Once I asked my barber how they get trained into being barbers. I was not aware of the fact that I was asking about the curriculum and the pedagogy of becoming a barber. He laughed and answered: “My father took me with him when he went to give a shave to the Patels, Rajputs and the Brahmins of the village. I would watch him for a while and then start playing with the children of the family. When I was about seven, he gave me a blunt razor and a small pot that had a red glaze over which he had applied white lime. I had to sharpen the razor and shave off the lime from the surface of the pot without making a single scratch on the red glaze of the pot. He gave me a heavy slap on my face when ever I scratched the glaze and made me perform the ‘shaving’ again. Soon I understood that the pot was the client’s head and the scratch on the glazed surface was the scar on the face of the client…Boy, I learnt fast how to sharpen the razor and how to shave without hurting”… This is a story of how a medieval approach has come to the modern day existence. As students and teachers we no longer see education as system of master and apprentice or a process of training for competence and punishment as a tool for improvement.
A society that is neglectful of its built environment in any of its aspects is writing its own doom’s day. In the modern times, education of architectural profession is one of the aspects that are crucially responsible for the socio-cultural health of a place and a people. The validity and purposefulness of the existing understanding, definitions, norms, rules and updated state of affairs bind the architectural education and the society together while allowing it to pay a close attention to its built environment.
History of architectural education in India is a matter of the British colonial legacy starting from early 20th century and it did not get into a different mode till 1964 when School of Architecture, Ahmedabad started as a vision of Prof. Doshi and his like minded architect friends. Though it is a bit audacious say this, in many ways this was a first effort at breaking out of the mould of the architectural education that had gone on for over half a century. Engineering and the Public Works Department, the P.W.D., another British colonial legacy has dominated the scene of built environment for ages. Architecture as a profession and a study worthy area was and to date is as a matter of last choice of the students at large which is a socially caused enigma for our profession. Engineering, technology, medicine and information technology have remained the socially-preferred choice of professional education in the post- independence era. Exposure and awareness about built environment, humanities and arts and crafts is negligible in the course curricula of the pre-college/high school education through out the country. Training ground or institutions for preparing teachers to teach architecture is a matter that requires a consorted effort. This being the background, in the Indian context, one can ask, where and who are the students, where and who are the teachers and where are the schools that are searching for an answer. So also one can ask where are the role models and the will to forge the scene of architectural education.
In this address I will make an effort to look at architecture and education through the prism of tradition while tacitly making diversions to remain with the modern day stance. At the very onset I must make myself clear about the fact that education does not have an ephemeral value and that it can not be gauged in terms of one kind of course and the other in order to suite the short term goals of a society, rather, it must have an in-built dynamism. I have described the curriculum of my Alma Meter as almost a personal narrative and a case study and have used it for bench-marking other observations.
…An old carpenter once asked me, “What is the first thing one does when one has to build a large hall with many tall wooden columns which are ready to be used?” I gave him some answers but none satisfied him. Then he said “You must take a wedge and place it under each column placed horizontally on the ground and find the spot where the log/column gets balanced. Do you know that the root side of the trunk is heavier than the branch side? After performing this procedure for all the columns, one must place the heavier side on the ground while framing the structure. If you don’t do this there may be tilting problems of top heavy junctions!”...
We in Asia have an inherited the problem of matching “what is it” and “how it is produced” of architecture of our own traditions with the notions/products of the pre and post-colonial, modern and the global phases in which the built environment started changing and has become a matter of many realities based on temporal, geographic, social, climatic, political and economic dimensions/aspects/factors today. The regionalism of Asia of the yester years is at the threshold of yet another jolt of change. The traditional and vernacular and the folk expressions are on one hand becoming an object of curious enquiry and on the other hand, the humanly scaled and vernacularly or colonially juxtaposed urbanity is showing its erratic face under the present day density pressures. The modernism does not seem to have worked for the large majority in the complex and populated Asian context in spite of its noble intentions. At time the inertia of the tradition has not given an opportunity for the modern idiom to flourish or even enter the domain of built environment.
As a matter of tradition, Asia did not have formal, systematic or specialized education in the field of architecture as ‘the profession’ was practiced in Europe and America. Rather it was practiced as a trade and a craft and as a matter of passing down the ‘Knowledge and the tricks of the trade from master craftsman to the apprentice’. Architecture belonged to the sphere of culture rather than a technology-bound knowledge that was free of social stratification. ‘Formal’ and therefore ‘modern’ architectural education is hardly 150 year old in the Asian continent. As Asian architects, our numerical strength is ridiculously low. In my city of four and a half million population there are hardly 3000 architects.
Regional versions such as the Vastu Sashtra, Feng Shui, Mandala, Sutra and such had codified and implicit ways and at times texts. In the most recent times, in the urban areas, these practices have come into fashion/vogue and in the rural areas the vernacular practices continue. Wattle and Daub wall system, composite construction of Thola and Khambh, Himish walls and wooden plate laced wall construction, on one hand may not even figure in the modern architectural education, however, it has been the traditional/local constructional knowledge that has been an answer to many earthquake prone areas of Asia.
