I am deeply honoured to be invited to deliver the Kurula Varkey Memorial Lecture, 2004. Varkey and I shared many academic interests and experiences, including the fact that we had both studied at IIT Kharagpur at about the same time. Though I cannot claim to have known him well then, later however, during the last fifteen years of his life, our paths intersected frequently and as I got to know him better, my esteem for him, both as a person, and for his academic work, grew steadily. Today, it is the regard he commanded from almost everyone he interacted with that I wish to draw upon and memorialise.
By the time we set up the TVB School of Habitat Studies in Delhi in 1990, CEPT and Varkey were already role models for those of us who wished to emulate its compelling accomplishments. Educational pedagogy based on a research agenda became easier for us to pursue because Varkey and CEPT had already shown the way and in the process established high benchmarks for others to follow. Of course, I do not undervalue the substantial legacy that Varkey inherited from Professor B.V. Doshi and his colleagues who started CEPT, but by 1990s when we started our School, Varkey had institutionalised this pedagogic legacy, and it was to him that we turned for advice and guidance. It was in no small measure due to the advice and support we received from Varkey among others, that our School was able to make some contributions to the field of architectural education. Therefore, I am happy that today I have an opportunity to redeem that debt and celebrate his valuable contributions to architectural education in general, and to our School in particular.
We need to examine such academic visions all the more today because the objectives of architectural education and its administration by the regulatory authorities are in crisis. I need hardly remind this audience of the systematic and purposeful campaign waged by the Council of Architecture during the last few years to curtail the independence of architectural institutions. Any form of independence or autonomy, except in a greatly institutionalised and controlled manner, is frowned upon as a matter of policy. Typically, it is the adherence to the prevailing legal regime that is relied upon to justify such policy, not the imperatives of developing architectural education. Hence independent Schools are required to affiliate with universities so that they can be 'controlled'. CEPT was required to affiliate with a university even though it had excelled as an independent institution for over 30 years. It can perhaps leverage its affiliation to the university system to achieve better ends, but for small Schools like ours, the same official policy has severely compromised our educational objectives and identity. It is such bureaucratic vision of control and conformity that masquerades as education policy that I propose to focus upon in today's lecture.
Over the last few months, trouble has been brewing between the two statutory institutions set up by Parliament to oversee architectural education: The Council of Architecture (CoA) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). AICTE has peremptorily rescinded its Memorandum of Understanding with the CoA, whereby the CoA was administering architectural education on behalf of AICTE. In an unseemly display of public fighting over administrative turf, both have written to architectural institutions staking their respective rights to administer them. This has caused jurisdictional confusion and not surprisingly, the matter has been referred to the Courts. But it is not the legal issues I wish to discuss.
It is clear that both Councils wish to 'control' architectural institutions, but it is not as clear - why. Both are staking their claims by interpreting the legal contents in their respective statutes, rather than providing a credible vision for developing architectural education. The matter has now become a prestige issue for both Councils, and in the process, sadly, the imperatives of architectural education are getting further marginalised.
I have attended several meetings convened by CoA to discuss strategies to deal with the so-called 'take-over' of architectural education by AICTE. The sense of outrage against AICTE at these meetings was potent; the feeling of 'victimhood', palpable; and the need to take retributive action, pervasive. These meetings were suffused with the kind of mood that perhaps pervades war councils, where the focus is on defeating the enemy at any cost. In this frame of mind, education, the prize they were fighting over, became a peripheral issue. Not surprisingly, when I asked the CoA and the assembled architects what they wanted to do with architectural education once they regained control, the silence was deafening.
As I said, I do not wish to engage with the legal merits or the underlying politics of the arguments propounded by CoA or even attempt to speculate on the motives which may have prompted AICTE to take such precipitate action against another statutory body, because it will only divert attention from the main issue I want to discuss: how should architectural education be administered. We need to develop a clear vision of the objectives of architectural education to answer that question.
