If you are not an architect, the news story of central vista design project being awarded to a “Gujarat-based” firm for a fees of approximately 229.75 crore would play out differently for you, depending on your world view.
If you are right-aligned, you will treat it as a long overdue reinvention of Indian capital city built by the British Raj, and if you are left-aligned, you would treat it as a fascist attack on Lutyens’ Delhi.
As right-wingers seldom write (but always vote!), and writing is what left-wingers are always busy with (even on the Election Day!), the social media space is already getting crowded with people worried about how the redesigning of central vista at Delhi will be a nightmare for the nation.
As the Lutyens’ Delhi’s din is rising, I am worried.
Not about the central vista but about the profession of architecture, as within this news story hides a bitter truth, a truth that is far bigger than who will design central vista or what will it do to Lutyens’ Delhi.
The truth that really matters to us as a nation that is on the verge of investing lakhs of crores in building urban infrastructure is that we have failed to produce enough people who can build it for us, and the prime accuse for this lacuna is Council of Architecture, India.
The fact that Indian architects are dumbstruck by the fee amount of 229 crores is a sad indicator that our architects have failed to move with the world.
As the fee amount is actually a measly 3 % of an extremely complex engineering project, so by the world standard, it is neither surprising nor shocking, but the fact that it has shocked Indian architects is a proof that they are unable to conceive the scale of the project and the services that it would require from the consultant. And this is mainly because Indian architects functioning under the guardianship of Council of Architecture (CoA) have not understood the transformation their profession has undergone in the last fifty years.
Indian architects are still stuck in an era where architectural office was mostly a mom-and-pop shop with one bearded and one without slogging over working drawings on the fuel of black coffee, while the world has moved on to build airports and central vistas that need not just a design concept but also humungous amount of engineering, coordination and project management.
While it was easy to see that a design practice in twenty-first century would mean a big company that can have resources and cash flow to sustain itself while doing large scale projects, Indian architects, thanks to CoA have never considered the need to get real and hence we are now at a point of disaster as there are very few architectural firms that can take up large projects in India.
So, what is the prime reason why we are now staring at a national crisis in a field critical for nation-building, figurative as well as literally?
The root cause of Indian architects not growing to the scale that the nation needs today is short-sighted protectionist functioning of CoA that failed to recognise the inevitable, and that is, India will need big architectural firms and such firms will need money.
Thanks to the code of conduct of CoA that architects must follow, no architect can partner a non-architect, and lot worse, no architect can float a company and access money from non-architect investors.
While CoA and even architects thought this to be a smart move to keep non-architects out, the truth is, it is the biggest blunder in every sense.
As CoA has stuck to its guns (even after repeated defeats in various courts of law) under the presumed illusion of having exclusive right to “architecture”; thanks to their various litigations, the only exclusivity architects have ended up with is to the title “architect”, while, thanks to the legal suits they have fought using their infinite wisdom, not just engineers but any Amar, Akbar and Anthony could practice “architecture” in India now.
Though the loss of the turf of “architecture” has harmed the cause of architects of India, that is just the tip of the iceberg, as the real loss is caused because of the way architects were prevented to access much-needed money for building large scale design firms.
The way architects are forced to function in India today is nothing but a suicidal mission with hundred per cent assured success.
As they have no way but to self-finance their growth, no first generation architect has any hope to reach the level of pre-qualification required for the large projects that are bubbling under the skin of the nation.
As the scale of most of the public projects will inevitably increase to thousand crores and more in the next decade, what India will need is large design firms with financial strength to take them up. And as architects are handicapped thanks to CoA to build such firms, they are handing over their profession on a platter to entrepreneurs who will not bother about the so-called Code of Conduct of CoA and will create firms in response to the demand in the market.
While architects may feel that committing hara-kiri is more honourable a way than dilute their profession, it is not exactly a good situation for the nation, as we need good sensitive designers that Indian architects are. If they are replaced by businessmen with no social responsibility, it will be a huge loss for the nation.
As CoA has a history not to learn from either the past or the future, it is now an albatross around the neck of the profession of architecture in India.
What Indian architects really need to realise is that the time ahead can be a golden period for Indian architecture as a lot of large projects would be taken up in India and there will be more than enough work for all. This is the period of real opportunity for them to grow and become design firms that can match with the international firms.
The real way out could be to disband CoA and let each professional grow based on his/her strength and appetite.
As CoA is unlikely to go silently in the night (and may even shoot its own feet again with more litigations), though it may sound rebellious or radical, architects should seriously consider returning the bar granted by CoA, liberate themselves from the shackles of the already defunct Code of Conduct and strike out on their own.
Architects need to and must bring in financial partners and build companies whereby they too can join the valuation game and scale up their firms, instead of staying tied to the archaic Code of Conduct of CoA.
Indian architecture needs many a renaissances and reinventions, and not all of them have to be achieved by debating about Lutyens’ Delhi, as some of them will have to start from the community itself.
This is a make-or-break opportunity for Indian architects who have waited a bit too long to find their voice.
I hope that those with spirit of enterprise will grab the opportunity with both hands and we will have Indian design firms building the new nation instead of having to import the Corbusiers and Kahns as we did in past.