One of the finest examples of Mandala manifested as architecture is Borobudur, which can be written down as a prescription and even dimensions could be given and quantities can be arrived at without drawing the plans and sections of the modern day requirement of producing architecture. Typologically definable Hindu temples and lay-outs of cities are found both in China and India. The Asian traditional canonical examples are difficult to explain in terms of the modern practices where the drawings of different types, tenders, contracts insurances and the rigmarole of a hundred other aspects/items would be required. This is true both for the classical and the vernacular architecture of all the enclaves, regions and sub-regions of Asia. Certain Chinese carpentry practices of producing complex wooden architecture through codified measuring or proportioning sticks are continuing to date. The wooden architecture and details of Nepal, Bhutan, Japan, China and Kerala in India are genera by themselves and have little to do with the modern day architectural practice or education system.
Of the yesteryears, the Asian regionalism has been strong and even aloof because of the cultural and linguistic boundaries and limited means of communication, however it looks as though the perceptions and ideas have traveled and the pursuit of visual language have had some concurrences. As a matter of conceptual core there is something that can be termed as Asian Identity. There seems to exist a gamut of concepts and ideas that are Asian in nature especially due to an indistinguishable patina caused by the culture and religiosity. Symmetry for example can be debated at length from the mundane physical to supernatural extent. The superstitious and the banal have been given a place, materiality and form by social acceptance/agreement. The meaning of the word ‘Space’ as we use while accepting its western bearing and the architectural usage, does not have a similar translation in many or any of our Asian languages like the concept of ‘Oku’ would be hard to explain to a non Japanese Asian leave alone a westerner. Antariksh, Avakash and such are the translations given by the students while a Sanskrit scholar calls it ‘Dikkaal’ (direction and time) and another scholar is not satisfied with the translation! The word ‘design’, similarly has different connotation in the Asian mind compared with the clear idea of the word in a Western mind. Rachana is the often given translation for Design which as terminology is more appropriate for literature.
Modern times have come to Asia and have come for the better. Like the expressions of the colonial examples in many of our countries, the ‘modern’ has been an implant rather than a digested reality of built environment for the people of the country. We in India and Indonesia, like many other countries in Asia, share a colonial legacy from where the educational institutions have emerged. In the post-Independence period, a critical review of the architectural educational system has remained rather unattended even though the failures and successes of building modern cities and daring buildings (by foreigners as well as local architects) have been debated. However, the inculcation of modern architectural education in the overall system of Architecture as an art, science, a profession, a pool of knowledge, a practice, a business, and above all as a service to the society makes it a complex field for which the rooted Asian tradition has hardly made a way.
It is useful to know that the schools or colleges of architecture in India are situated within a certain statutory, regulatory and supervisory framework. The Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) is a professional association at national level and serves as a forum for debate without any direct say in the matters of education. The Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA) is a body that recognizes certain schools from once colonized nations all over Asia for the purpose of practice in the United Kingdom after giving professional exam. The Indian Architects Act was passed in 1972 and the Council of Architecture (COA) was formed as the regulatory body of the profession as well as the architectural education. All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) is the larger body that has limited role to play by way of policy level decisions. The Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) which is the funding and controlling body at the state level. The AICTE and the DTE are the bodies concerned with the recognition of schools of architecture and supervision of quality of education. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the Department of Education are the umbrellas at the level of Central Government but their function is at the broad policy level. National Association of Students of Architecture (NASA) is an independent body with an agenda of students’ activities; however, it does not have any direct say in the matters of education.
The curricular matters are subject to approval by the COA which modifies its broad framework after circulating proposals and conducting debates and seminars on the proposed modifications. As compared with our scenario, the curriculum, syllabus, course outline/content, teaching methods, teaching tools, pedagogy, evaluation system, etc. are well defined in the western system of architectural education and constant reviews are a part of the in-built system. In the United States, ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) is one of the most organized bodies of architectural education in the Western world. In Europe the architect is considered to be the ‘first professional’ because the worldview and the information base that is expected of him are much larger than those expected out of other professionals and the fact he carries the responsibility of shaping living environments.
How much of what to teach, what kind of stress to give to which area, etc. depends on what the society expects out of the role of an architect. In this sense there could be ‘bare foot’ architects too! However, on the other hand, historically speaking, architects have also defined what the society should have by way of built environment for a ‘good life’. It is architects that have forged monumentality as pleasurable and wondrous ingredient that is essential for good life.
Thus, the key question is how to embed the concern and the content in the education system. How much to teach, how long to teach, which should be the areas of emphasis, what should be the proportion of design and related subjects to the ‘other’ subjects, what should be the orientation in terms of technology and humanities, etc. are questions that belong to the sphere of curriculum. On the other hand how to teach, how much of practical compared with the theoretical inputs/exercises, how to motivate, how to evaluate, etc. are the issues that pertain to pedagogy or the science of teaching. Thus curriculum is more content based whereas the pedagogy is process based. Multi-contextual understanding of a given society and its high school education help in forming a curriculum. However, creativity, imaginativeness, awareness, sensitivity, humility, competence, etc. are the unwritten goals of any pedagogy.
