The sheer volume of literature on architecture and architectural education produced in Europe and North America dominates any dialogue on those subjects, anywhere. This saturation preempts the possibility of developing other terms of reference in other locales. To academics in the West, perhaps this is not a matter of concern, (though I argue, it aught to be), but to others, particularly in the Third World, it is, because their voices are drowned and marginalised in a common forum. If the terms of reference remain Western, this is inevitable, because the issues relating to the Third World are not, and will never be, the cutting edge in their terms: this has been historically ordained. To change the terms of reference, the historical imperatives must be foregrounded by describing the context within which architectural education takes place in other parts of the world. I address this necessity with reference to architectural education in India.
The antecedents of contemporary architecture and architectural education in India go back about 200 years and the colonization of the country. That decisive, but problematic encounter with the West set into motion the process of modernization. In this sense the modernisation ideals are alien to India since they were introduced through the agency of colonisation. But they have become indigenous in the sense that they have been adopted and adapted by the intellectual elites, who in turn, have endeavored to diffuse them to society at large through state-directed interventionist policies, particularly during the last fifty years after Independence.
What is intrinsically indigenous however, is the 'traditional' which is part of the variety of inherited cultures (rites and rituals, systems of healing, systems of building, etc.), often viewed as obstacles to the process of modernisation. But, after fifty years of concerted and purposeful development, the fact remains that most observers would still describe India as a 'traditional' society indicating the persistence and saliency of these traditions. These historical traces continue to surface even in the most modern setting, creating a dilemma for both the individual and community. As the narrator in Salman Rushdie's novel Shame put it, 'I, too, face the problem of history: what to retain, what to dump, how to hold on to what memory insists on relinquishing, how to deal with change..... I am dealing with a past that refuses to be suppressed, that is daily doing battle with the present....'
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This battle takes on epic proportions when it pits the ideals of modernisation against the values of tradition in the dialectics of development. Issues in architectural education are infused with these polarities and the choices to be made are usually fundamental in nature and not a matter of simply shifting priorities by refining existing paradigms of development. In this sense the Indian context is, in Edward Said's words, an 'uniquely punishing destiny': the post-colonial present. Culturally speaking what this destiny imposes on the individual and society is a feeling of being not quite at home in the present world order or to have empathy with issues and concerns defining that order. This feeling of displacement is the problem of history that Rushdie's narrator experiences. Architectural education in India is an outcome of that history.
Contemporary architectural education evolved from the Technical Schools established by the colonial government in the 1850s. They supplanted the traditional system of the master craftsmen who had passed their knowledge from one generation to another. Unlike Europe where industrialisation transformed traditional skills and knowledge systems over time, in India no attempt was made to transform the traditional system of building which were, instead, purposively by-passed by colonial builders.
Art schools trained draftsmen to assist British engineers who were employed to construct buildings for the civil and military administration. The technical Schools only provided rudimentary knowledge to produce functionally competent surveyors, store keepers and junior engineers. Even this minimal education was coveted because it offered the prospect of a white-collar job in government service and slowly the correlation between education and a secure government job got ingrained in public consciousness. There were no attempts at replicating the kind of architectural education that existed in England, atleast not in the beginning. Later, in the early part of this century when architectural schools were established, the objectives remained vocational in nature and the pedagogy examination oriented. The curriculum attempted to mimic courses conducted in England without transmitting the spirit or milieu which existed in their class rooms. The approach was formulaic in nature and later, when more schools were established, they followed the same formula. However, this education did enable Indian graduates to register with the RIBA so it must have ensured a certain degree of competence and conformity with standards in England. But the educational objectives have not evolved since then and this stagnation is the source of complaint.
The origins of the profession cast it as an engineering discipline. The introduction of new building materials like concrete and iron during the latter part of the nineteenth century consolidated this bias. It still pervades the thinking in architecture and architectural education. Today, for example, the entrance characteristic of all applicants to study architecture is proficiency in science subjects at the high school level and those with a humanities background are not admitted. In fact, in many universities, architecture is offered as one of the options among engineering disciplines. Many accept architecture only when they fail to gain admission to a preferred engineering course.
