I am struck by an incredible realisation while scanning the urban-scape on the way to my office.
Without making any exaggeration, I can confidently say that nearly 90% of commercial buildings on the one and a half kilometre stretch that I travelled-on are constructed by violating city bylaws legislated to regulate urban development.
As all this development is unlikely to have appeared out of thin air by someone waving a magic wand, it is hard to believe that this level of lawlessness was possible to execute without it being noticed.
The question is, who would have noticed that our cities are getting constructed by the violation of rules and regulations?
Who should have noticed it and become a whistleblower for the greater good?
Who should have risen to save our cities?
Is it the vegetable seller, the doctor, the Rickshaw driver, the shopkeeper, the politician, the policeman or the beggar on the street who is expected to realise that lawless development is taking place?
No, there is one highly qualified person trained exactly to do this job, i.e. the job of understanding the construction by-laws and ensure that a building is designed in a manner that laws are followed.
If you are a layman driving past a commercial complex, you may not be aware that the building must be constructed with a certain margin in front or a building must have a certain amount of parking area. You have all the right to get impressed by the glittering glass façade or fancy atrium because construction bylaws are a specialised set of rules that you can’t be aware of and the state has put a guardian professional to protect them.
It is this expert, this specialist, this empowered professional called Architect who knows that what is right and what is wrong, what is permissible under the law and what is not.
Now that everything has gone wrong, unlawfulness is not an exception but a norm and our cities are bursting around the seam with unlawful constructions with architects watching silently, what could be the explanation of this crazy situation?
After a lot of thinking, I have an explanation equally absurd to match the absurd reality, and that is a book written almost 75 years back that every architect knows oh-so-well.
“The Fountainhead” is a classic by Ayn Rand, an authoress who also wrote “The Virtue of Selfishness”, a flagship book that has set waves in motion that are now turning into a tsunami of selfishness and upsetting the ship of society that humanity has been riding all this while.
“The Fountainhead” is special is because it is the book that started Ayn Rand rolling, and it is special for us because the hero of the book is an architect. And more importantly, architects, especially Indian architects grow up on the staple diet of Ayn Rand due to Roark’s strong characterisation that is extremely impressive.
In the early and impressionable years, there is no bigger hero than Howard Roark for every budding student of architecture.
If I quote the Wikipedia entry “Roark embodies what Rand believed to be the ideal man, and his struggle reflects Rand’s belief that individualism is superior to collectivism.”1
Roark, in the nutshell, is all about the virtue of selfishness. And our architects may or may not have imbibed any other values from him, it is the selfishness that they have surely acquired and excelled in.
The chaotic urban mess that we live with has emerged because architects’ community seems to reflect Rand’s belief that individualism is superior to collectivism. They have never seen the need to rise for the cause of the collective.
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It is not that architects can’t see the rampant lawlessness in development, but they like to justify their silence by claiming that they are powerless. Architects always feel that they are overpowered by every other stakeholder in the construction industry because the sector is ruled by builders, contractors and politicians who are too powerful to stand up against and survive.
Architects like to believe that they have opted for silence not because they are selfishly focused on self-preservation but because they lack teeth to fight back, but is it really true?
Architects are actually the most empowered of all other stakeholders in the construction industry. They enjoy might of the state backing them and also the power of uniting forums where they can stand together and take on any adversary.
They have been given a title and not one but two ready-made legally recognised bodies where they can flex their collective muscle.
Armed with the Council of Architecture (CoA) and Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), architects have everything going for them. A professional fraternity with two organisations is best placed to reap the benefits of unity.
If architects had opted to stand up and fight, they would have been a formidable force as they are legally provided with uniting institutions that can dictate terms. But instead, architects ended up at the very bottom of the power hierarchy for a simple reason.
Architects are simply incapable of uniting as a collective. Be it Roark inspired a celebration of individuality and rejection of collective or fear typical to the selfish and the weak, architects have never been able to come together on a smallest of an issue to unite and stand up.
As someone who really loves this great profession, I am not very keen to believe that architects have failed to stand up for themselves and for the society because they are selfish and weak, so I rather opt for an intellectual sounding explanation of blaming Ayn Rand for it all!!
- 1. Wikipedia contributors, "The Fountainhead," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Fountainhead&oldid=854883890 (accessed September 7, 2018).