Bunker Roy of Tilonia wishes to return the Aga Khan Award for Architecture awarded to Tilonia's 'Barefoot Architects' ('illiterate farmers') in December 2001. Mr Roy seems pained by the inclusion of architect Neehar Raina, who graduated from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi in 1984, in the Foundation's award citation in mid June 2002. This inclusion was made after architect Romi Khosla visited Tilonia in May 2002 to verify on behalf of the Foundation Mr Raina's role in the architectural design of the campus, rainwater harvesting structures and housing for which the award had been given to Tilonia. Mr Roy's 'protest' centres on three 'issues'. One, Mr Raina is only the 'designer' of the buildings and not 'architect', the architects are local people. Two, Mr Raina really learned (architecture?) from wise village elders, women, etc. Three, efforts of 'ordinary people' are not recognised the way they should be.
Before proceeding to 'analyse' Mr Roy's perceptions and those of others, a brief account of events post-Award (as I am unaware of events before it). At the end of February 2002 Mr Raina came to know that a project he had 'designed' and supervised soon after he graduated had been honoured with his profession's best-known award three months earlier. He got in touch with the Aga Khan Foundation, with Indian architects associated with the Foundation, including Raj Rewal who was associated with the current award cycle, with the Council of Architecture and with several professional colleagues. He had his drawings as well as old photographs of the campus that clearly showed that he had played what is widely understood to be the role of the professional architect in the project. In April Nistula Hebar of The Week visited Tilonia and after speaking with local people, including 'barefoot architects' and seeing the campus, etc, ran a report that, with photographs, confirmed the role of Mr Raina as a (conventional?) architect in the project. In the beginning of May, as a speaker at a platform hosted by the SPA-Alumni and the journal Architecture+Design, I mentioned the matter as a case of marginalisation of professionals by para-professionals or non-professionals. All forums of the architectural fraternity, fitting the description of what another speaker called "trustees of the profession" were represented, including (besides the hosts) the Indian Institute of Architects, the Directors, etc of the several schools of architecture in Delhi and even Mr Rewal, who was chief guest. Just afterwards, Mr Khosla contacted Mr Raina and, after a meeting with him in Delhi and a look at his drawings and photographs, went with him to Tilonia. The two also met Mr Roy, who 'offered' Mr Raina a place among his 'barefoot architects' in the award, which Mr Raina declined. After some 'negotiation' a phrasing (making a distinction between 'designer' and 'architect') for a modification of the citation was agreed. In June the Foundation changed the award citation on its web-site as per the agreed phrasing. At the end of June Mr Raina also received from the Foundation a framed certificate honouring his role in more conventional terms. On 1 July 2001 Indian Express carried a front-page story with a picture of Mr Raina with the certificate. It had Mr Roy saying he was just the 'designer' and not the 'architect' and PR Mehta, President of the Council of Architecture (which had not engaged on the matter at all so far) saying 'all is forgiven' now that the Foundation had 'revised its credit'. On 4 July 2002 Hindu had a report saying Mr Roy was returning the award. Later in the day Mr Roy had issued a release to PTI. By evening STAR News had aired a report, with Mr Roy and others from his NGO saying they felt insulted by the change in the citation, that the change really said it was not possible for traditional architects to do such a campus without the help of a 'paper architect', etc. It had Mr Raina showing his drawings and photographs as evidence of his role in the project.
Also a brief clarification of my position. I am a planner who only happens to be a qualified architect (complete with gold medal from SPA). I have never professed architecture, am not registered with the CoA, not a member of IIA and, frankly, there is no love lost between the architectural fraternity and me. I do occasionally get invited by them to lecture in their colleges or speak at their platforms or write for their journals, but I suspect that is mostly to provide amusement with my forthright remarks. Although I am a contemporary of Mr Raina we were not friends in college and were not in touch thereafter. I do, however, have a fairly strong position against what I call 'the death of the professional', a phenomenon of my professional generation that is reducing professionals to ghosts, privileged only to haunt. I do also have an equally strong position against what I call the Elseworth Toohey syndrome affliction affecting so-called professional platforms. It is from these two (anti) positions that I raise two sets of issues with a very conservative linear logic of fundamental questions.
