Part One - Architectural Education In India

Any attempt to survey the brief history and the present status of architectural education in India must begin with a recognition that while the activity of architecture has been practiced in India for centuries, education was traditionally the responsibility of master craftsmen and passed along from one generation to another. The evolution of architecture as a profession is a relatively new phenomenon demanding a different educational approach. Learning through apprenticeship and through the modern institution of school are two very different propositions and the difference is often not understood. An apprentice is rarely, if ever, encouraged to question the values that govern the decisions of his master; the school on the other hand has an explicit responsibility to do just that. The problem is compounded by the fact that while the professional attitude is a western import, the pedagogy requires that issues of a distinct cultural identity and the resolution of tension between tradition and modern aspirations be integrally woven into the educational philosophy. Barring a few exceptions, most schools have not come to grips with this problem and the pedagogical structure that arrived here from the West at the advent of the modern college level education has more or less remained. Four streams can be seen in the landscape of architectural education in India.

  • The most prominent being represented by Sir J.J. School of Architecture, Bombay, with the wholesale importation of the English and French pedagogy, which maintained a delicate balance between the Baux Arts formal language on one side and the English preoccupation with the craft of building on the other. This pedagogy continued as long as India was a colony and served the colonial masters well. However, soon after independence, for a society with its own traditional formal language, coupled with a desire to modernize, the classical language of Europe seemed less and less appropriate and was quietly dropped. The other part of this pedagogy, namely the insistence on craft, became identified with technology at first and then degenerated as the worst kind of functionalism in the hands of the PWD bureaucracy. Most of the schools today, especially those, which are part of the state sponsored universities, belong to this category.
  • The IIT Kharagpur was established soon after independence in collaboration with MIT. Architecture was a small part of a larger technical university. The then prime minister Pandit Nehru’s faith in technology to solve India’s problems and propel her into being a modern nation was the basis of the network of IITs. It was in this context that rationality, and rational accountability of architectural decisions emerged as a focus of the Kharagpur pedagogy. Architecture as an order with clearly articulated principles of organization and an ability to distil the formal order in the built environment through abstractions is the strength of this school of thought. Though it must also be noted that this happened at the cost of a deeper understanding of cultural linkages.
  • The School of Architecture at Ahmedabad, together with a few new schools that have emerged during the last decade, has been attempting to relocate architecture in its cultural milieu by seeking a critical balance between the technical and cultural dimensions in architecture. The School broke away from the conventional fixed course structure, which was prevalent at the time and instead adapted a more open curriculum with many elective courses. It also incorporated two important components: a 'related study program' requiring students to measure-draw important historical buildings, and a 'thesis program', which requires that each undergraduate student write a research dissertation on a subject of his/her choice. As far as is known this is the only school with such a program for undergraduate students. With a tentative beginning the school has now built up an impressive collection of theses on a variety of subjects, as well as a portfolio of documentation on Indian architecture. Both these programs have the potential to ensure that students are sensitive to their heritage as well as the emerging directions and are also critical enough not to accept anything without scrutiny, an important obligation of academia.
  • The school at Baroda Kalabhavan began as an extension of Bombay and also initially borrowed its pedagogical model. However, in 1949 it was merged with the newly established Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. The young university had a very vibrant liberal arts and fine arts program actively involved in explorations of modernity in a traditional society.1 And this fact, together with the small size of the university, made it possible for various disciplines to interact with each other. Thus though the architecture faculty maintained the old Kalabhavan conservatism, young students were fired by modernist images and their projects, though tentative in resolution, showed a trait away from ahistorical monumentality. Unfortunately, this energy and inquiry could not be sustained as the Department of Architecture, which was initially part of the Faculty of Fine Arts, was shifted, for purely pragmatic reasons to the Faculty of Technology and Engineering. Successive deans of the larger faculty, who were themselves engineers, failed to understand the unique blend of technology, humanities and aesthetics in architecture and successfully subjected the Department to the utilitarian, problem-solving culture of the technical disciplines with all its attendant problems. The teachers unfortunately, were not able to resist this pressure nor have they been able to infuse a sense of direction and purpose to the School and the school deteriorated mainly due to its inability to define a self-image for itself. Baroda today belongs to that category of the bulk of our schools suffering from an acute lack of identity. It is this crisis of identity, and an inability of most our schools to evolve an “idea”, which may validate a curricular program, that I want to focus on.