Ironically, inspite of opinions expounded by almost everyone, the objectives of architectural education have never been clearly articulated. The objectives, such as they are, can only be discerned from implicitly held beliefs among architects. These implicit beliefs hold that the objective of architectural education is to produce a professional who could be employed in an architect's office. In academic terms, such objectives are limited in their scope because they only expect the syllabus and pedagogy to meet vocational ends. These beliefs do not recognise the importance of pursuing an educational strategy where the objective is to develop knowledge of the discipline of architecture and use it to mediate the development of the profession in our postcolonial, globalised/neo-colonised context.
The mindset with which we conduct architectural education in India has colonial roots. It suited the colonial administration to structure architectural education in terms of purely vocational ends. This was not the British strategy at home in England, but in the colonies the goal was merely to teach natives to be useful in architectural offices run by British engineers and architects. Colonial administrators identified students with a base in the sciences to study architecture, because they believed that their science background made more intelligent assistants. These colonial strategies have got completely internalised and this mindset guided the drafting of the Architect Act in 1972. Suffice it to say that the results of this self-defeating educational strategy can be seen in the kind of architecture that has been produced since Independence: minimally technically competent, but intellectually dependent on theoretical developments taking place outside the country.
These vocational objectives were incorporated into the Architect Act, 1972, so it is now law. The Act set up the Council of Architecture to not only regulate the profession by registering qualified professionals but also linked this process to monitoring education. By this means the Act institutionalised the vocational objectives for the education of architects. This link could be described as the overt objective of architectural education, and of course, it reflects the implicit belief among professionals. If one were to examine this proposition seriously, it would become obvious that such limiting visions cannot guide architectural education in a world that is becoming more complex and competitive. This is the issue I want to highlight : the raison d'etre of architectural education has been established by default. This default mode needs to be analysed and contested because it underpins the reflexive desire to 'control' education.
Education as a process to 'train' architects is an outdated educational strategy everywhere but in India. All over the world the more progressive systems expect educational institutions to guide the profession, not follow it. The prevailing situation in India is in some ways analogous to the way children were educated a few generations ago. There was then an implicit belief as it exists in the CoA today, that fathers knew best, and that there was no need to consult the child or to 'plan' the structure and contents of education. What had been handed down to the present generation from its forefathers was supposed to be good enough to educate the next generation. Education was expected to only equip students with the 3-R's; in architectural terms this antiquated philosophy translates into equipping the student of architecture with the rudimentary skills required for office practice. This mindset is revealed in the syllabus most Schools follow. The heavy emphasis given to design, working drawings and structural engineering marginalises the study of theoretical subjects such as history or theory, for example, which could facilitate the development of critical thinking. The world was a much simpler place when such restrictive objectives were established. The fresh graduate did not face problems any different from those that the previous generation dealt with. Hence, the previous generation could decide what the next generation ought to know. The objectives of architectural education have not evolved in India since they were established by the colonial administration, even though the world in which it operates has. In seeking to 'control' education the CoA only perpetuates this antidiluvean policy. This is the problem.
There have of course, been some changes in education since colonial times. For example, computers have been introduced into education: but it must be noted, mainly as a drafting and presentation tool. Earthquake safety and other QIP exercises are conducted: but again it must be noted, to largely serve vocational ends. The CoA obviously believes that these initiatives are adequate, and it was for this reason that when I posed my question at the CoA meetings, there was silence. I had questioned the foundations of their beliefs to which they had no answer. Nor are they willing to let those who are involved in education and who want to explore alternatives propose other options. In the manner of theological catachisms they recite 'rules and regulations', to justify their paternalistic values. Thus, to the babus who administer CoA, the Architect Act, 1972, is what the scriptures are to theologians; they cannot be questioned or tampered with, and they are only expected to implement it vigorously to guarantee their place in a heaven for bureaucrats! Their actions and attitudes are not unlike those of conservative elders of village panchayats whom we criticise when we read news reports of women and dalits who are killed for 'stepping out of line'. I need hardly point out that in both cases the cause for such punitive action is the lack of tolerance and an imagined loss of their own prestige, not any genuine interest in the status of women, dalits or education.