Mr Roy wishes to make, firstly, a distinction between building 'designer' and 'architect'. I wonder what qualifies him to comment on fundamental definitions of another profession in so dramatic a manner. Surely, if it is the fact that his NGO has been honoured with an award for architecture, he must respect the judgement of the Foundation that awarded him, as the converse would mean that he should not have accepted the award in the first place. It also seems extremely 'unsporting' of Mr Roy to carry on insisting that 'blueprints' provided by Mr Raina were changed by 'traditional architects', that this or that component was not designed by him, etc, etc, after a technical review by Mr Khosla on behalf of the Foundation has found otherwise. Secondly, Mr Roy would like the world to believe that schools of architecture produce 'paper architects' far removed from traditional architecture which grows only in fields, nurtured by NGOs like his. While it may indeed be true that many architects do sit in ivory towers without a clue about even reality let alone tradition, it is equally true that equally many don't. There are numerous instances of what Mr Roy calls 'paper architects', including (as is obvious from The Week report) Mr Raina, contributing immensely to processes by which 'traditional architects' figure out ways to adapt traditional ways to not so traditional applications (such as barefoot architecture campuses). There are even more numerous instances, as Mr Roy with his long innings in the NGO sector is surely aware, of NGOs 'forcing' their positions on the people they claim to represent (without quite being elected or selected to do so). That brings us to Mr Roy's third issue, that of ordinary people being 'left out'. Being myself a professional who quit lucrative consultancy work five years ago to provide professional consultancy exclusively to citizens groups of the kind NGOs work with minus the funding that NGOs need to work with them, I can comment on this issue with rare confidence. I would like to make just two points for now. One, I am completely convinced that the un-empowered India is no longer found under the wings of NGOs. That Mr Roy's 'barefoot architects' were honoured by the Aga Khan is only because they were already in a class apart from their numerous counterparts whom NGOs have not reached, very likely because there is, thus far, no direct funding for grooming the unpeople of India for architectural awards. Two, there is no reason whatsoever for anyone ' even if allegedly representing those normally 'left out' ' to gain honour at the cost of someone else. I am unable to think of any plausible ethical explanation for why Mr Roy did not include Mr Raina's name in the list of those who had contributed to the winning project or process or whatever. While architecture without architects is possible, to wish away an architect ' and to later continue to stoutly deny his contribution ' only to be 'prove' that it is, well, dishonest. If Mr Roy was really and truly bothered about everyone getting the honour due to them, not only would he have extended his philosophy to Mr Raina, he would have asked the Aga Khan to reconfigure all past awards to include in their citations all those who had contributed to the 'design' and 'architecture' of winning projects. But obviously Mr Roy's attempt to redefine the architectural profession and its ethic is entirely lacking in a vision beyond his award, which he seems threatened to share with an 'equal'. Perhaps that explains why he decided to so dramatically fuss only after Indian Express carried a front-page story on Mr Raina.
Now, the second set of issues that I wish to raise. As mentioned, since the beginning of May all professional platforms of architects ("trustees of the profession"?) in Delhi are aware of this 'controversy'. The Council of Architecture is aware of it longer. But Mr Raina has been 'fighting' a long and lonely battle to defend professional space. Even after he received his certificate and sent out a mail to a largish group of architects, hardly anyone got back even to congratulate. After the Express story, in which Mr Mehta generously 'forgave' after having failed to engage and, hence, perhaps not realising what he was forgiving, I sent out a mail to another largish group of architects, including Mr Raina's numbers and e-mail in case anyone wanted to congratulate him. (I had asked everyone to comment on Mr Roy's and Mr Mehta's remarks. I had also asked if I should throw away my degree and medal, refuse to provide lecture inputs in design studios and ask construction workers among my clients to start calling themselves architects in view of the emergent re-definition of the architectural profession). Again, hardly anyone responded. For nearly a week now a miniscule group of people have been trying to arrange for one of Delhi's platforms of architects to have a small get together and a press conference for Mr Raina ' after all an Aga Khan awardee in Delhi ' to no avail. Today, after Mr Roy's story in The Hindu, we thought an urgent response from the profession was in order. I speak only for myself in saying that the unprofessional things with which our so-called professional platforms keep themselves busy, while they never surprise me, also never cease to disgust me. I quote only one supremely stupid response (almost matching the forgiveness of Mr Mehta) from one of 'those in charge'. The gentleman actually said (thankfully not to me) that he had asked Mr Raina to become a member but he hadn't so he ought not to be asking for 'help' now! While each such episode makes me prouder to have quit architecture, the dominant thought in my mind right now is whether the petty politics of patronage and favours and whatnot that dominates professional platforms leave room for the profession to respond to Mr Roy.
A very small number of us have decided to make some room 5th July, 3 PM at School of Planning and Architecture, Architecture Building, Canteen