From childhood, children grow up with multiple ambitions that are influenced by an individual’s exposure to the cognitive abilities of oneself and the surrounding social structure. Architecture is an attractive field of study that has drawn an increasing number of creative and passionate students, particularly in recent times. The Architecture students join the course with great enthusiasm and aspirations about college life, learning a new discipline and becoming a professional or it could be even as simple as choosing a non-conventional alternative to engineering and medicine courses. 

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Illustration of an Architecture student drafting _© Dribble

As the mainstream architecture course is tailored in India for a long duration of five whole years, there arises scepticism in choosing the field. Second, the involvement & hard work required through the course specifically for design; Third, the unattractive payscales for freshers on the market; Fourth, a unique syllabus that has less to do with teaching the practice, and more to do with experiential learning. Fifth is the gender gap in the field, sixth is the overlapping domains in the form of interior design, civil engineering & architecture and the last is the lack of assured future role as an architect in society.

Let’s go through architectural education and practice, part by part for a holistic understanding. This can be relevant to those who are facing dilemmas in choosing the field or going through a rough patch, say an interregnum during one’s undergraduate course or someone who is suffering a mid-life crisis after acquiring a degree in architecture. 

It was my first day at college when the first professor who came to class, amongst many thought-provoking ideas about what architecture has to offer the next five years in our lives, also plainly announced that money-making in architecture is not going to happen anytime soon. So, if not to make money and a living out of the career, why then architecture?

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Collaborative Design Approaches _© Wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock

Not a Race, but a Slow and Steady Marathon 

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Architecture lectures _© Measi Academy of Architecture

Architecture students come from diverse backgrounds of higher secondary subjects of study. Having distinct perceptions about the course, only a few have it all planned out for their career path, while most tend to go with the flow or sometimes even drift away. The course is not as theoretical as other fields are. Instead, the architecture curriculum is based on the practical application of design principles, established by the veterans, as the evolution of architecture to a standardised educational discipline unfolded. It is an amalgamation of the dialectics of history and social sciences, reflective in the built forms as one gains insights into the socio-politico-economic and cultural aspects of the past. 

From the moment young people decide to study architecture they begin a journey. At first, it is an uncertain journey guided by glamour, images and hopes.

The first year exposes the architecture students to the perspectives of an architect as they begin to see things distinctly. It allows the freedom of exploration through imagining, modelling and sketching, that students’ minds are incited to look at the beauty, observe the liveliness of space and understand the details that go into it. By this, the syllabus endeavours to spark a creative sense in the students through activities that focus on the foundation of basic concepts of design. The consequent years have dedicated semesters for understanding the real scenario with case studies, site visits, building tours, rural studies, urban studies, live projects, competitions, hypothetical or utopian design proposals, etc. There is a spectrum of learning opportunities with diverse subjects like Architectural History and Evolution since Pre-Historic times, Theory of Design, Design of Structures, Building Services, Building Construction, Professional Ethics, etc. Internship, Dissertation and Thesis are also crucial components that are split in the last two years, which are included to help the architecture students familiarise themselves with the actual practice.

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A desk of an architecture student _© Elevatus
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A studio in an architecture college _© Measi Academy of Architecture

What are the possible roles of an Architect?

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Architects at work _© Coarchitects

The various options after passing out as Architects comprise independent practice as consultants, teaching or working at established architectural firms. As we delve deeper, the field has immense scope given the growing base of real industry, emphasis on the need for infrastructure by the Indian government and the demand for specialised professionals in commercial, residential, hospitality, healthcare or recreational sectors to design energy-efficient, climate-adaptive and environment-friendly buildings.

The opportunities available are diverse and dynamic as architects are seen as problem-solvers. From the myriad alternatives, one can choose to explore any side they are driven to. Hence, as an architect, one can contribute to the nation-building process, collaborate with the government to plan development proposals, cater to the needs of rapid urbanisation, be innovative & creative in promoting functionality with sustainability and enhance the social capital through meaningful designs for the larger community.

The above information is easily accessible from any standard website. Going beyond the ideal situation, let me break it down further for a better understanding of the possible issues.

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Workspaces for Architects _© Bharat Aggarwal
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An architecture student making a model _© Kyle Sinko
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Site Study and Analysis of a rural and coastal village, Manapad in Tamil Nadu _© Seekanpaul A

Multiple Mismatches and Skirmishes on the Way

Let me give you an overview of the problems that fresh graduates of architecture face. 

