How sound are the foundations of architectural education in India? How much are they related to our environment? With the standard of living rising slowly and building construction becoming an ever-expanding activity, it’s time some rethinking is done. We had asked several prominent architects and teachers of the subject to send us their points of view. The replies of Mr. B.V. Doshi, Director, School of Planning, Ahmedabad and Mr. Aditya Prakash, Principal, Chandigarh College of Architecture are given below, along with a summary of the other architects’ opinions. In a separate section, Mr. A.R. Parpia, a consulting architect from Bombay, talks about the important role of draughtsmanship in architectural education

What do you think should be the major function of an architect in Indian conditions?

B.V.DOSHI: No true profession can function in a cultural vaccum, though that is what is happening in our country now. Most of the professional architects are involved in designing exclusive buildings for either business communities or the industry. The government architects working in PWDs are involved with government complexes. Very few are concerned with the problems of natural environment. Moreover, our major problem of squatter settlements is left unattended. As a result, we, as professionals have failed to instil a sense of good environment in the community. We have yet to find techniques of building economically and efficiently, like discovering new building materials to replace the age-old bricks. In the absence of a proper attitude, how can the profession encourage research in planning or technology?

ADITYA PRAKASH: An architect’s function is to become aware of what Indian conditions are. Normally, an architect awaits a client, who gives him a brief of his requirements, holds discussions, and then the architect designs and gets the building built. The architect tries to do a good job, because from this comes his livelihood. This is what he has been educated to do, and this is what he is doing.

But now the conditions have changed vastly. As a country we are committed to removing poverty. The state is now the major client of the profession. The state is not an individual; its policies are formed by mutual consent of many differing opinions and priorities. Also the pressure of population and forces of industrialisation and communication have greatly influenced the ecological balance. Under these circumstances, the architect cannot sit back and wait for a commission like building a multistorey block of offices in the Fort area of Bombay. He has to assess his role in the changes circumstances (eg housing the poor first) and actively participate in the formulation of state policies. This requires an increased awareness of sociology, economics, ecology, etc.

OTHERS: Some think the emphasis now is on “building structures” and “arranging walls” in a pleasing manner. This is wrong. Architecture should be an “arrangement of total life” it self, taking into consideration the social (material conditions like the general level of income, habits and attitudes to life, etc), technological (raw materials available, cost, etc) and environmental (landscape etc) conditions. All these factors should be weighed and integrated harmoniously into any architectural plan.

Such a plan should (i) be the extension of the self itself if it is a home, (ii) should provide for the interaction between man and machine in factories, and (iii) should not separate the farm man from his environment. Such a plan should also show an understanding of the surrounding land and fellow human beings and create harmony in their interactions.

It is said that the present architectural education in India is generally limited to “copying” western education. What is your comment?

DOSHI: Our educational system is directed towards centralisation. We stick to the notion of uniformity for easy administration. We have forgotten to look upon education as the widening of the horizons of cultural phenomenon. The present educational standards do not have clear-cut objectives. They lack a “need-based” philosophy. Many of our standards are partially borrowed from other places. For example, our curriculum, mode of examination, duration of courses and admissions, etc have very little to do with our fluctuating and specialized needs. Very often the trained talents are wasted away due to lack of opportunities. This conflict between the actual need, borrowed tradition and the social constraints have sapped the energy of the institutions from experimenting and developing new curricula. They have discouraged the best practioners, unwittingly though, from entering the academic world. Our brain-drain can be seen as a product of such conditions.

ADITYA PRAKASH: The architectural education in India has been patterned after the British system, because it has been inherited from them. We still derived a lot of influence and ideas from the West. Most of the literature on architecture is also drawn from there. There is nothing wrong in being influenced, but ‘copying’ prevents us from creating our own literature, producing our own solutions.

What should be the right architectural education system for India? How should this system be related to our social conditions? What subjects should it include from the first to the final year?

DOSHI: To improve our educational system, a complete overhaul is necessary. We must begin from the beginning. We must first define our objectives, eg immediate and future needs, the kind of graduates we shall need to fulfil the objectives and then formulate our curricula. Rather than follow a standard five or six year’s course, we should plan for interrelated course of various durations to enable the students to choose the courses based on their activity and resources.

To be further effective, our new curriculum based on local conditions and needs should have adequate and proper teachers’ training programmes. Research and documentation should become a part of the students’ work. The best professional talents and public institutions should be attached during the learning process. Freedom of choice for “change” of discipline should be included in the course. In short, schools should become truly professional universities with various choices rather than turn out “tradesmen”.

Isn’t it a pity that although we are spending crores of rupees every year in housing programmes, there is no proper documentation of what is happening in our country and what indeed are our needs? If we want to save time, energy and money, should we not have at least one institution to serve as a data-bank for all such requirements? With such facilities, students will get more interested in what they want to learn and practise. In addition, must not the curriculum include community projects and practical training on site so that the involvement of students becomes real and challenging?

