The issue of unpaid internships has plagued architecture for a long time, as firms outside India are constantly brought to light and criticized for it. But the ubiquity of it doesn’t seem to be lost in India either, as architect Vinu Daniel’s Instagram post (now deleted) spotlighted the existence of this issue amongst Indian practices. Several complaints about unpaid internships at his firm, Wallmakers (as highlighted in our previous article on this issue), have led to scrutinizing not only the firm but also the overall state of architecture practice in India.With the rising attention and increasing debate on the legality and ethics of unpaid intern labour, we have been receiving a number of comments from the fraternity on this issue. In the process, we spoke to Mathew and Ghosh Architects (MGA), from Bengaluru, led by the founders Nisha Mathew and Soumitro Ghosh about the controversies surrounding the L-studio- a certificate program initiated by Soumitro Ghosh in 2014 and ArchitectureLive! acquiring information about the practice of charging fees from their interns.
On reviewing the L-studio program’s curriculum, it was particularly concerning to note the eligibility requirements for the course- interns of the architectural design studio, as well as the cost incurred for the L-studio program by the selected interns. The mention of the program’s preferred candidates to be those interning at Mathew and Ghosh Architects raised a pertinent question on whether the interns were expected to be a part of the program. Designed to enhance architectural education, the required participants had to pay a fee for the L-studio’s 4-5 months module. We found this to be a grey area, with multiple interpretations requiring clarification.
On reaching out to Ghosh to provide clarity on the L-studio program and the internship at his studio, he mentioned that,
“L-studio is a completely independent resource and programme. The fee / charge being referred to is not for internship but for the L-studio program. It is an independent entity (in terms of its content, registration, and taxes) with complete independence from the architectural design practice, its specific pursuits, kind of activities and the transparency of its perception. So, the possible conflict one can read into this is that I am the common person in both, which I can do little about.”
He continues that L-studio is not dissimilar to paid Summer/ Winter Programs/ Studio programs / Workshops done by institutions and some foreign architects through foundations. It was started as a bridge program to initiate conversations with the students (often close to graduation) between academia and thoughtful reflective practice of architecture and to discuss ways of thinking about architecture and allied disciplines. According to him, the money collected was used for disbursement as L-studio merit scholarships to the L-studio program beneficiaries, honorarium to resource persons/ experts and those assisting (many from the MGA office and all were separately always paid for their extra work for L-studio by L-studio) for transport, material, food, workshop fee to institutions outside and for the preparation, invite design, printing expenses et al.
On enquiring about the status of L-studio, he shared, “The L-studio’s last activity of design/ construction/ other workshops in this format was in December 2019 and included other office interns and architects in a couple of workshops and conversations. Post Covid, things have changed, and from mid-2021 L-studio has evolved and morphed. It has had more than ten talks/conversations (no charges and open to interns/ young architects and others from other design offices, etc. by invitation) by well-known architects, photographers, artists, philosophers, and educationists etc., from India and abroad and a few site visits. These events and their coverage can be seen on L-studio soumitro ghosh (@lstudiosoumitroghosh) • Instagram photos and videos as it continues at its intent.”
Soumitro says, “We treat our interns well at MGA and through the internship, the interns learn through participation in projects at work, on different stages and aspects of the projects in the office as part of teams. This gives exposure to all the aspects and is guided by architects, project architects, and the partner / principal designers; it helps understand the process, stages, ways of approaching, different factors influencing decisions, etc. Being a mid-size studio, the exposure is generally a wider spectrum.”
When ArchitectureLive! brought up the matter of unpaid internships, Ghosh responded, “Our practice has never charged for internships. MGA pays a stipend to the interns (since the last few years) and is of the opinion that it’s a subjective decision may be based on their subjective perception of the role of the internship.”
While the statements corroborate the fact that interns were not paid until recently, they highlight the economics of labour. However, its subjective and likely often makes it inaccessible to those who are unable to afford the expense of not being paid during the time of learning through an internship, despite merit.
ArchitectureLive! connected with some students and past interns of Mathew and Ghosh Architects to know their view, and one of the response is published HERE.
With the mandatory protocol of internships by institutions as the norm assigned by the Council of Architecture, forcing the students to accept an unpaid internship for the required credits to graduate from the university, it opens the question about the industry, practices and the educational institutions that do charge a fee during the internship semester from the students.