After the AICTE was set up in 1987, the duplication in the tasks of the two Councils was resolved through a Memorandum of Understanding which delegated the responsibility of monitoring architectural education to CoA. Thus the CoA monitored architectural education on behalf of AICTE as it had earlier been doing for the Ministry of Human Resources Development. It is this Memorandum that has been recently rescinded. It was only in the light of AICTE's attempted coup d'etat that CoA sought legal advice, and become aware of the fact that according to the terms of the 1972 Act, there was no need to have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with AICTE in the first place! So the enlightened view in the CoA is that it is fully empowered, and can operate independently and discharge its responsibilities without reference to AICTE. The situation between the two is turning into a farce, not unlike Tweedledum and Tweedledee fighting over a rattle. But who in CoA or AICTE cares? As far as architectural education is concerned, this now means that both the Councils will inspect architectural Schools. To establish their respective importance, each will now try and counter the actions taken by the other. As far as the CoA is concerned, this could well mean, that to prove their point and define their identity, they may harden the debilitating link between architectural education and professional practice. This is a matter of concern.
Of course, Schools like CEPT have contested this trend and explored the disciplinary potential of architectural education. They have succeeded in making a difference in the quality of architects they graduate and the architecture that these graduates produce is widely respected in the profession. This is reflected in the disproportionate number of architectural competitions which have been won by CEPT graduates. This is the legacy of Kurula Varkey.
Treating architectural education as a discipline and not a vocation opens up immense possibilities which can only benefit the healthy development of the culture of architecture in India. To achieve this shift will require modifications to the present system of controls instituted by CoA. In my view, the present crisis offers an unprecedented opportunity to make changes to the education system. As a profession we need to look beyond feelings of 'victimhood' caused by AICTE's pre-emptive strike. This means that instead of looking backwards in order to salvage professional prestige, we need to look into the future, to seek ways and means to over come the present crisis. To do this we will need to modify the Architect Act, 1972.
The contours of the modification can only be defined after undertaking an audit of how this Act has performed during the 30 odd years of its existence. There are many positive achievements we can reinforce, but it is the failures which should become the objects of study because overcoming them will be critical to defining the future health of the profession and architectural education. This audit could be in the form of a White Paper to which many constituencies - the professional practitioners, educational institutions, the Indian Institute of Architects and the public - should contribute.
The White Paper must also evaluate the CoA's 'style' of functioning to see whether there is a need to change or improve the current administration of architectural education. There is prima facie evidence of the urgent need to democratise the CoA bureaucracy. It is not representative of the profession, and so is unable to guage its 'pulse'. Some people speculate that it was the authoritarian and intimidating manner of a coterie within the CoA that resulted in the present crisis. There may be some truth to this speculation because where there is smoke there is fire, and the AICTE must have responded to some fire-alarm when it severed its relation with CoA. This point needs to be examined, but it might prove to be difficult and traumatic. In the meetings I attended at CoA, there was no attempt at introspection, only belligerence: speculations on the subversive machinations of the 'engineers lobby', the machivilean schemes of the HRD Minister, among others. Such aggression borders on the delusional. Any suggestion of self-examination elicits the warning: 'If you are not with us then you are against us.' We all know the politician who popularised such machismo and we all are witness to its devastating consequences. This is a reflection of the 'style' of functioning that must be resisted and reformed if we want to develop future options for CoA.
The White Paper must also take into account the global picture - the influence of GATS on the profession in India, for example. There is a general apprehension in the profession that foreign architects can walk into our country and effortlessly register with CoA, because the Act recognises several foreign degrees and has a reasonable process to validate others. But an Indian architect does not have reciprocal facilities in foreign countries. The CoA has done considerable amount of home-work on this subject, and has developed ideas to modify the Architect Act, 1972. The present crisis notwithstanding, the CoA needs to pursue this course because it has been argued that this easy access to foreign architects can become a Trojan Horse - not only in business terms, but with respect to the culture of architecture.
