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Backlash against unpaid internships in Ireland

The Architectural Association of Ireland (AAI) has blocked practices that use unpaid interns from entering its prestigious annual awards programme

After 26 years of running the AAI Awards, the association now requires practices in the Republic of Ireland to sign a declaration that all submitted projects have been produced by paid employees.

According to the AAI, the move is aimed at preventing practices from exploiting student architects and recent graduates.

A letter sent by the association to the profession’s representative body in Ireland, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), explained that the measure had been taken to combat the widespread problem of unpaid internships, which exclude lower-income students from the profession.

The letter added: ‘Emerging practices cannot compete with those backed by years of very healthy yields, who are now offering a degree of free work or “work at a loss”.’

Dublin-born Angela Brady, the RIBA’s president-elect, said she wanted the RIBA to adopt a similar policy. She said unpaid internships had become ‘endemic’. Regarding contest bids, she added: ‘Competitions need to be properly resourced and paid for, so practices aren’t encouraged to recklessly speculate on “free” staff time or to win work at unrealistically low rates.’

Leading Irish practices and recent AAI award-winners Scott Tallon Walker, DTA and de Blacam and Meagher were unwilling to comment. But John Graby, director of the RIAI, said he had no problem with the declaration against internships.

He said, ‘We accept there is a difficulty that graduates face in gaining work experience, but we want to see everyone in the profession being properly paid.’

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