Critics and scholars of the profession argue that architects must refocus their attention on rural areas. The argument is for the larger good and is welcome. However, those coming from a place of righteousness and social good or perhaps those with utopic vision, often discount the issues that these architects face when they change course and put their might behind the architectural development of our villages. Indeed, architects usually refrain from working in rural areas, but one must look at the other half of the picture too. This other half is about the problems that architects face when they choose to work in the rural parts of India.
Here are ten issues architects face while working in rural areas:
1. Cultural Stigmas In Rural Areas
Indian villages are deeply rooted in cultural practices. However, these rich traditions need to be preserved and promoted, but many run-on superstitions and misinterpretation. These notions give birth to stigmas and shame that often come in the way of rural development. Architects find it challenging to deal with these stigmas that restrict them from making specific design decisions.
A man who lives in a village, with a specific set of beliefs and preferences is like just any other client. It falls upon an architect to deal with these choices and provide the best design solution. It is tricky to do so in the villages because one can’t brute-force their ideas on these people as they may turn hostile towards the architect. It is possible only by developing an understanding of what they do and what are their reasons. It is wise to provide them with something that doesn’t hurt their sentiments but is convincing enough to bring them halfway between you and their idea.
The language barrier is one thing when it comes to working in rural sites. Site work involves the usage of a particular language that differs from place to place but remains more or less similar in urban settings. It is difficult to catch up with the rural dialect for the same operations, methods and processes, and other architectural jargon that is essential to communicating details on the site.
It is helpful to have a local in the team who also understands the urban architectural language and can do a translator’s job. However, to find such a person every time is unlikely. Another way to overcome this barrier is to do your homework before taking on the responsibility alone. An architect new to the rural setting must familiarise himself with the construction norms of the area beforehand. Visiting local sites, speaking to the contractor or laborers, and being a part of discussions can be useful.
3. Methods of Construction
The indigenous architecture of Indian villages is unique and authentic and must for the real development of the rural areas. Different parts of the country have their vernacular methods of construction. These methods are very different from those that a construction site in say a Mumbai or Delhi may use. The architects who have worked in the cities, find it hard to grasp newer methods of construction that are so distinctive from what they have learned.
It is a complex task to unlearn and relearn the construction practices without any assistance, in a fraction of the time that one has invested in learning the techniques and processes in a completely different manner. It is, however, possible by training. Setting-up of training centers to equip architects for rural architectural development can be a way to promote and encourage more professionals to walk this path and choose to provide their know-how in the villages of India.
4. Little Understanding of The History of Architecture
Architects today have very little understanding of the history of architecture and more so when it comes to the history of architecture in Indian villages. The root cause of this problem lies in our educational program. The chronology of teaching history of architecture is linear more often than not. It creates an impression that the techniques and materials used back in the day are primitive and need to be replaced by something contemporary. If we continue to think in this way, we might end up replacing all indigenous architecture with concrete and glass.
An analytical study of ancient construction materials and vernacular architectural techniques is required to provide the students with a holistic understanding and significance of it all. This understanding is crucial for any architect who desires to serve in the rural setting in this country.
5. Income In Rural Areas
The design fee of an architect in India is only a fraction of what other professionals in their field get elsewhere. But the hope of making a decent living while working as an architect in villages is negligible. The architectural profession does not have a formed market in the Indian villages. A more significant reason is that the very thought of a well-paying client in a rural setting is unimaginable. And this perception gets more fixed when there’s no attempt to change this scenario.
There have been few suggestions by scholars and professionals to have the Council Of Architecture get involved when it comes to unfair payments of architects in larger contract-based projects under the rural development programmes. The involvement of COA in matters like these could provide a safety net for the architects inclined to step into rural settings.
6. Understanding of Rural Areas Lifestyle
Along with the history of architecture, an understanding of the lifestyle of people who live in rural India is crucial. Without which architects often end up ruining the local character and comfort of the houses and built structures in which people live and work. If a city-bred architect goes on to design a home for a village local while keeping in mind the space requirements and program of an urban household, it will be a disaster, without exaggeration. By no means it is an imaginary problem, housing under PMAY and other policies have confirmed this lack of sensitivity towards the rural household requirements.
An architect wanting to work in the rural setting must work towards making sustainable changes for the inhabitants by building for their needs and requirements rather than acting like governments who have an agenda to push and a database to organize.
7. Political Pressures
Politics and corruption walk hand in hand in India is not much of a revelation to make. It affects architects in undesirable ways. There’s pressure for doing something a certain way, with unfavorable deadlines and substandard resources. The political climate has forever influenced the architectural landscape, but it is even more critical in a rural setting as there is much less private construction taking place.
To reduce the political pressures on architects in rural development programmes, one must begin to think of a sustainable model of private construction that demands architectural services. Architects will have to advocate their skills and promote themselves in the rural context as friendly and worthy professionals.
8. Commuting and Stay
For someone who doesn’t want to move to a village, but still wants to provide architectural services in a rural environment, commuting and staying are significant hurdles. With mediocre connectivity between the rural settlements and cities, it is painstaking to go up and down frequently for site visits.
When an architect commits to working in a rural environment, it is both beneficial and essential to living on-site for as much time as possible. Instead of looking for a guest-house or closest hotel, one must utilize this time in learning about the life of the locality.
9. Lack of Resources
Due to the scarcity of resources in the villages, it is unlikely to think big and imagine conspicuous changes. The amount of money that officials budget for the designs and planning of our rural areas is insufficient and under planned.
A possible solution to this could be less dependence on transported materials, instead develop the practice of using more locally available materials that one can use for construction.
10. Impractical Expectations for Change
Change in villages is slow and small. A substantial change can result when one is committed to making these changes speck by speck. But to expect to make a far-reaching change at once is unfavorable and will lead to disappointed individuals.
One must begin with manageable goals and slowly move towards attempting more challenging and significant ones. An architect must be open to working on a variety of things, not necessarily architectural in scale.
Focus on these problems supports the utopian vision to explore these issues that architects, working in or aspiring to work in rural areas have to overcome. It is in the interest of architecture and rural architectural development that we understand these problems and find out solutions. Only then we might be able to reach a place where it is easier to decide for a young architect between rural and urban practice.