This bias towards technical education mirrors the hierarchy in the Public Works Department of the Government, the largest employer of architects, where the hegemony of the engineer in architectural matters is complete, and has continued since it was instituted a 150 years ago. Architects in Government service have remained low-level functionaries in the decision-making hierarchy. Even during the latter part of the nineteenth century, when British architects began to distinguish themselves from their engineering colleagues, it was on matters of aesthetics rather than utilitarian issues and their initiatives did not dilute the importance of engineers. Inevitably the impression was created among a frugal clientele (the colonisers were after all a 'nation of shop keepers'!) that architects by and large added to the cost of buildings and were therefore, dispensable, while engineers were indispensable. Such impressions have not changed and has substantially eroded the credibility of the profession in the eyes of the public. Under the circumstances the profession in India has low self-esteem and is unable to offer a better vision for education.
Thinking architecture is restricted to merely pragmatic themes and these get translated as objectives for architectural education. Education is seen as a 'fast track' to practice. And since practice itself is securely aligned to servicing the needs of an uninformed elite, it does not require the student to study theory in a disciplinary sense. For the same reason the teaching of history remains uninspired and reduced to the dry recounting of facts to fulfill the criterion of minimum requirements for accreditation. There are of course exception to this dispiriting litany, but they are few and far between. These circumstances stem from a colonial imperative: the colonised people were not expected to make rules, only follow them. Thus, most Schools are content to follow rules while the accrediting authorities likewise restrict their functioning to ensuring that the rules are followed. The seminal influence of the colonial past therefore, binds most schools in the tight embrace of mediocrity achieved through their strenuous efforts at achieving conformity with the inherited educational content, structure and pedagogic method.
The inherited traditions valorising conformity over independent thinking started with the missionaries who were the primary agents for spreading western education well into the nineteenth century. The British colonial authorities were only marginally involved in the field of education by giving financial support on a small scale to Hindu and Moslem institutions of higher learning. This benign attitude was even formalised by the East India Company Charter Act of 1813. The Government press was established in 1824 and it initiated the printing of books in the classical languages, Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic, thus giving the 'wisdom of India' a wider currency in European centres of learning. It must be noted that behind this policy was genuine respect for India's rich cultural heritage, and from this emerged the academic discipline of Oriental Studies.
Edward Said has written trenchantly on the ontological significance of oriental studies to the development of Orientalism and the subsequent power relationship between the East and the West.1 This relationships established the positional superiority of western scholarship and was based more or less exclusively upon a sovereign western consciousness defining the Oriental world. As Karl Marx put it: 'They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented'.2 These Orientalist representations have now been fully absorbed and assimilated by the colonised people themselves in a complex process of internalization imbibed through the system of education instituted by the colonial government.
The benign attitude towards education did not last long, and the turning point was Thomas Babington Macaulay's (in)famous Minute on Education of 1834.3 It explicitly sought to develop a cadre of westernised Indian assistants to serve in the colonial administration. After the adoption of Macaulay's Minute, all funds appropriated for education were employed to provide an English education, with classes conducted in the English language. Language is therefore, another contentious issue in the educational reform agenda as it has become in the political agenda as well.
The struggle preceding and following Macaulay's Minute was between the so called 'Orientalists' and the 'Anglicists'. Their debate is instructive to us today because it focused on culture, implicitly that of the upper strata: the question was whether the indigenous culture of those strata should be preserved and promoted or whether it should be replaced by a westernized culture.4 It mirrors a similar debate in architectural education today: whether it should focus on the indigenous or international architectural culture. A matter of interest in the debate then and now are the affiliations of the protagonists. A commentator has observed that 'the curious fact is that the Orientalists were almost all Englishmen in the services of the (East India) Company, whereas almost all Indians of repute were Anglicists'.5 Is it then surprising that some of the best research on Indian architecture and urbanism is undertaken in universities in the West, while local centres of learning restrict their educational objectives to serving merely vocational ends. To reverse this situation obviously emerges as another important agenda in architectural education in India. However, the problems are deeply rooted and difficult to uproot.
The colonial government succeeded immeasurably in creating a westernized elite even as they subsequently lost the empire. To many among this elite, modernisation and westernisation have become virtually synonymous terms, and this correspondence between the two permeates educational ideology. Breaking this relationship emerges as yet another important agenda in the reform of architectural education: the reformists talk of an 'Indian' variety of modernisation.