The point I am trying to emphasise is that even as the White Paper audits the function of CoA, it must adopt a futuristic perspective to analyse its problems and evaluate how it responds to a fast - changing world. A statement I often heard at the meetings convened by CoA is that after it repulses the attack of AICTE, the CoA must get back to 'business as usual'. I cannot think of anything more negative than to aspire to re-establish 'business as usual'. The White Paper must seek to evolve new practices, not ressurect old ones.
The world in which we practice has changed, and so we must examine the circumstances that must define the contours of the profession in future. The old circumstances upheld the primacy of the role of the architect in the building process, their impartial role in mediating between the client and builder and even their ethical stance in distancing themselves from competitive business practices. We continue to routinely and reflexively proclaim these professional positions, but we know from our experience of the real world, that even such foundational practices have evolved over time. We base our practice on these changed circumstances, but continue to yearn for the traditional image of the profession to bolster our image. But coming to terms with reality does not mean that the role of the architects has diminished, or that they are not necessary to protect the interests of the owner and contractor in the execution of a building contract or even that they should adopt unethical practices, We now discharge these responsibilities in a different manner than the Victorian gentlemen who defined the boundaries of professionalism we aspire to follow. The fact is that the world we live in has changed from Victorian times. Its political economy has changed, and so has its sociology, and along with it, so has our profession. As John Maynard Keynes once observed; 'When new facts come to light, I change my mind. What do you do sir'?.
Under the circumstances, it cannot be 'business as usual', however much we might want to hold on to the old image of the profession to preserve our self-esteem. The building industry has changed and with it our leadership role in the building process has been redefined. The ground realities in India as elsewhere, is that the architect is now one among other key professionals involved in the realisation of a building project. Therefore, as Keynes observed, we need to change our mindset about the role of the profession in the building industry, and of course, the objectives of education.
Take the example of complex, intelligent buildings. Increasingly the greater bulk of the building costs are being determined by the demands of the allied disciplines that contribute to the way the building is supposed to function. Indeed, things have come to such a pass that the role of the architect is - if I may repeat an apocryphal statement attributed to Hafeez Contractor - to deal with the two feet of space between the inside and outside of the building!
Of course, I do not believe that architects or their role have been marginalised to the extent implied by Contractor - unless they want it that way- but there is no denying the fact that the importance of other disciplines - structural engineering, building management, services engineering and even interior design have significantly grown in importance from the days when the image of the architect as god - or at least, as Howard Roark - was established in the minds of architects. Those disciplines can no longer be marginalised by the architect.
Today for example, there is a legitimate case for recognising the discipline of architectural engineering as one of the major contributors to specialised architectural projects. There is increasing need for architectural engineers to conceptualise and develop building projects of a certain type. To protest about the nomenclature - the use of the word architectural - in the recognition of the specialised degree of architectural engineering - as the CoA does - is unrealistic. But it does raise genuine issues we must confront, such as: is the architectural engineer an architect in accordance with the Architect Act of 1972? The conventional answer to that question is - no, they are not architects. This is because an architect must undergo five years of education in accordance to the syllabus prescribed by the CoA. But such norms do not take into account the considerable merits in the case for recognising an architectural engineer as an architect. We need to find out if changing our traditional perceptions could benefit the architectural profession - and society. The White Paper must take into account such contentious issues.
Interestingly, such foundational questions are already being addressed by the majority of architects, which means those who are under 30 years of age. Our's is a young profession, both in terms of the age profile of practitioners and as a professional practice, and it is unlikely, if one were to ask them, that they would want 'business as usual'. These young architects are getting into many hitherto unconventional types of professional practice, and it would be foolish to insist that the terms of the profession we inherited from the colonial government should remain to determine the future structure of the profession. Their views must be reflected in the White Paper.
