In 1922, “The Training of Architects in Ancient India” by Sh. Prasanna Kumar Acharya discussed the attributes of architects, the skill sets they were supposed to possess, and the subjects they had to master. “Timeless Buildings” were created by Architects who were formally trained in such skills and only the people who displayed the capability were imparted such skillsets by people who had the skills required of an instructor. Before a student is inducted into the 5-year course of Architectural Education, some myths plague the pedagogy in India looming large.
Practices eventually turned into the norm. Many trainees of this field fall prey to the system both as a learner and a teacher. The one misconception of Architectural Education is that design professions portray is that the sense of design springs only from artistic sketches rendered to perfection and picturesque ideas bear fruits of completion. Architecture is a technical strain of the design process, where each detail is scientifically put to paper. Therefore to be an artist is not the goal. To master the art to draw to scale, understand perspective sketches, and grasp relative proportioning comes with practice. The intent of the pedagogy should remain to hone architects and their skill to visualize and draw not to be blinded by a few brilliant strokes.
Each professional path is ridden with many fallacies that are biased for certain sections of society. In architecture, a unique trend of an increase in the number of female students has been a permanent phenomenon now. However, the lack of female practicing architects in the field is disturbing. Women tend to be recruited as teachers and consultants more than starting their studios. This disparity comes from the false sense of security that lopsided gender roles bring out. Women are invisible and are subject to often subtle, forms of conditioning, imbalances, and inequalities as a whole in society. They seamlessly moderate the connection between gender and the built environment. This invisibility is the reason why gender is ignored in almost all colleges of architecture – in theory, and design courses, even though feminism has been one of the foremost movements and has affected all disciplines. The barriers include perceptions and experiences in a patriarchal society, the dichotomy between the professional and feminine self-image, and dealing with predominantly male clients, consultants, colleagues, contractors as well as construction workers. Today the responsibility to turn this trend around lies with members of the professional community and most importantly the educators.
Architectural education is ostensibly geared to producing the ideal practitioners for the field. The lurid calendar image of the model practitioner is not realistic, sustainable, or appropriate given the ground realities of conditions in India. Hyped by the media, iconic buildings cater to the novelty-seeking nomadic tourists but their impact on the daily lives of ordinary people remains minimal. These are being aped in India, in cosmopolitans, where huge energy-guzzling monuments stand proudly in steel and glass surrounded by the forgotten, torn fabric of cities, amidst the average Indian’s struggle to live with basic human dignity. As educators, it is time we reconcile ourselves to the fact that not every architect that graduates become or needs to aspire to be a star-architect. A majority of architects become part of and contribute significantly to larger design teams, remaining unseen and unsung by the star-hungry media. Many become competent service providers to small and medium clients who shape and sustain the very fabric of the everyday environment. Education so far has refused to see and acknowledge this important reality and is geared to pushing every student into being a prima donna. We need to produce better thinking, and more competent architects in larger numbers.
In India, while studio projects are agreed upon among the faculty, the pedagogic objectives are not articulated and shared thus remaining largely ‘implicit’. Because the “body of architectural knowledge” is not made explicit, it cannot be and therefore is not holistically structured as a sequence. Novice learners, especially from non-urban-elite backgrounds find it hard to assimilate design knowledge from one episode to the next, giving rise to the “hit or miss” approach to design. Passive learning is where the student just takes in what the tutor teaches. This is said to be less effective than active learning, where the student seeks out and discovers what he or she wants to understand. Passive learning is said to encourage surface learning rather than deep learning. Surface learning concentrates on the words rather than the meanings of what is being studied as opposed to deep learning which looks for the meaning of what is being learned and is insightful. There is little room for subjective interpretations crucial to produce new theories and arguments.
The profession of architecture is changing positively; becoming more collaborative, pluralistic, and inclusive. New modes of practice are emerging where an individual has a much more networked role in the design process. Let’s orient our efforts in architectural pedagogy in the same direction.