In brief, the significant issues in architectural education relate to and derive from the profession's antecedents in the colonial past. A profession rooted in the European cultural mainstream was transplanted by the colonial government to replace an existing tradition. This jump-start succeeded in spreading western ideology but has not eradicated the old order which continued its own evolutionary path between the interstices of modern development. Therefore, today, one is confronted with two diametrically opposed options of architectural representation, each compelling in their ability to provide viable architecture.6
A concerned educationist examining these alternatives will have to reconsider the significance of the inherited educational curriculum to the duality in the cultural circumstances prevailing in society. In conceptual terms the palette of educational policy options ranges from advocating revolutionary change, to taking a position of almost Luddite-like opposition to change, from advocating a shift in focus towards 'state-of-the-art' systems and technologies and 'catch-up' with the West, to encouraging traditional values and technologies and many permutations and combinations in-between. In this sense the characteristics of heterogeneity and multiplicity discussed in the West and in India marketedly differ: in the west they refer to differences within a dominant cultural meta-narrative, while in India they refer to opportunities of pursueing systemically different architecture. Thus, on the one hand it would appear that the issues in architectural education in India are not too dissimilar to those existing in the West, but on the other, it is also true that there exists unique constraints and opportunities in the Indian context which offer quite different challenges. On the whole, however, few acknowledge the existence of this debate and the reasons are not difficult to fathom.
First, the entrenched legacy of Orientalism and the debilitating process valorising conformity militates against reform. Initiatives seeking reform, such as they are, tend to be in the nature of palliatives. Many have ready answers, but few seek to understand the problems, certainly not the regulatory authorities.
Second, teaching is widely considered an apology to the more desirable option to practice. This mind-set does not attract the best talent to teaching and therefore education itself becomes debased. The bureaucrat formulating policy has a dog-in-the-manger attitude towards allowing teachers a supplementary professional practice. Here again the guiding principle in formulating policy becomes the colonial imperative and intent to curb the potential misuse of license.
Third, is the problem of numbers. At the time of Independence (1947) there were just 2 Schools, and by 1991 there were 45, but by 1996 the numbers increased to 96. These Schools will produce about 3000-5000 architects every year, while conservative estimates show that the country will need atleast 10, 000 architects a year.7 Consequently there is tremendous pressure to open more Schools, but where are the teachers to staff these Schools? And, where is the vision to translate these numbers into education polic(y)ies? These realities numb the imagination of policy-makers who, ostrich-like, carry on with business-as-usual.
What is to be done? For one, there cannot be a common policy for the entire country. The conditions are too diverse and in addition they are undergoing tremendous structural changes and population shifts. For another, whatever polic(y)ies emerge, they will have to address three broad areas of concern: first, issues relating to sustainability in both the ecological and human systems under conditions of initial poverty and scarcity of resources; second, the issue of conservation of the built and natural heritage both of which are degrading at an alarming rate; and third, the issue of how to deal with emerging technologies and their implications for architectural design and education. The last will determine whether the emerging technologies will force change or will they respond to cultural change. These issues, in whole or part, are being addressed by a few Schools in the finest traditions of reflexive thinking in the area of architectural education. There is need to build on these initiatives, both in India and abroad.
Not doing so will only invite other agencies to step in and determe the agenda for us. Recently I received a letter from an Indian ex-patriate, working in a large North American architectural consultancy firm with extensive practices in China and South-East Asia, initiating dialogue to establish business in India. His proposal offered access to sophisticated high-tech architectural and engineering services for developing 'mega-building projects' in India. His initial survey, he wrote, had revealed that there were no 'typically high-rise, steel frame and glass shell/envelope' buildings in India. He further observed: 'I did not see a single building over 20 stories when I visited Delhi and Bombay in April 1997. I did not see cranes at construction sites. Chains of manual laborers appear to be doing the work that is done by construction machinery in the US. Cities like Bombay (where land prices are higher than downtown Chicago) need high rise buildings ..... There is therefore a potential for creating self-contained satellite mini-cities near old cities.... There has to be a highway system connecting the old and new cities and to the airport. This has to be worked out with politicians and law enforcement agencies since one of the problems will be control over access to such areas. You cannot have slums being set up next to such buildings. I think foreign investors will expect this..... Modern high-rise, high-tech buildings need specialized and trained people.... (so his firm) must get involved in developing trained personnel in all aspects of design, construction and operation.' He proposed to establish offices in India and affiliate local commercial/industrial conglomerates and educational institutions (that is where I came in) who are 'familiar with Indian conditions to deal with corruption and bureaucracy...... obtain guarantees and assurances from Central and State Governments in India to protect Indian and foreign investments. Assurances are required to prevent slums on the property and to prevent access to and misuse of the complex. For example, there may have to be admission charges to shopping malls to prevent homeless people from living or squatting on the premises'.