Part Two -Identity Crises In The Schools Of Architecture

The two years from 1968 to 1970 were the watershed years for architectural education in the West. The eruption first at the Ecole-des-Baux Arts in Paris followed by those at Harvard and Columbia universities found the students of architecture in the vanguard. As Giancarlo De Carlo has analyzed, the students “Began to realize it was a question not only of organizational structures and teaching methods, but rather of the purpose of their preparation; in broader terms, of their social destination. The objective of their struggle therefore could no longer be simply to substitute new symbols for old symbols and new men for old men. Instead it was a question of finding out the reasons and the ways of being an architect in a world whose symbols and heroes (old and new as well), for a long series of very good reasons, the students had totally refused. The students were in fact concerned about a different way of doing architecture for the building of a different world (we know what world we are talking about, but for clarity's sake we can say; not classiest, not racist, not violent, not repressive, not alienating, not specializing, not unifying)."2

Against this background one views the present state of architectural education in India. There is a restlessness among the students here too, although for a very different, and often diametrically opposite reason. The air of irrelevancy about the School of Architecture is, I believe, only partly due to a general sense of irrelevancy about the entire university education in India. It is also due to what may be called an identity crisis in the School of Architecture. The schools seem to be searching for legitimacy and turning more and more toward the profession to provide certitude. However, while on one hand they are unable to totally shed the facade of academic respectability, on the other hand they are also not able to accept pragmatism as a guiding principle of an architect’s preparation. The result is confusion. Despite the brave front put up by teachers, the faces of the students convey that, in the final analysis; it does not really matter what is said or done in the schools beyond its capacity to confer a degree and let you out of the school legitimately as fast as possible. The real education, they seem to be saying starts only afterwards.

The schools have themselves to blame for this. In their search for certitude they have failed to distinguish between architecture and the profession of architecture. While the former is an idea, free from the circumstantial, the later is an activity, which results in partial manifestations of that idea and is of necessity bound to the circumstantial.

A school of architecture therefore cannot be content simply to meet the currently perceived needs of the profession. While it must continue to provide the basic competencies required for today's practice it has the obligation to look beyond them and engender a culture of criticism conspicuously absent in our country.

A culture of criticism is indispensable to a school in order that our young generation remains conscious of the values that govern our life, and have an opportunity and an intellectual capacity, to be critical of those values. In Western countries, where schools of architecture are often supported by the profession - through donations by alumni for example – it might be natural for the profession to expect from the schools a kind of servicing role. But in India, where the community at large, through state grants, etc., supports schools, the perspective must include objectives that go beyond the operational needs of the profession. If the ageless task of architecture is to provide an appropriate environmental response to a people’s aspirations to better life, then in India, that response will have to take into account the aspirations of the Indian people as a whole, though pluralistic, community. To be able to bridge the gap between the technological considerations and their ethical dimensions schools must seek to equip students with necessary understanding of their own society and the world around them. This is how the crisis in Indian schools is fundamentally different from that faced by their counterparts in the West, as so eloquently observed by De Carlo.

While the schools in India have accepted, unquestioningly, the professional values as academically relevant values and their role to produce young architects who can readily be absorbed into the existing framework of professional practice, they have increasingly come to be recognized as extensions of the offices. Most schools in India nurture syllabi, which are heavily weighted in favour of technical and professional expertise neglecting in the process to develop a learning environment, which can generate a sense of inquiry and expose students to the relationships between architectural decisions and the cultural and ideological predisposition of the decision maker. Such relationship has always existed in history and to understand it is the first prerequisite step toward an understanding of the nature of architectural activity.

But in a competitive profession the values of efficiency, maximization of return for minimum of efforts, ability to extract maximum commercial potential out of a piece of land and to keep the roof from leaking will always take primacy over a thoughtful organization of a society's built environment.

