My evening walk yesterday took me close to an academic campus. Though the once free-for-all campus is now secured from outsiders in every which way, I somehow managed to slink past the guards and walked in (probably because I had learnt the art of random exploration and also how to steal the L key from the watchman in the very campus) and my meandering inside took me to a wonderful display of young ideas.

It was an exhibition curated by experts of architectural ideas of the kids who will soon be inheriting the great profession of architecture from gen-past that I belong to, so I was curious to see what has changed over the years.

The most striking change was in quality of presentation. As architecture has moved from drafting boards to Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools, communicating a design idea has moved to a new height, making it very difficult (at least for me) to dig out the essence of built architecture from the attractive but overwhelming veneer of graphic design wrapped around it.

After staring at the impressive display and struggling to fathom what is critical to architecture, i.e. the planning, sense of space and scale of the building from the displays, I was forced to ask myself an old-man question.

Does architecture needs computers?

Architecture has always been a confused branch in terms of its scope and objective, and in India the matter is made worse by completely senseless claim of its governing body, Council of Architecture (CoA), that architects are experts of all branches of engineering, but I always feel that there is a simpler way of looking at architecture, and that is as a craft of making buildings for human use (while engineering is all about integrating technologies with a building).

As humans need to use a building and enjoy it too, architecture needs a right mix of practical function and aesthetical form, making it a craft where science and arts need to converge.

Replacement of drafting boards with computers has looked very attractive at the onset because architecture is an iceberg with the working drawings as a visible tip and this is where computers can do wonders, but as it has overwhelmed the profession now, two big issues have emerged.

The first and practical problem is that a computer screen is a scale-less environment. So, when a designer constantly zooms in and out, he/she loses sense of scale that is easy to keep track of in the fixed environment of a piece of paper where a 1:100 scale drawing can’t be zoomed in/out of.

I would admit that the loss of scale in CAD that I feel could be because I started on a drawing board, but the second issue that I sense is more subtle and yet far more impactful, and that is presentation tools it offers in an age of gratification zombies.

If we look around modern world, human life seems to be quest of constant gratification so novelty holds the key to success. 

Architect has become akin to that of a fashion designer today as his/her success depends more and more on how he/she can be different in look-and-feel than the flavour of the last season. And this is where CAD has become a real and dangerous menace.

As very often those deciding the fate of an architect are not really trained to read drawings, we are now shifting to Pizza Pasta architecture of temporary visual gratification driven through impressive CAD presentations.

But then, architecture is dying multiple deaths in India, so CAD is just another nail to a coffin already nailed hard by Council of Architecture and closed-ness of academic institutions that are expected to nurture it. 

Let us pray that architecture survives both CAD and CoA by reinventing itself to the greatest need of modern times, i.e. turning into a tool for saving the planet by becoming energy conscious instead of fashionable.