Further, almost all of our institutions are located in cities and isolated from the actual work in the development of rural areas. Should we not do something to become part of our rural world?

ADITYA PRAKASH: The right architectural education system for India should be geared to the Indian needs. This, of course, does not mean that the West should not be allowed to contribute to our education. The emphasis should be on understanding our needs, our problems, our means, and our methods.

To achieve these objectives, it is imperative that the architectural education institutions in the country should be of such status that the best architectural talents are attracted to them. Just now the situation may be summed up somewhat like this: those who do not do well in the field, come to teaching and those who do well have no time for teaching. Instead, the capable should be drawn towards teaching not as a sacrifice but as an achievement. Conditions should be created within a teaching institution so that the faculty are able to enhance their knowledge and experience, and keep abreast of the latest developments and techniques. This can be done only if the teachers actively participate in field-work through consultancy practice, and in research work.

What should be the salient features of Indian architecture, if we do evolve such a system? It is said that the ancient Indian architects made good use of natural conditions like the sun, wind and the rain in an area through such means as open verandahs, arches, jalis or chajjas, etc. Does the present architectural system train a man to understand these factors and make use of them in his work in simple designs?

DOSHI: Architecture expresses a way of life. It is based upon characteristics born out of the climate, social custom, prevalent techniques, etc. this understanding should be part of an architect’s blood stream. When it is not, separate elements such as jalis, arches, etc are added to imitate the past and make mockery of the real spirit.

In order to create an appropriate architecture, the teaching methods should include the study of how, why and what. They should develop an attitude of problem-solving rather than following patterns in the name of ‘styles’.

Design is never taught. It is an evolved and correlated answer to the problems posed and this should be the emphasis at our schools.

ADITYA PRAKASH: The salient features of Indian architecture should be derived from Indian materials and techniques which should be used to solve the problems of Indian needs, climates, spaces, and people. But we must have an open mind, and our policies should be dynamic. We should not hesitate to learn from the West, and maybe even teach them a thing or two.

Verandahs are good for the Indian climate, but if for the same cost an additional room is provided.

Housing and architecture

According to recent assessments, the total shortage in housing is 83.7 million, 71.8 million in rural areas and 11.9 million in urban areas.

This matter has been receiving a rather low priority in the various Plan allocations and the performance is less than satisfactory. During the past three Plans, about 4 lakh units were constructed under social housing schemes at a cost of Rs. 262 crores against a target of 6.5 lakh houses and an allocation of Rs. 320 crores – a shortfall of 40 per cent. In the private sector, roughly 2 lakhs of houses are put up per year. Thus construction in both the sectors add to about 3 houses per 1000 population as against 10 recommended by the UN Study Group. The Planning Commission increased the allocation to Rs. 237 Crores in the Fourth Plan. The Central Government has also set up last year a Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO).

The design of the houses should suit the paying capacity of various income groups, different living habits, varying climatic conditions of the hot and dry, hot and humid and humid and wet regions of our country. This may take the shape of row housing, semi-detached units, multi storeyed or independent units, depending upon the location. To achieve this objective, considerable thought has to be given to every minor design aspect if substantial saving in overall cost is to be effected.

We should not blindly copy what has been done abroad under entirely different social, economic and labour conditions. There is tremendous scope for improvement in the manufacture and use of traditional materials, construction methods and substitutes for scarce materials, such as steel and cement.

The forest Research Institute has established that about 85 secondary species of Indian timber are suitable as building material. The ISI has brought out a National Building Code for rationalising and streamlining outmoded and expensive building bye-laws that have been in vogue for a long time in our corporations and municipalities.

Intelligent adoption of these materials, techniques, standards and codes will help in considerable reduction in overall cost of construction up to 20 per cent. But, unfortunately, several missing links are the cause of non-exploitation of the expertise and talents the country possesses. Some examples are:

Construction organisations have accepted fly ash as a good and cheap substitute for partial replacement of cement in building construction leading to a saving in cost up to 5 per cent. But due to lack of administrative machinery, it is not readily available to user organisations even though thermal stations, which produce is, spend considerable sums of money in disposing of it.

Scientifically treated and seasoned secondary species of timber are not made available in the market, due to lack of coordination.

Insufficient production of Tor-steel to take advantage of the economy that can be achieved by its use.

Protected by a simple chajja, that may be better. We should not raise slogans that verandahs, jalis and arches represent Indian architecture. In Chandigarh, practically every verandah that was built with any house has been enclosed with glass panes. It is popularly known as a glazed verandah. A glazed verandah is not the same thing as an open verandah. It is then like a room, for it cuts out very substantially the light and air that were available to the rooms behind the open verandah.

Anything that is built in India to suit Indian conditions represent Indian architecture – notwithstanding the influences. The important thing is that everything we build should be carefully planned, and should be rationally assessed in the best interests of the country. It should be our challenge to create beauty from the limitations we have.