Sill the architects never cease to complain that the new graduates from our schools do not have the necessary technical proficiency to withstand the rigor of professional work. Whether this is true or false is not the issue here. What is interesting to note is that this complaint and the demand for technically proficient graduates may be a symptom of a profession still paranoid about a possible challenge to its legitimacy from the engineer. This stems from a fundamental misconception about the nature of architectural activity which is concerned not only with the design of cities, villages, landscapes and buildings but also with the relationship between cities, villages, landscapes, buildings and the people and societies they serve. Technical proficiency is indeed a prerequisite for practicing architecture but to be complacent by achieving that alone is to confuse the minimum with the maximum.

Within the formal structures we design there exist complex pattern of activities and interactions the exact nature of which we do not yet know. And unless we know and understand these relationships, what we design and what we think we design are going to be two different things.3 There are enough reasons to contend that too often we are prevented from understanding these relationships precisely because of what we think we design.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the sub-structural elements of civilized life, i.e. the web of social, economic and political relationships of a community, are inseparably linked with its superstructure, the physical environment of buildings and landscapes. This linkage is often dialectical in the sense that the superstructure by determining the disposition of activities in space and by erecting symbols of values in space, determine the nature of human relationships involved in these activities. At the same time, the nature of the physical environment is controlled by the existing order of political and economic relationships.

Thus the seemingly technical nature of architectural activity is not value-free and ideologically neutral and the aesthetic criteria, far from being universal and pre-determinable, are culturally variable. A school of architecture will be abdicating its responsibility if, in addition to technical proficiency, it fails to introduce the young architects to the cultural milieu within which he/she has to function and the dialectical relationship between the forces of change and his own technical and aesthetic decisions. This is especially critical in a developing and changing society such as India where the super-structural symbols an architect creates, whether they be detached houses for families, places of work or worships or monuments, will tell about the chosen relationships between Man and Man, Between Man and Society and between Society and Nature.

Part Three. - Towards A New Pedagogy

If we have to address the concerns expressed above, and seek to legitimize architectural education in India, piecemeal, patchwork reforms of organization structures or teaching methods will not do. These will have to be validated in light of a view of the world that makes sense to us and an idea of architecture rooted in the time and the place of its making. To this end, I want to introduce below three notions.