I quote extensively from this communication to present its authentic flavour and to convey the business logic that guides its vision for a 'new India'. Such global forces converging on the country are obviously driven by the lack of opportunities in their home economies and not any real need in India. The congruence between their intent and those that fueled the East India Company's excursions into India almost 300 years ago are too obvious to ignore. These contemporary initiatives on the part of western nations introduce new dimensions to the problems facing architectural education in India. Positions that local people take on such issues are divided. While some have reasons to be wary, others welcome them for equally good reasons and in any event there will always be a strong internal desire to access the goods and services offered by the global conglomerates: this is inevitable in a webbed-world. It is too late to militate against international exchange whatever one's reasons, because in the late twentieth century we are all acutely aware of the dangers of isolationist policies. Under the circumstances Paul Ricouer's 'universal civilization' appears to be an inevitable eventuality even as we strive to protect national cultures.8
Now, the problem with Ricouer's thesis is that it puts the pressure to resist the universalization of culture on the victims of universal civilization. This is typically the logic perpetrated on the Third World by the West, and I think that it is time that we began thinking differently. What is necessary instead, is to work together towards a mutually empowering agenda for architectural education for the Third millennium, one that would encourage plurality while simultaneously avoid the possibility of introducing neo-colonialism as a model for exchange of ideas. Other educators in the West have also explored this concept,9 but I present here a view from the bottom-up, as it were.
Colonialism from my point of view is not a thing of the past, but an ever present reality. Gun-boat diplomacy may be a thing of the past (although in this unipolar world even that proposition may require reconsideration) but equally unrelenting forces of co-option are at work in the globalising market place of the webbed-world. These forces of dominations and subordination emanate from and are perpetuated by educational institutions, both East and West. We must begin to see the connection between knowledge and politics by conceiving architectural education as 'willed human work - not mere unconditioned ratiocination'.10 Is it possible to develop a new educational paradigm for the Third Millennium by applying the imperatives of 'willed human work'?
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I believe that clues to developing such a new paradigm for architectural education can be found in other discipline, in particular the Women's movement and the Environmental movement, for example. Both movements have formed alliances at the international, national and local levels without losing sight of specific realities of domination. Both movements have radically altered the way the world is viewed, and I believe for the better, in general and in the particular. I also believe that it is possible, and becoming increasingly necessary, to conduct discussions on architectural education with a vision similar to those that guided the Women's and Environmental movements in the recent past.
Architecture in the West, at least since the advent of modernism, has focused on the avante garde. The pursuit of the avante garde dovetails with the imperatives of consumerism, first within the boundaries of a local market, and later spreads to dictate conditions in the global market. Teaching architecture in a world of growing 'permissiveness and speed'11 forces teachers to retreat in a laissez-faire acceptance of conditions as they are. Few question its implications either for themselves or for others, or the pernicious proclivity to cast the West in the universal mode; few in the West need to. This must be resisted both from within and without. To begin with one can learn lessons from the experience of the Third World, currently at the periphery of the Western field of vision. The periphery needs to be brought into focus in the manner Kenneth Franpton has attempted while formulating his concept of critical Regionalism.12
What can the West learn from the Third World? For one, how to deal with deprivation and scarcity. The resources of this planet are finite and if the Third World were to emulate the First as it is being suggested by multi-national business interests, the consequences would be disastrous. It is better by far, that the best practices in the Third World become more universalised, not only in other parts of the Third World as it is being suggested by International agencies, but in the First World as well. For another, some of the finest cultural resources of the world exist in the Third World as living traditions. The First World has lost much of theirs through industrialization and wars and a similar prospect confronts the Third World. Again some of the finest examples of conservation-oriented development practices exists in the Third Word: one has only to see the documentation and research produced by the Aga Khan Foundation to appreciate the strength in this proposition. Suffice it to say that equitable exchange and genuine dialogue is possible and can become a constructive agenda for architectural education in the Third Millennium.