The problems such apostacy will create for the practicing professional is that it will change the relationship of architecture with the other disciplines involved in the production of functional space for society - from one that is hierarchical to one that is more egalitarian and mutually supportive. This is akin to men shedding their patriarchal attitudes and accepting the principles of gender equality. Such a renegotiated dynamic will not relegate an engineer to a subservient role in building; neither will it allow for a 'policing' of the gateways of architecture that denies architectural engineers - and others - entry.
Focussing on the issue of administering architectural education, the White Paper will need to evolve new systems of evaluation which look beyond the achievement of 'minimum standards'. This can best be achieved by seperating the role of CoA in 'registering' architects from its responsibility to 'maintain the minimum standards of architectural education'. It is only by seperating these two responsibilities that we can begin to benchmark the routes of excellence in architectural education.
For example, the CoA could get out of the business of monitoring architectural education altogether. It could maintain the integrity of its registering responsibilities by instituting a different set of criteria for registering than the one that exists today. The new criteria could include a specific examination be administered on applicants who have obtained a B.Arch degree to ensure the achievement of 'minimum standards' for purposes of registering like they have in the U.S., for example. In addition, the new criteria may require that the applicant should have undertaken a minimum period of apprenticeship with a registered architect. The AICTE or the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) could conduct periodic inspections of Universities and colleges to ensure not only routine compliance with minimum standards, but also provide benchmarks for Universities to develop a variety of approaches to achieve excellence as for example, the work performed by AICTE's Board of Accreditation. Universities should be free to teach architecture as a four year course, or one that is engineering biased, or others that are social-science and art biased courses. There is nothing that is inherently inimical in such variety because in the end CoA would independently examine the bonafides of the applicant before giving them license to practice. The system of architectural education in Europe as a whole, displays such variety because each country follows a different system. And the architecture of the European Union is none the worse for it.
My argument for syllabus reform is that architectural education must look beyond its current focus on the core subjects: design studio, construction drawings and structures. I do not suggest that these subjects should be replaced, but there should be room in some institutions to vary the emphasis and its importance vis-a-vis the other subjects in the making of an architect.
The present emphasis only expects to produce one kind of architect - the classic professional who designs a building and gets it executed through other agencies. Today there are many other kinds of architects practicing the profession: design-build; managers-administrators; those who go on to practice other spatial disciplines; journalists; researchers; NGOs; and academics among others. Not everyone has to be cast in the same mould by the education system. A variety of menus can only satisfy and enrich the culture of diversity in the profession.
It is in this light that I argue for the need to reform the current homogenous syllabus that is thrust on all institutions by the CoA. The shift in emphasis from the core subjects might in fact, encourage a meta - theoretical approach to architecture that focusses on architectural practice in the postcolonial context and on the state of the discipline - that is, an approach that cultivates reflexivity and prevents stasis.
A quick survey of our graduates brought out a revelatory fact that only 40% of them are actually practicing architecture - the others are using their education to branch out to the new openings offered by the recent changes in the political economy of our country. This is not a measure of the failure of a discipline-centred architectural education, but its success because it opens up possibilities instead of directing them to a conventional practice of architecture. This is the reason why the pedagogic strategy of vocational training must be abandoned in colleges - it has already been abandoned in the field.
The present crisis offers an opportunity for the White Paper to discuss the mechanism we can put in place to separate the two functions of CoA - monitoring education and regulating practice - in order to achieve a better outcome for both objectives. The examples of other countries, especially the developed countries, can be taken into account, without aping them, to work out a good system to suit our circumstances. The key issue would be to encourage diversity and democratise the systems of controls. This will require the amendment to the Architect Act, 1972. This is a reasonable expectation after 30 years of its implementation.
What I have tried to outline in my talk is that the present crisis can be turned into an opportunity. We should not aspire to return to 'business as usual', but seek new avenues to develop the profession. It is a message I think we can derive from the contributions of Kurula Varkey to architectural education. It is a powerful message to absorb and act upon.