The first one is philosophical in nature and transcends the present focus of our meeting and proposes a general way of thinking. I call this Contingent Criticality. I do not intend to divert our discussion on an elaborate philosophical discourse here but suffice to say that the adjective “contingent” is meant to locate criticality in a contextual space. Criticality in it Cartesian sense, implies an objective and universal position and, together with capitalism, has been one of the foundations of the modernist project which celebrated the autonomous individual with a rationality disengaged from any contextual encumbrances. The universalistic and ahistorical posture of modernism now being increasingly discredited it is necessary that we re-evaluate its underlying assumptions.
The Cartesian heritage, together with the Kantian telos of reason, gave us the notion of the “first Principle”, an immutable something through which everything can be judged but cannot itself be scrutinized. Because reason in its transcendental form is disengaged, it has to be same everywhere, in any culture. Culture, heritage or the material practices of people cannot ever mediate its telos; it is dismissive of culture and context. Criticality then assumes the “Archimedean” posture of being outside and independent of the telos of life itself and be universal. All the theoretical constructs of modern science as well as art are founded of this. Since Renaissance onward, the aesthetic ideal of the West has been to see life steadily and see it whole; as an order rather than as a process, as complete within itself rather than as becoming, evolving, in the making.
That possibility of seeing life as a whole is one of the first casualties of our time not only because of the increasing velocity of history but also because of the realization that there are more than one ways of looking at the world. Seeing life at once steadily and as a whole was plausible enough when the artist and his environment had a stable relationship over time. But when the artist found himself traveling, so to speak, at a thousand miles an hour across a landscape constantly taking new forms and colours, when time changes from an unexamined assumption into an interfering force, it is no longer possible to see life steadily and as a whole. A poet said it well, “The center does not hold”.
The search for techniques expressive of the fragmentation wrought by the increasing acceleration of life characterizes much of modern architecture as it does much of modern painting, music, sculpture and literature. Unfortunately, it accepts as its basis an assumption that, in the words of Peter Eisenman, “disharmony might be part of the cosmology that we live in” and that “the role of art and architecture might just be to remind people that everything is not all right”.4 In other words, in a fragmented world, nothing can be anchored or theoretically grounded and therefore “anything goes” is alright.
I, for one, want to reject this proposition. The Cartesian thought has had a tendency to view the world in terms of stark polarities. Thus the opposite of critical would be uncritical and that of rational would be irrational and equality could only have its negative in inequality; hierarchy as an alternative ordering system was thus equated with inequality and considered less desirable.5 It is this polarity inherent in the Cartesian worldview and the implicit values (positive/negative, desirable/undesirable etc.) that has prevented us from looking at an alternative theoretical framework.
Rejection of the “first principle” does not have to imply a rejection of the rigorous application of logic and reason. The answer lies not in replacing one kind of “first principle” with another kind, as Eisenman’s reference to cosmology seems to suggest. The obstacle I think is far more structural and requires us to locate architecture not in the realm of being (as things) but in the process of becoming. For, if grounded in process, “First Principle” dissolves itself, as does the dichotomy of subject/object. Accepted as such, architecture’s objective shifts from making beautiful buildings alone (though of course that is not to be undervalued) to that of creating situations in which life on this planet can unfold itself. In other words it is a continuously evolving action and as such it is aimed at creating places for people; places that are appropriate to and supportive of their situation; places that respond to human need, stir the imagination and, at their best, dignify human existence; and above all places that inform the discourse about what places are and what they should be.
Thus architecture is a value-loaded activity (as opposed to merely technical or one concerned with being a reaction to client's demands). An architect has the obligation to question what might be appropriate or supportive of the situation and, at the same time, be aware of the implicit values of the society, which might support (or be likely to oppose) a particular design decision.
This action has to be constantly validated and revalidated not by any abstract “first principle” but by the material, intellectual and ethical context within which it is taken. Thus the action is critical to the extent that it is deliberate and willful (as opposed to habitual), but this criticality is also relative and contingent upon its context. We thus arrive at a brief outline of an alternative theoretical framework, which is inclusive enough to justify the immense diversity and multiplicity of life around us and at the same time rigorous enough to guard against the anarchy of the seductive image as well as the dictatorship of the preferred few. It not only encompasses the work of an architect as professional but also the pedagogical considerations of the school, which brings me to the other two notions that I want to introduce.

The second notion I want to introduce brings us within the domain of architecture. I call it Concerned Making. Here the adjective concerned seeks to bring an ethical and moral dimension to the act of making, i.e. of putting together something. By "concerned" we mean that our architects will not only be aware of his/her given situation but also care enough about it to want to change it if needed. In other words we aim to produce not only architects as technician/designer but also architects as citizens.
"Making" involves all the necessary technical competencies and aesthetic sensibilities required for the production of built environment: the art of putting together a building well. However, over the years this has acquired a technological bias and the consideration of quality and the nature of the elements has been forgotten. But technology is also not free of ideological considerations. Making also involves making choices between technologies whose consequences are not always properly evaluated. Thus available technologies must, in all situations, be weighted against their appropriateness in a given situation. The school will seek to equip the students with necessary understanding of their own society and the world around them to be able to bridge the gap between the technological consideration and their ethical and aesthetic dimensions. Thus "Concerned Making".
I believe that nature, in the forms of landscape, climate and her laws of material and construction, is an important partner in the making of architecture. The term "Concerned Making" seeks to foster a reverence both for nature as well as for the fellow beings.

