Now more than ever, Architects matter.
The relevance of architecture, both historically and in today’s society, has seldom been disputed. Over the years, however, the importance of the architect has. The latest Supreme Court ruling regarding professional practice has augmented this new reality.
Throughout the world, architects hoping to practice architecture professionally are required to be licensed by national regulatory bodies, and India is no exception, or at least it wasn’t until recently. The Council of Architecture (India), demands five years of basic undergraduate college education and internships, pushing students through rigorous routines and exercises, equipping and training them to be designers fit for today’s world. A design proposal barely survives a jury unless a dozen techniques, concepts, and prerequisites have been thought of, and this is independent of any of the visual allure. The (mandatory) sustainability, site, and culture-based designs must not only satisfy national and local building codes, but also must consider structural, material, and anthropometric data and include universal design features. Keeping up with the constant technological advancements and global architectural and engineering developments is just as essential. Architects are trained not only to use visually appealing cues but also to design smart spaces, satisfying user activities, behavior and psychology, to create functional, healthy societies. Surviving five years of all this is no small feat, and is rewarded by a license to practice and put all this knowledge to good use.
However, the latest ruling states that no bar is to be put on individuals hoping to practice without being registered or licensed under the Council of Architecture. This has not only enraged a sizable amount of the fraternity but has also slighted the profession itself. The Court justified the ruling by explaining the co-dependency of architecture with a combination of various smaller activities and services, requiring inclusivity, which in itself although true, is not a valid enough point. By diluting the workforce with inadequately equipped and untrained workers, India is pushing down an already low bar of architectural standards.
Culturally diverse, India has, historically, offering a wide range of architectural marvels – beautiful, imposing, and proud. Our establishment of a strong foothold in design, engineering, and construction dates back to the first traces of the Indus Valley civilization and stretches on for centuries. From the grid planning modules to street designs, early temples to majestic mosques, tombs, forts, and palaces, we have always had a lot to contribute to global architectural history. But the last few decades have seen a sheer drop in the quality of our buildings and designs. Once renowned for feats of engineering, construction, and design, the field has now been reduced to a paltry collection of residences and ugly high-rise structures, waiting to collapse at a moment’s notice. So why does India think it is appropriate or justifiable that unskilled individuals should be thrown into the mix?
The primary argument for the case is an undefined technicality of the Architects Act (1972). It details that, “Any person desirous of carrying on the profession ‘Architect’ must have registered himself with the Council of Architecture. For the purpose of the registration, one must possess the requisite qualification as appended to the Architects Act, after having gone the education in accordance with the Council of Architecture (Minimum Standards of Architectural Education) Regulations, 1983”. In this instance, the loose definitions of “education” and “registered individuals” have come under scrutiny, with the court ruling against the Council wielding the ultimate power. They believe that the application of the legislature has placed more importance on the concept of registration than on the actual practice of architecture. The main purpose of this legislature was to protect the public from the risks associated with allowing untrained professionals to enter the field. This, in the panel’s opinion, although a noble thought, maintains a strict exclusivity based more on legality. But, the outcome of the case has done nothing to amend either of these problems. What such a ruling does is open up the matter to even more speculation and scrutiny. Rather than addressing the issues by better defining and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of an architect, it establishes an undefined and ultimately dangerous territory. It does not detail any of the pre-requisites an untrained individual must possess to do the job adequately and cannot guarantee an improvement in standards of public and private infrastructure. It gives such professionals power but appoints no one to keep it in check, no regulatory body is responsible for maintaining safety and quality.
Such a move not only renders an “architect” unqualified; it also floods an already saturated market with the unskilled, leaving the trained and licensed professionals without a job. This in turn will ultimately result in a sharp drop in high school graduates pursuing architectural degrees, slowly killing the career altogether. Enthusiastic but ignorant people, charging lower rates for being “self-taught” will snatch up clients and turn an already abysmal urban scenario into a landmine of haphazard, unusable buildings.
It is true that history has churned up several prominent, highly skilled architects without formal training. F.L Wright, Louis Sullivan, Le-Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, Buckminster Fuller, Tadao Ando, are a few examples. But what they lacked in education, they made up in the practical work of the field. None of them were so much as allowed to design an addition to a building until they had spent years training as draftsmen and apprentices. They spent years closely shadowing their mentors and through that period of training, they evolved into architects. Sullivan spent years as an apprentice and draftsman and his trainee, Wright went through a six-year-long apprenticeship before he began establishing his firm. Formal education has not always guaranteed the best results and is often out of reach to aspiring individuals, but discounting it entirely is foolish. Instead, a more suitable solution would be to create an alternate framework by which those trained through other media can also be registered as an architect. The solution to increasing inclusivity and breaking barriers of a group is not to destroy the entire group, but to allow assimilation of one into the other.
In a growing India or even a growing world, architects are relevant. They always have and they always will be. But will they continue to be allowed to serve such a relevance or are skilled, trained architects a dying breed?