It was out of mere curiosity that I opted for the architectural aptitude exam as I had a perception that architects did things ‘out of the box’. Having done my homework, I was convinced to place architecture at the second position; a backup plan just in case. Months of skeptical anticipation later, I ended up being an architecture student in one of the oldest institutions of the country, and I have not regretted it a single day since. I never saw myself as an architect in my younger years, but the last four years have reformed me in unimaginable ways. As much as this training has empowered me, it has also exposed me to issues that are occluding the profession from taking the pace it should to make some difference to the Indian context. Lack of awareness among the population and the indifference caused therein remains at the forefront.
On receiving an opportunity to interpret the state of the profession of architecture from the student’s outlook, what occurred to me is the inevitable link between the practice of architecture and the teaching of it. One blends into the other and the state of one ascends another; what is learned is applied in the practice of architecture and those practicing it are teaching us. As such, factors that influence the state of architecture affect education and the profession in ways that extrapolate each other. It is heartening to know that architects in today’s times have been able to curve their exclusive place in the professional class of this nation. We have steadily created a strong foothold in the face of the country and made a distinct identity for ourselves. However, what remains one of the major concerns of the profession is the paucity of architectural understanding and awareness.
Factors that influence the state of architecture affect education and the profession in ways that extrapolate each other.
Almost every Indian in his/her youth has gone through the phase where they were told to take up conventional career options for monetary security. There are kids wanting to be doctors, engineers, artists or lawyers, or dreaming to fly as a pilot; but there are only a few who aspire to become an architect! It indicates that the general population has very limited or no knowledge of architecture as a profession. A considerable many of those who claim to know what architecture is, often confuse it with civil engineering. While growing up, we have seen a doctor doing his job, or an abundance of engineers; an architect is however rare to find. The blame rests on nobody. Being one of the relatively younger professions in India, the country has a small number of practicing architects compared to other fields of work. The numbers have grown significantly in the last few years and more people seem to be aware of our existence, but there is a visible lack of faith vested in us!
The numbers have grown significantly in the last few years and more people seem to be aware about our existence, but there is a visible lack of faith vested upon us!
Architectural awareness in the nation.
When it comes to the profession, I feel deeply about the apathy of the common people towards the built culture of our country. We certainly do justice to our profession as much as we can, but there are other factors contributing to the built environment; and in a country where anything sells, changing the scenario may not be a very easy task. As an example, the (surreal) hyper-realistic rendered images of the real estate projects we see surely leave a mark on the minds of an individual. In times when words like ‘green’, ‘smart’ or ‘sustainable’ have become vendible commodities, it is safe to assume that conditions are pretty messy! Lack of architectural awareness is a crisis that our profession is facing. If an individual places the same amount of faith on an architect that he/she places on a physician, the situation would be very different. Clients approach us with a perception of how they want their projects to be, and it becomes a tough job at times convincing them of any better. I can not agree more with the words of Ar. Frank Gehry, “I don’t know why people hire architects, and then tell them what to do”. As professionals dealing with habitable spaces, we would be able to provide efficient designs that are aesthetically pleasing without fail.
As professionals dealing with habitable spaces, we would be able to provide efficient designs that are aesthetically pleasing without fail.
Educating our clients as we go along certainly is taking place, but we need to connect to a wider audience on the subject of architecture to be able to bring about a perceptible change. The architecture community needs to actively indulge in spreading awareness a real turn of events can only take place if the necessity of good design is understood. A major issue, which sets this gap, is the perception of the population that architects serve the elite! It is high time we realize that architecture, as a profession is no more elitist; an architect can design a luxurious bungalow for a person; and will also be able to make low-cost dwellings for people from the lower economic strata. We are trained to build efficiently and within the budget of the client! Another reason for this distance is the tendency of architects to over-complicate matters; we speak in terms not so easy for commoners to perceive, our illustrations, concepts, and keywords confuse them. The obvious result is that they tend to isolate themselves. We should try to communicate in a straightforward vocabulary, a dialect that will be easy for people to understand, and by which, we will be able to express our ideas transparently. At times, I feel that people fear architects; the fear of exorbitant rates, and ideas beyond budget and this stops the surge! We as architects will fail to bring a change if we do not allow the community to participate! It’s time we pay attention to educating the masses about our built environment and architecture as a profession. Apart from achieving a perfectly contextual built culture for our country, it will also create a healthy and holistic work environment for us. Being individuals with in-depth knowledge about the society, it’s time to stimulate the common people to take initiatives in helping us fulfilling the dream of a better country! Producing good designs are no longer the only responsibility of the architect; he/she needs to go out and lead the community in building a future sustainable and green!