The third idea introduces a method of practicing architecture, which is in tune with both Contingent Criticality and Concerned Making. I call this Reflective Action.
Most professional schools of architecture structure the overall program so that students first learn a set of "the basics" of architecture, the given representational and conceptual tools, the formal and constructional convention and principles of how architecture goes together, what considers "good" design etc. before they are asked to question any thing. It has almost become a conventional wisdom that one must learn the basic language before one expresses anything. The legacy of the Bauhaus remains with all the so-called "Basic Design" components of the pedagogy.
The underlying assumption here is that a person's maturity is skill-based. The acquisition of skill and the ability to handle more and more complex jobs is considered an indication of increased maturity. This has resulted in all our schools starting with the basic tools and then increasing the complexities in later stages with advance years. It is assumed that as the maturity increases so will a person's inclination to question the validity of the tools and the skills he/she has been given.
I question this basic premise. I believe that the methods (tools and skills) of observation and communication limit the phenomena to be observed and communicated. Thus, the tools and skills of design acquired in the early years limit a student's ability to explore the range of possibilities to those accessible by those tools and skill only.
I also believe that maturity is not skill-based. Maturity is a person's ability to come to terms with one's own capacities and limitations. Skills change as the technologies (tools) are changing and will be acquired as needed and appropriate. A school's pedagogy cannot be based on skills, which may become outdated soon. It must be founded on exploration and students' coming to terms with what he/she is doing and why.
At the same time, almost all our high schools, and the family, has taught us to think before doing anything. Thinking through anything prior to doing it has become a second nature. But in architecture the sequential relationship between thinking and doing is often reversed; in fact it is so in all creative disciplines. An architect often explores through a sketch or a model (an action) and then ponders (thinking) about its consequences. Doing precedes thinking.

Our program, at least in the initial semesters, should aspires to start at the point where basic insights are developed by doing design, even ineptly at first, in order to discover for oneself what can be done, what are the potentials of designing inhabited space, to find one's own questions as to what ought to be proposed. In other words, we intend to put the fundamental premise of the Studio, "learning by doing", into practice.

This would mean that we aim to initially challenge the students to explore a number of possibilities, without prior authorization of directions favored by the faculty or by his/her conscious intellect. The judgment as to the suitability of any of these proposals will have to come after, not before, the range and diversity of possibilities they have produced within the limits of a given situation. This certainly is going to result in a lengthy and not unlikely confusing, initial program. But we will have to deal with this.

Most schools start out telling the students what is good, or the right thing to do in the school or in the particular studio in question. We should, on the other hand, begin with "what ought one to do in this situation here - now, that one can support". This will be one of the issues to be understood throughout the process of design exploration in the specific situation, not determined before hand by reference to external norms.

I call this Reflective Action. By this I mean a design action taken in response to a well-considered critical evaluation of its suitability and supportability in a given situation. This is opposed to habitual action or action which may be seen as in vogue at the time.

The above notes should be seen within several contexts:

  1. In the context of contemporary architectural thought. In the search for meaning and inspiration (as distinguished from the production of space as an economic commodity), many of the dictates of Modernism are in disrepute. How do we assert the legitimacy of a design action in the face of rejecting both universalistic and relativistic approaches? We maintain that architecture, as lived experience of specific places, is validated by its full and responsive engagement with its concrete situation. The engagement lies within the "reflection" mentioned above and design actions appropriate within the situation emerge from such reflection.
  2. In the context of contemporary architectural practice. Our view of practice is that each design situation is replete with positions, contentions and contingent prejudices. As reflective action, design explores these situations and seeks to realize their full potential. From each situation, the architect learns how better to approach, and open up the next one. Over time, each architect derives more general principles of action for himself/herself; these in turn will also be examined and modified in light of each new situation. Thus practice is seen not as "applied theory", as absolute constructs applied to each situation, but as continuously evolving action contingent upon reflection on the possibilities inherent in that situation.
  3. In the context of the changing conditions for practice. The conditions in which architecture is produced are changing in important ways the world over and India cannot remain isolated for long. We live in an era that increasingly demands we get the most from the time, energy, and money invested in every project. Even as more is demanded of architects, we are encountering innovations that may open up new possibilities for design and building. There are new materials, energy systems and construction techniques. Computing and information sciences offer new possibilities not only for representing and analyzing buildings and places as well as new forms of architecture but also a new and unpredicted way of looking at the world around us. New management theories provide critical insights into the conditions within which projects are conceived, organized and executed. We seek to understand the role and value of these innovations in making architecture; at the same time, testing these innovations within architecture will inevitably change them.
  4. In the context of contemporary India. India has never been part of the mainstream of the Modern Movement. We were building Lutyens's Delhi at the time Europe was busy defining Modernism. Only after independence that Indian architects started looking for an architectural identity for modern India, with the explicit dilemma of trying to modernize in light of the traditional values which are still held valid and at the same time reinterpreting tradition in light of the aspirations to be modern. This dilemma is even more acute as the old brahminical order is increasingly being challenged and the conventional norms of appropriateness as well as references do not hold. The twin pillars of Concerned Making and Reflective Action are meant to open up possibilities of exploration at the same time to guard against "anything goes".
  5. In the context of Gujarat.6 Gujarat is a trading and commercial state in the westward looking Western part of India. Even though it is a historic area, history has never been allowed to interfere with commerce and enterprise. This has resulted in the unrestrained growth in the recent decades. At best it is a forward-looking state unrestrained by traditions. At worst it a place where anything goes in the name of the new. Like a fool’s paradise, the pragmatism of the commercial culture tends to worship the novelty of the image while the image lasts only so long as it is new.

