Indian education, continually fluctuating in curriculum based on changing governments and their ideologies, somehow, consistently falls short in bridging the gap between academia and practice, between historical deprivation and contemporary demands. In professions like architecture and urban design, that sculpt the urban fabric of our society, this gap becomes increasingly apparent. Shapers of a global superpower, new Indian architects can no longer afford the confinement of heretic arguments on ornamentation and the greatness of cave architecture. 

The future of architectural academia in India - Sheet1
The 1974 batch of students at CEPT, Ahmedabad. Photography by  ©Anjali Yagnik
The future of architectural academia in India - Sheet2
Practical experience at Smt Manoramabai Mundle College of Architecture, Nagpur. Photography by  ©Prof Ujwala Chakradeo

Architectural academia in India requires radical transformations. Apart from the reluctance to upgrade infrastructure and technologies, young designers suffer at the hands of institutions that refuse to employ or improve architectural philosophies. Few educational institutions utilize rigorous pedagogies; most continue to advertise old wine in new bottles. This neglect becomes particularly dangerous when graduate architects step into the world of practice and find themselves ill-equipped to cope with project technicalities, and, even more alarmingly, with an absence of a sense of purpose or direction. 

With no awareness of the complexity of social problems, and no activist or grass-root reform analytical skills, starry-eyed students find themselves overwhelmed in a space that requires considerable reform. A question we frequently ask ourselves in school is “why are things the way they are? and why isn’t anyone fixing them?”. One quick look at the education system makes it apparent – those in charge do not ask these questions, and no one fixes them because they do not know where to start. The constant rife between local and western academics shrinks students into picking one or the other, while neither are relevant enough to resolve the magnitude of social difficulties that architecture confronts today. 

Balakrishna V. Doshi with students at School of Architecture, CEPT, Ahmedabad, c. 1970. Photography sourced from:  ©Modern Architectures in History by Peter Scriver, Amit Srivastava 

An interdisciplinary approach to architecture is a prerequisite; architects are designers, philosophers, activists, authors, project managers, and most importantly – social reformers. Our curriculums have fallen short to prepare us for anything more than structural requirements and ornamental pickings. Students of architecture require exposure to literature, philosophy, engineering, and social science departments to understand problems locally and at large. However, remnants of colonial philosophies still plague the nation, ensuring that most of the subcontinent views education as an income enhancement tool rather than the instrument of world reform that it is. This perspective shapes the job market, and therefore the priorities of schools that equip the profession with professionals, thereby limiting the relevancy of schools to their capacity to legitimize education. 

While academics and professionals alike are in agreement that fundamental skill-sets that are critical to the survival of the architectural profession are conspicuously missing from classroom teachings in architecture schools today, few propose the steps in the right direction. A broad overhaul of our current education system would involve incorporating architectural philosophy into design thinking. This incorporation would apply a triple bottom line approach and a solution-focused methodology for solving complex problems and finding desirable solutions. 

Additionally, India has a history of hosting colonial empires, from the Aryans to the British; today with almost two billion people, over a dozen religions and 20,000 dialects, what do we mean when we say traditional architecture? Academia can no longer afford a simple analysis of established structural approaches but must evolve to understand the mainspring, impact, and consequences of such architecture. It is imperative to understand who we are, how we got here, and what do we want our cities to look like for centuries to come. 

Today, with a population as diverse as India’s with income inequity at a record high, a designer’s ability to solve problems efficiently becomes increasingly critical. Goal-driven design that works around functional, physical, and economic restrictions must address a plethora of difficulties unheard of as early as a generation ago. These design solutions could stem from investments in cross-disciplinary approaches involving biotechnology and geoengineering. Universities can help their students achieve additional clarity in problem-solving strategies by applying generative design practices that derive their priorities from clear hierarchies in social and environmental stresses. 

Furthermore, a diverse population will include minorities and other vulnerable social groups, often excluded in designs that cater to a more powerful sector of society or the wealthy and elite. Architecture academia does little to incorporate and enhance the experience of persons with disabilities, disadvantaged social groups, or outliers in public spaces. Most project descriptions in schools involve resolving a particular problem faced by the most prominent client or user group. The significance of inclusive architecture is indisputable in a country where almost all evidence of successful design and public empowerment comes from community-led movements. Participatory design plays a critical role in designing for diverse social groups and rectifying social dilemmas; incorporating such design in academia could radically reform architectural thinking.

To further combat wealth disparity and the splurging of finite natural resources, while preventing compromises in design quality and essential facilities, lean design principles that eliminate waste, time, cost, resources, and efforts are of utmost importance. With the current global human and climate crisis, sustainable design is no longer an alternative method, but one of the basic tenets of architectural and urban practice. Universities must set goals for students that are relevant to local and global issues, and make provisions in the curriculum to analyze and attempt to resolve these pressing concerns. Students with resolve but without direction find themselves overwhelmed after graduation at such a critical point in history. 

At a point in history as turbulent as ours, powerful nations like India with a profound wealth of human resources cannot afford to compromise on academic quality. Architecture in India has stood the test of time, but the more we deny students the opportunity to add to its wealth, the more we tolerate architecture through time. One of the highest sources of carbon emissions, an emblem of a polarised nation, and an avid contributor to political and social conflicts, architecture can no longer afford to be in the realm of frivolousness and callous approaches. Architecture schools must equip the designers of today to sculpt the environments around them in ways that serve communities for centuries to come. 

Author

Aasiya is an aspiring creative professional with a Masters in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University GSAPP. She is an avid feminist, climate change activist, and an amateur guitarist. The excitement of knowing that proper design will help meet an individual’s requirements is the only sentiment she holds as her own.

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