The role of architecture in our society has been constantly changing, and the role that an architect itself plays has evolved due to changing concerns and interests of the public. There have been revolutions in the way that the public accesses food and water, how it moves around, how it dwells and settles, and how it establishes networks of communication and interaction.
Architecture should be understood as something unfinished, something constantly in the state of flux, ready to immediately adapt and evolve. It is a necessity, rather than its perception as a luxury in our country. It should be a reflection of the society that it manifests in, and yet is dismally often regarded as an auxiliary to the construction industry.
There have been many movements over the last century to bring architecture to the forefront of social change, but all fizzled out due to their inadequacy in keeping up with an evolving and ever-changing society. Rather than focusing on a state of constant change and fluidity, architects rather fixated on propagating individualistic ideas and specific projects. One does not usually wonder about the grand scheme of things, and instead restricts themselves to smaller scales of interventions and even ideas. Not that this is wrong, but it does play a negative role in limiting the scope of the practice itself.
It is with great urgency that architecture along with its practitioners should hasten to step up to its role in creating social infrastructure, despite its limited current capability. For this to take place, one must try to look at the underlying complications that prevent the profession from increasing its scope.
The Council of Architecture (CoA) is the statutory body constituted by the government under the Architects Act, 1972. The Act provides for ‘registration of Architects, standards of practice and education and qualifications to be complied with, while the CoA is charged with the responsibility to regulate education and practice’. Though tasked with such great responsibility, the CoA seems unable to keep up with the discipline, leaving many students and budding architects confused about its role. Seemingly, the CoA considers its main role to be the upkeep of the Register of Architects, yet, a statutory body tasked by the Constitution to regulate the very profession of architecture, finds itself left behind in the dust in the wake of a progressing society.
But its authority and responsibility should not just be limited to that. The Act itself seems to be host to many issues, not to mention gender-specific nomenclature and outdated laws. The profession too seems to be dealing with problems like low paying jobs, constant disputes and tussles between itself and the construction industry, and seemingly unskilled graduates notwithstanding a five-year degree.
In 2018, the CoA finally initiated a long-overdue process to amend the 1972 Act. The Architect’s Amendment Bill was proposed and even emailed to all registered architects for suggestions and feedback. Now, it is important to note here, the difference between the professions of architecture and engineering, the first is constructed on unifying human needs with the built, while the latter is on unifying technology with the built. This is a simple definition, and truly not a deep understanding of the two professions, yet it does undeniably explain the differences to a layperson. The Amendment Bill mainly considered two issues – redefining architectural services and the introduction of a professional examination.
Now both are quite necessary policy changes that look to bring change at supposedly the very elemental level of the profession. Tackling them one by one, the first amendment wants to redefine the terminology ‘architectural services’ which is in constant dispute. The CoA through its registry of architects likes to maintain exclusivity in the profession, which fails to stand up to many definitions of the basic difference between architecture and engineering. The Act itself is ambiguous in defining the role of an architect, thus leaving it up for dispute. As we recently also saw the conflict of the use of the term ‘Architect’, this only further highlights the ambiguity of the law and the changes necessary.
Moving on to the second amendment proposed, it was suggested that the ‘Certificate of Practice’ should only be awarded after a professional examination taken after two years of work in the field. This may seem like a wonderful policy change that allows only suitable candidates to set up their own practice, but in the overall scheme of things once again fails to address the real issue. By suggesting an amendment like this, CoA only confirms its failure to regulate architectural education.
Architecture faces its main problems due to the education system in place. Looking at the education cycle of an architect, the very first problem arises due to the incompetent entrance examination as well as the higher secondary schooling system that fails to educate students on the scope of professions. Aspiring architects enter universities with either no inkling or highly warped ideas of the profession. The second problem is the course itself and its curriculum and management. Even five years of full-time education becomes insufficient to produce skilled graduates. While the profession has undergone drastic changes, the curriculum remains resolute.
It is once again important to understand the scope of architecture here. It is not a complete technical profession, which also distinguishes it from engineering. Instead, it strives to integrate the human need to the built. Keeping this in mind, policy changes in curriculum, as well as the definition of the scope of architecture, should be made to bring architecture to the forefront of social change.
Our complacency cannot continue much further if we hope to create a respectful and meaningful profession and keep pace with a rapidly growing and changing nation.