However, a professional and intellectual class has always existed in the urban pockets of the state and has begun to spread in other areas of the state in the wake of recent economic boom. It is a significant development still the pragmatic ethos remains. An institution based on the pedagogy, which believes that contingent knowledge is of indispensable value, is particularly suited in the cultural milieu of the state.

In conclusion, the elements required for the crucial mix, which will make the School of Architecture relevant again are thus emerging clearer from the above. They range from an abstraction such as the self-image of the school to the concrete curricular changes.

The schools of architecture in India must recognize and acknowledge the difference between Architecture and the Profession of architecture, strange as it may seem but often they do not share the same values and may also be working at cross purposes and harboring conflicting interests. Though it is not necessary to take side (the only side any school can ever take Is that of the pursuit of excellence), it must be recognized that, unlike in many other countries, they are supported by the community at large whose interests, in terms of the quality of built environment, they must safeguard.

The schools of architecture must be interested in a ceaseless and wholesale critique of architecture at all times; a critique aimed not at a realignment of design with the problem of production, not even with the modes of social organization but at an understanding of the architectural act itself. An act of building shelters and monuments in the face of which nature and culture were to be recognized. This act will have to be defined neither in terms of the encounter between an architect and a client, nor in terms of the capacity of a building form to convey certain programmatic purposes (both these definitions are so dear to the profession), but as an act of building initiated by a people's need for shelter, sustained by the logic of construction and impregnated with meaning by the mythology rooted in the land.

The intuitive and creative work done in the studios must be supported with critical thought. This must be done by making ideas that inform architecture more a part of our professional preparation. Study of history not as a sequence of facts, but rather as an experience related to those facts in their development, and theory not as abstract, immutable principle but as structure and interpretation of those historical events as a system of reciprocal relationships where every element, permanent or ephemeral, is in function with every other.

In short, the school must become a place where, for a student, all the morphological and structural conceptions and all the operational tools, which have thus far governed architecture, become open to question. A vast set of alternatives and variables, which the institutional culture and profession has suppressed, come back into play. Only under this condition a student can articulate and develop a clear ideological position and learn to take decisions, which derive their validity from his own, clearly formulated intentions.

  • 1. Prof. Kolhatkar in economics, Prof. Kantak and Suresh Joshi in literature, Prof. I.P. Desai in sociology and Profs. N.S. Bendre and Mani Subramaniam in painting gave the university a unique liberal character.
  • 2. Giancarlo De Carlo. “Legitimizing Architecture”. Forum (Dutch). Vol. XXIII. 1972.
  • 3. An excellent example of this is the recent problems created in Delhi by the Supreme Court’s order to relocate small industries. It shows the poverty of the planning which failed to account for the complex web of life in the city.
  • 4. This was said during a debate between P. Eisenman and C. Alexander at Harvard University in 1983-84. See “Connection”, Harvard journal of that year.
  • 5. See Homo Hierarchicus by Louis Dumont. Chicago Press
  • 6. Each school will have to evolve an understanding of it own regional context. This is indicative, as I am familiar with this region.