The Government has been thinking in terms of formulating a national policy on Architecture. There should be strong opposition towards this as such a policy would restrict the natural growth of architecture. To begin with the word ‘National’, when applied to architecture, is odious. Nationalism is too confining a principle, contrary to the true spirit of architecture. There cannot be a national architecture any more than there can be an Indian cure for cancer. Unlike the Japanese system of cultivation, architecture cannot be made to assimilate local spicing like Madras curry, Scotch whisky or Irish stew. Natural laws, relating to human beings, operate in much the same way, and human reactions to natural phenomena are similar in Washington and in Calcutta. It is common knowledge that water wets, and that fire burns, and a weight-lifter reacts to this in the same manner as an Indian Tea Planter. That which poisons the Jew is not likely to nourish the Egyptian. Science and architecture derive their meaning from universal laws and not from national boundaries. As architecture is primarily designed to meet human needs, its basic problems are geared to climate and economy and not to nations. A city in South America may have the same climate as Bombay resulting in similar architecture. However, there may be considerable difference in the architecture of Bombay and Simla.
If the Government of India is anxious, it should adopt a policy towards Architecture, rather than a National Policy on Architecture. A policy towards architecture should begin by first turning out architects. This involves the Government in giving larger grants to architectural schools, making possible the employment of better teachers, better facilities by way of equipment and libraries, thereby raising the standard of education. The training of an architect is very complex, covering a vast area of human knowledge. He is required to be an artist, a technician and a businessman. In acquiring these rather diverse qualities, he is likely to find his education deficient in any, or all of them, resulting in a dangerous lack of balance. An architect’s artistic, mental and physical development must go hand in hand with his technical knowledge. A substantial part of this training he may be able to receive in his architectural education, but till our general level of education improves, the influence of his architectural training will not have its proper significance.
It should be realised that architecture cannot function in a vacuum, and in order that an architect can practise, he needs a client. It is generally accepted that a building can only be as good as the aspirations of the client. This makes the education of the client an important factor in the development of architecture.
Architecture aims at portraying the sum total of human knowledge at any given time. It should be socially acceptable, visually attractive, functionally sound and economically feasible. It should be understood by the Government that these qualities cannot be reproduced in a formula; they can only be realised by a good architect through his conscientious research into the requirements of his client.
However misconceived, it is only natural that the Government is anxious to formulate an architectural policy. After all, the Government along with the rich Government-controlled Corporations, are by far the largest builders of architecture today, involving crores of rupees. To ensure its benefits for the entire nation and to protect its investments, it should adopt a policy towards architecture.
To help the Government in its endeavour, the following suggestions are offered:
Good architecture requires good architects with good training.
To ensure this, the Government should spend the money on training architects, as the nature of its investments warrants such expenditure. Alternately they should depend on architects who have privately incurred such expenditure on their own education or, which is less desirable, employ foreign talent in the field.
Good architecture meets certain human needs, and the Government in its capacity as a client should study its requirements in great detail and insist that they are fulfilled. It should accept a situation where it has no more control of a building than to ensure that its requirements are being met. Aspects of aesthetics, form, environment, design, colour, materials and other facets of construction which are the sole domain of an architect should remain in the exclusive control of the architect. The structural engineer should function as consultant to the architect, work in close collaboration with him, and be directly responsible to him. This applies to the sanitary, electrical and mechanical consultants that are necessary for the execution of a well integrated building. An architect, who accepts the coercive ideas of his clients on aesthetics, is not worth his salt, and should abdicate his profession and go into other fields.
If the Government is seriously considering improving the standard of architecture, it should begin by immediately doing away with the Public Works Department. It is axiomatic in architecture, that the best buildings are made when the architect has complete control of his job, and when his client is most clear about his requirements. The P.W.D. deprives the architect of the control of his job. Its overhead expenses have at times been up to 500% higher than it would have been had the job been controlled by a private architect. This is a great waste.
Today, a fully air-conditioned building with good finishes costs around Rs. 40/- a sq. ft. A similar building without air conditioning would cost approximately Rs. 30/- and it is possible to grade the specifications in such a manner that a building could be made to cost as little as Rs. 17/- per sq. ft. These rates are subject to a price structure, and it should be possible for the Government to work out the effects of price fluctuation on building costs. From then on it would be left to the Government, in consultation with the architect appointed for a particular job, to work out its requirements of space, and indicate the quality of structure necessary for a particular type of building. For example, if the Central Secretariat warrants an air-conditioned building costing Rs. 40/- per sq. ft. , a Divisional Post Office could be assigned a rate of only Rs. 25/- per sq. ft. A table should be worked out in conjunction with a Committee of Architects to fix the quality of buildings for various purposes. The requirements of the Government should be worked out in terms of human beings. If a building is required lo house offices of a department consisting of 10 senior officers, 50 junior officers, 88 assistants and 200 clerks, it can be worked out on the basis of space requirements for each employee . If the cabin area of a senior officer is 200 sq. ft. , that of a junior officer 150 sq. ft. , the space for an assistant’s table 50 sq. ft. , and that of a clerk 35 sq. ft. , the total nett area required would be 21,000 sq. ft. The Government should insist that its architects provide a factor of efficiency of at least 70% which means that the gross area of the building described above should not exceed 30,000 sq. ft. , 70% of which would be 21,000 sq. ft. If this department rates air-conditioned accommodation costing Rs. 40/- per sq. ft. , the Government knows that such a building must not cost more than Rs. 12 lakhs. It may cost less, if its efficiency factor is higher, but it should not cost more. This is laying down standards, It is formulating architectural policy. It is very necessary in adopting any system, that the Government fixes a uniform scale of fees for the architects it employs, and without any question, it should be the fees as fixed by the Indian Institute of Architects. The only difficult problem then would be for the Government to choose an architect for any particular job. This presents a rather delicate situation which leaves the field wide open for jobbery, nepotism and corruption.
It is a regrettable aspect of our national life that almost nothing is decided on merit, with the unfortunate result that when occasionally the right choice has been made, it is suspect. How to evolve a method for appointing architects will remain a problem and I would earn request all honest and clear thinking people to give their suggestions to see if an equitable method can be evolved. As long as architecture remains a profession that is practised through the vicious institution of patronage, its outcome will remain lacking in spirit, creative ability and technical performance.