It is high time we realize that architecture, as a profession is no more elitist.
The most powerful tool for bringing architecture closer to people is media! Incorporating architecture in mainstream consumer magazines is an easy way to reach a broader audience. There are newspapers and journals in the western world where architects and critics regularly contribute to the state of the profession; it’s time we start the same in India. It’s time that architects start contributing daily to local and national newspapers and magazines; architectural journalism should take a leap to close the gaps between the architectural community and the common people. Programs regarding health and politics are aired on national television; similar initiatives involving live interactive sessions regarding the built environment will prove beneficial. We should actively mentor student-counseling programs to make young minds and their parents aware of the stream; architecture needn’t be a backup option for anyone. We must realize the power of media, and use the tool wisely. Architectural journalism, a subject that has been ignored for long in the country can very effectively bridge the gap that restricts the developmental potential of the profession. It is sad that architects (being sensitive on receiving criticism) are not necessarily receptive to critical analysis; students are ignorant of the needs of critical architectural literature, and architectural writing isn’t present in the curriculum as of today, an aspect that urgently needs attention from the Council of Architecture.
Students are ignorant of the needs of critical architectural literature, and architectural writing isn’t present in the curriculum as of today, an aspect that urgently needs attention from the Council of Architecture.
Dreams for the future.
I dream of the times when architects will be able to work freely, without the influence of politics and factors providing resistance; the day when the common populace will have the knowledge to empower the efforts of the architectural fraternity in reforming standards. After a decade, architects would move out of the studios and work with the grassroots. Realizing the need for the people’s participation, we would design spaces that are interactive, that would develop further with the help of these interactions. Architects would be seen taking pivotal roles in social activities and awareness campaigns! As a person wanting to communicate actively with the community, I would want the Institute to actively provide opportunities for architects to interact. It should serve as the catalyst to the active participation of common people in raising a sustainable future. In my belief, promoting architects to actively express themselves and come in touch with the mass media should be a pivotal role for the Institute. Waiting for the people to be aware on their own could prove to be a loss of time, and given the external situations remain constant, it is the ethical responsibility of the architect towards the society to take the leading step and bring out the colony into active participation. Every small step will result in raising awareness and curiosity amongst the users of the built environment. The consciousness will produce individuals who are concerned about the space they use, and the concern will yield the faith on those that design the space for them. In the future, I aspire to see architects becoming aware of their own social responsibility and cater whole-heartedly to the same. Apart from delivering our professional roles, our actions would uphold the statement of integrity that day.
The educational framework would undergo a restructuring for the better; the training of young architects would expectantly include a hands-on practical experience of the architectural market along with the in-house studio assignments. I hope we realize that we have separated our studios from the hands-on experience in the field of architecture; being a student, it is my hope that the professional arena accepts us from an early stage and help us master the art of designing by controlled and balanced exposure to both the intellectual job of designing, and the physical responsibility of producing architecture on site. The council would play a stricter role in controlling the standards of education, and would ensure the quality of work rather than quantity!
The council would play a stricter role in controlling the standards of education, and would ensure quality of work rather than quantity!
I foresee a country where architects will be able to efficiently find solutions within the box rather than wanting to opt out of the same; a juncture where the community will place their faith on us and our efforts. Acknowledging that the situations at present aren’t perfect, we should not lose our faith. Opinions are formed quickly, but every imperfection is not worthy of our mental agitation. It is essential to disengage at times, effective solutions come only from individuals at harmony with themselves.