Expensive Undergraduate programme

The materials, site visits, tours, case studies and the need for a high-end computer device, apart from the tuition fees make architecture education expensive, relative to the other courses wherein expenditure is limited to books, in an academic sense.

Expectations v. Reality

For instance, an interior design project that spans 3 months can fetch a newbie consultant about INR40000. This means the average monthly income is a mere amount of INR13000, which is also the pay in any firm as a fresher. However, an architecture student as an intern is not exposed to the real-time working of a project and therefore is unaware of the market condition. While out of college, it creates a shock due to sky-rocketing expectations of freshers to get ahead on the career ladder. 

Skill Set Mismatch

There is a huge gulf between what is learnt throughout the five-year architecture degree and the actual practice. The architecture students are given a rigid syllabus in case of the additional subjects to design. While the design is dynamic, the discretionary power of the institutions to expose the students to a vast range of design problems gives them the required skills to get through any problem posed. However, the accompanying need for building services and construction details are not within the specialisation of an architect and separate consultants are required. This not only makes the architect’s job a process of collaboration but also interdependent. 

Drafting first, Designing later

The initial stages of work for most architects, particularly in bigger firms start as a draftsman. Monotony has to be conquered, as there is no shortcut to circumvent the way into a top cadre designer.

Goals and Paths

Architecture students have goals that define the paths they take. Some upgrade themselves with a formal master’s degree or with new software that can enhance the client’s experience. Some others take up teaching and others even go for a complete career shift.

Deadlines and Overtime Burnout

The culture of working late and rushing through deadlines is often lauded as a workaholic. But there is always scope for one to plan and finish on time. One should not compromise on personal life for a career.

Nepotism

It is easier for some, but it is equally difficult for them, just as the others to withstand the winds that can potentially sway one to oscillate between choices in the vastly competitive world.

Overlapping Domains

Civil Engineers, Interior Designers (with a three-year Bachelor’s Degree) and Architects, three compete for the same clientele as they can specialise in one another’s work. This creates chaos in the career path of the three majors.

Absurdities and Uncertainties at Work

Some architecture firms follow a hire-and-fire culture, without formalising the new intake, as a policy they follow to escape the burden of providing social security benefits. It makes the professional equivalent of an informal sector worker. This practice has exacerbated post-pandemic.

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Discussions on urban planning _©https://arch.umd.edu/
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Hands-on workshops about building materials _©Measi Academy of Architecture
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City walls Painting Workshop _©Measi Academy of Architecture

Some Suggested Measures (As a Fellow Architect)

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Site Visits _© Neil Dowlman Architecture
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Observing blend of modern and vernacular forms in case studies _© Nivedhita Gopinath

Patience is the key and Perseverance produces the will, to succeed in a field like architecture that is flooded with new competitors daily. It is not always about making it big out of the career but it is mostly about self-satisfaction and motivation to continue. 

Upgrading skills constantly towards becoming agile is expected out of architects. A paradigmatic shift in the curriculum is also recommended to make the course more comprehensive. In a world that is currently traversing towards climate change and related disasters, architects’ collective role in stabilising the infrastructure needs and bringing resilience. Environmentalism is an irrevocable subset of the profession, which has to be given due regard by the practitioners.

Professional ethics has to go hand-in-hand with the qualities of integrity, empathy and compassion to work a fair share to the upliftment of the marginalised. Hence architects with social responsibility should not always focus on profit-maximisations by catering to a rich clientele. 

Stringent regulations in terms of fixing minimum salaries, norms for charging on consultation, safeguards for Architects as employees, compulsory social security benefits, progressive taxation in the imposition of professional tax for architects specifically and a revamped body for grievance redressal are the needs of the hour.

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Tours on case studies _© Measi Academy of Architecture
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Graduation of Architecture students _© Measi Academy of Architecture

Citations

Benninger, C. (2013). Letters to a Young Architect. CreateSpace.

Author

Nivedhita is an aspirant, for too many things indeed. She gets bored doing the same routine around the clock and so she takes big leaps or at least hops onto one thing at a time. She spontaneously ventures into new tasks and loves to get through deadlines, alongside juggling with life.