly, the larger offices would do more interesting work and have you involved in more than a starchitect firm anyway. I had a friend who worked for Richard Meier for a summer, unpaid. He was forced to wear a white shirt and sit in a little cubicle doing door schedules for three months. I also completely agree with Tim’s comment above- if I was working for free, I would tend to be far less reliable in my working hours of quality of work than if I was being paid a decent amount.

Who would work for Eisenman anyway?…
Eisenman’s carreer is over. Who in their sane mind would hire him to design a building? The guy may be a well respected theoretician and a well versed speaker but forget it, he’s crossed the barrier of disrespect towards the solemnity of architecture, students and people working in his office. There are ways to be a great architect – even a star – and avoid being an a*hole. Same goes for Kipnis. I had the guy in a studio and the guy knows now boundaries.

Working for free?.. Don’t do it.

Some shining architects actually sit down and make the principle, – “No, we wont pay them, they can work at my office without sallary and if its good enough we return some favours …” And some interns say – “hell yeah!”, making all others depended on the same economic situation.

The artist has the key role in producing exhibitions within a institution of payed directors, guards, installers and curators, spending up to several years on a project, he/her is the only part that stayes unpaid. Offcourse you can make money from that stuff later, but youre working now.
Like other proffesions you should be hired as a relevant participant thats worth the money.

Not good business.
We have always found that unpaid interns are unreliable – after all, they/you are doing you/them a favor. We rely on all our people to do the work that they are given, and even an intern’s work needs to be done or it takes away from the duties of the others in the staff. Paying even a minimum wage puts the relationship on a professional level, and costs less than having unpaid interns decide on going to a party rather than finishing their work.

fuck off eisenman and non paying architects. come together and abolish slavery. it is the interns and others to be blamed too, they are accepting the unpaid positions for the greed of eisenman or the star architects name on their resume. years ago i declined a non paying position at eisenman, meier and four other architects.

exactly, why would they pay to people who do not have a working permit, and anyway 90% of foreign people end up working in usa architecture firms… so there is no need to worry about equal rights.

It´s very similar here in Barcelona, the offices pay you like a studient, not like an Architect.

I think it is totally up to the person. In Japan, it is totally common to expect to not get paid. I interned at Shigeru Ban unpaid and learned more than I learn in 4 years of Architecture school in the states.
-Some architects take unpaid architects and treat them like trash. Other architects view it as a way to bring people in and teach them. That is how Ban is. I would never trade that experience for going back to a huge corporate office making 14$ an hour to do door schedules.
As a part of my education, taking the unpaid internship was a chance for me to go into a firm and learn without worrying about meeting expectations. My advice is to chose carefully if you take an unpaid internship! VERY carefully! But don’t think it is always a waste. Some architects do have integrity.

People work for Eisenman because he’ll move your application from the “rejected” pile to the “accepted” pile at Harvard or other east coast schools.

Nana is right though: who would ever work for Eisenman anyway? And if you’ve ever read his “theory” you’d know that he’s no theorist; the word is charlatan.

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