In this paper I have attempted to focus on issues confronting architectural education in India. I have no doubt that similar issues confront other countries in the Third World. As I have pointed out these issues have relevance outside India, and the Third World, and should be of concern in the global context represented in this Forum. In commending it to the wider global audience I have drawn upon and dilated personal experiences, as one who has had foundational training in western universities, particularly during the tumultous period of 1968, and subsequently in India, pursuing a self-reflexive teaching and consultancy career for the last thirty years, through an equally tumultous period of cultural adjustments due to increasing economic and cultural gobalisation. But my personal history is not the point: it has only given me a ringside view of developments taking place at both locations and foregrounded the politics implicit in their respective educational agendas. Through this paper, I wish to share my insights on this subject.
A few years ago, drawing upon the ideas generated at an international symposium of architectural educators in February 1994 held at the University of Portsmonth, School of Architecture, United Kingdom, Martin Pearce and Maggie Toy suggested that a useful model for contemporary architecture and architectural education was provided by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari when they aborted the tap root ideology in favour of the shifting layers and boundless interconnectivities of the rhizome.13 I have another suggestion, another 'biological dialectical model': the banyan tree. Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome provide insights to understand what is (in the western cultural milieu), but the banyan tree (coincidentally, a tree associated with learning in India), offers a model for what could be, a vision for the Third Millennium. The banyan tree (Ficus indica) spreads and drops aerial roots which form additional trunks. This process enables the tree to spread outwards to an indefinite extent. A great banyan tree in the botanical garden of Calcutta, is known to have originated in 1782 and has 464 trunks. The original central trunk died many years ago. Its circumference is 283 meters (938 feet). The model of the banyan tree loses the definition of both the tap root ideology and the rhizome which represents the development of a single, master narrative, but gains the contingent possibility of several narratives simultaneously sustaining the growth of the tree in a mutually supportive manner.
In the process of running a School in India in the time of globalisation and trying to forge links with other Schools in the West on equitable, mutually beneficial terms, I have witnessed with growing concern the increasing gulf between institutions in the two locations. This gulf is beginning to strain the possibility and credibility of conducting a dialogue between the East and the West. If this gulf is not addressed as an important concern at places like this Forum, it will widen further in a manner that is becoming evident in the larger arena of social and economic development, and will result in two architectural cultures, separate and unequal. Let us therefore, examine the model of the banyan tree.
- 1. Edward W. Said, Orientalism, Vintage Books, New York, 1979.
- 2. Ibid. Quote preceding the Introduction, p l xii.
- 3. G.H.R.Tillotson, The Traditions of Indian Architecture, Continuity, Controversy and Change since 1850, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1989 pp 29-33.
- 4. Gunnar Myrdal, Asian Drama, An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations, Pantheon, New York, 1968, Chapter 31, pp 1621-1650
- 5. G Ramanathan, Educational Planning and National Integration, Asia publishing House, London, 1965, p 21.
- 6. At the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi, where I teach, we have embarked on our ambitious project to critically analyse the architecture produced in Delhi during the last fifty years with a view to phenomenologically construct a theory of the regional architecture. We are able to place all the buildings on a so called 'Representational Axis' connecting 'Canonical' principles at one end and 'Contextual' responses at the other. By and large the canonical principles are from the Western canon (International Style, Post-modernism) and the contextual responses are references to indigenous architecture).
- 7. J.R. Bhalla, Challenges of the 21st Century, in the journal Architecture + Design, New Delhi, Vol. xv, No1, Jan-Feb 1998, pp87-90.
- 8. Paul Ricouer, Universal History and Truth, in Universal Civilization and National Cultures, North western University Press, Evanston, II., 1961, pp 271-84.
- 9. Necdet Teymur, Architectural Education, Issues in Educational Practice and Policy,? uestion Press, London, 1992, pp 39-48. Teymur coins the neologism 'Glocal' to encompass the concepts of 'Global' and 'local' as an alternative to the dichotomies between or reductions of the two concepts.
- 10. Edward W. Said, op cit., p 15.
- 11. Pierre von Meiss, Design in a World of Permissiveness and Speed in Martin Pearce and Maggie Toy, Editors, Educating Architects, Academy Editions, London, 1995, p 110-115.
- 12. Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992
- 13. Martin Pearce and Magie Toy, Editors, Op.cit p7-9