OTHERS: The student should be made aware of the whole environment – not merely in schools and offices but in relation to different structures around and also the local geography. He should also learn how the environment affects him over a long period so that he makes enough provisions for this in his plans.

Architecture should be a full-time course, unlike some of the courses now. It is said that a student who does a part time course spends the rest of the day working for a senior practising architect. The senior architects, it appears, would like to retain this system since the student’s services are cheaper. But, at the same time, it puts a blind on the students creative thinking and imagination. Under the present system, the senior architect mainly concentrates on commercial buildings in big industrial cities. The students, by the time he finishes his course, may get stereotyped.

Students should be made to study and analyse different systems and the growth of various big cities so that some of the mistakes are not repeated. For example, tall and vertical structures that are springing up everywhere in the big cities need not always be the best. But they also have certain good points. For instance, though tall clustered structures may not be good to live in under normal conditions, Hong Kong used this method with advantage on its reclaimed sea front by keeping almost all the houses open on the seaside for good air circulation. We can also learn from our own mistakes. A deep study of Bombay’s growth should teach us that we should plan much ahead or that industries should be dispersed.

Low-cost building and the use of indigenous raw materials in construction work are some necessities in Indian conditions. Does the present educational system prepare a student for this? Is he conversant with all the available building materials?

DOSHI: The present system of education does not provide any specific course for such studies, nor is the course based on the realities. As said earlier, the courses of study need to be totally changed and brought to bear on the real problems.

ADITYA PRAKASH: I have a feeling that most architects in the country are not very much interested in the use of very low-cost building materials like thatch, bamboo and earth. Nor does the educational system prepare the architect or engineer to understand and use them. The real reason seems to be that if any architect uses them, he would soon be starving. Only expensive buildings pay him enough fees. What would be the architect’s fee for a house built for, say Rs. 1,000, in the design of which the effort would be lot more than a house built in concrete for over a lakh of rupees?

I agree that indigenous techniques and raw materials should find major use to keep costs low (even at the cost of high efficiency ad permanence) in view of our present economic and social conditions. To achieve this both the profession and the educational system have to do some serious thinking. It cannot be done by education alone. Besides rendering professional service, everyone hopes to earn a decent living.

OTHERS: There are many low-income housing schemes at present. But they are badly executed. The quality of construction is poor. Houses are designed like a mass produced consumer product, irrespective of the size. Prominent geographical features at the site are not exploited nor are factors like the Sun, local pattern of airflow, local climate, etc taken into consideration.

A refreshing exception, however, was the Kerala Government’s approach. Before allotting space, it had studied the general pattern of community life in each case. Any special needs or ways of these communities were taken into consideration in the final allotment.

Another example is the new housing colony in Hyderabad which seeks to reduce the social distance between people belonging to different salary groups. This is done by eliminating glaring different salary groups. This is done by eliminating glaring differences in the style of structures (which is so common in most of the colonies) and providing adequate, direct and intercrossing accesses in the colony.

Most of these provisions can be fitted into low-income housing colonies without adding to their cost. In fact, with proper planning, the cost can be reduced while increasing the aesthetic value. But such planning should be different at each site, depending on local features and conditions.

What is needed is good draughtsmanship

ARCHITECTURAL education should be made job-oriented. Not all students who take architectural education turn out to be practising architects. The training must be such that the student can become a useful assistant in the office of a practising architect. What kind of work will he do there? Take the simple example of a practising architect’s office.

When a client wants something built, he comes to the architect with a document, known as a ‘conveyance’ of his plot of land. This document may contain a site plan, or simple description with Cadestral Survey Numbers (C.S.No.) or Survey Numbers (S.No.). The architect has to first find the location from an index plan in his office. Then he brings out the Newland Sheet on which this particular plot or this particular C.S.No. or S.No. Is located.

His next job is to find out from the Development Plan whether a residential, commercial or an industrial building can be constructed on the site. The conveyance, however, carries no dimensions. The architect first has to survey the plot and ascertain the correct boundary by actual physical survey. Then he sits with his assistants and starts sketching the layout plan, and while he is sketching, he also tries to incorporate all the requirements of the client. Thus sketching must have a fundamental emphasis in architectural education. The student must be trained to be able to sketch every single idea on paper as if he were writing a synopsis of a book. This sketching exercise should also include use of various mediums of drawing such as watercolour, charcoal, crayon, and even oil.

After the sketch design with lots of coloured pictures of the basic appearance and interior has been done, the client approves the plan and the design. This is what we call in our profession “landing the work”. These sketches should be so impressive that the client invariably makes up his mind quickly.

After the client’s approval, the municipal and other plans have to be prepared. These drawings must be clear and precise, incorporating all the necessary data. These plans are generally done by assistants who must have a complete knowledge of the bye.