As for a discussion on curriculum, to begin with, I would like to elucidate the matter by asking a series of questions. Is the teaching of pure arts such as drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture and such necessary within the curriculum of architectural education (Bauhaus model)? A related question would be are these required to be taught for the enhancement of creativity and imaginativeness? What is the role of humanities related subjects? What about subjects such as sociology, anthropology and archeology, Should climatology be taught as a theoretical subject, Should the engineering and technology subjects be as mathematics/calculation oriented as they would be for the training of a civil engineer? Are we ‘training’ the students to become architects or are we teaching them to simply become graduates?
It is not the curriculum but the space it provides the student for learning and broadening their horizons that matter. I believe, for the students, it is not subjects per se or a bunch of them as a curriculum but the connectedness and the flow that give confidence in the learning environment. Distinction between information and knowledge is becoming increasingly crucial in the process of imparting education of the professionals.
Rather than taking a deeper historical view of the architectural education from the colonial period and even the first decades after Independence, I am going to deal with the sixties and the period from which I am familiar with architectural education. This coincides with the inception of the School of Architecture at Ahmedabad and my own education from 1967 to 1974 when the course, of six years duration, was only a diploma that was recognized as equivalent to degree. Even then a research thesis was compulsory. Diploma it was and I had taken 7 years and six months to complete the course! Today, the school of architecture is one of the three undergraduate courses in addition to five graduate ones offered by the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University that has concerned itself with built environment education right from the word go. The school of architecture is the first course with which the center had started in1964.
Core subjects of design and technology had spinal backing of history, humanities as well as arts and crafts. Drawing and painting, ceramics and sculpture were core subjects that were taken in the first half of the course. Climatology was a calculation based course, however there was a sun-table and a solar data book that made fantastic impression on the mind of the student and made the movement of the sun and orientation of buildings click for ever. The drabness of technology subjects such as the structure was due to calculations and mathematical orientation for the ‘arty’ students like me. Building sciences were less boring because they were highly informative. The range of electives like literature, poetry, drama, appreciation of dance, photography and such gave ample choices to the students. Electives were attempted in all seriousness and at times expertise developed, like in my case sculpture, clay modeling and photography almost shifted my attention (!) from mathematically geared technology subjects.
Related Study Program has been one of the most crucial components of the education right from the inception of the school. Construction activity of varying complexity and measured drawing trips were included in this program. One of the measured drawing trips was to the Katmandu Valley in Nepal in the 5th semester of the studies and it has defined the notion/ idea/concept of context as such for me. I owe my zeal for documentation and research to this program. Having turned my previous knowledge of photography into a school wide activity gave me a certain leadership confidence. Between my friend and me, we maintained two darkrooms that were up-to-date and spick and span.
The curriculum since the seventies has not changed substantially, however, the experience shaped better teachers and the school could hire its own product that returned to the city (1981 and ’87) and to the scene of education after further studies or practical experience in the field. Now the course is of five years or ten semesters where the sixth semester is Office Training when the student goes to a personally selected architectural practice in the city or anywhere in India and now the trend is developing for going abroad. The ninth semester’s design studio is based on an individually written program by the student and the tenth semester is the research thesis which usually takes two years on an average.
The curriculum model is almost the same all over the country with minor differences and the course has been of five years duration with the office or practical training shifted one semester here or there. Some schools have tried to shift the practical training even to 9th semester. Option of research thesis has not been very popular in the country, instead; a design thesis is a requirement with a small research component for the design program proposed by the student to be submitted in the tenth semester.
There are problem areas that need to be noted. First of all unlike the European approach of singular and consolidated curriculum, in India there are differences and implementation of new version has started. Unlike Europe the commencing and finishing dates of the semesters are also different. The outdated subjects such as Surveying and Leveling, Classical Western History of Architecture, mathematics, old fashioned solid geometry need removal. Technical Reproduction Drawing, Climatology, Structure, Building Materials and Technology, Professional Practice and such require modification and new approach to teaching while re-evaluating their importance in present times. On site experience is practically absent from all curricula except the site visits for assignment purposes. Humanities and arts and crafts subjects are absent or marginalized in most schools.
Sourcing ‘Google’ information and taking it for granted has brought about certain superficiality to the process of learning. On the same token computer is becoming a misused tool. Among the teachers there are two schools of thought regarding students’ use of computer for design purposes. One advocates a ‘ban’ on the use of it and the other a free use. On this issue, conservatism does exist in the older generation of teachers who are not well versed with the tool; however, the detachment from thinking process while using computers for design remain a matter of fact that has surfaced in many computers helped design presentations.
Flimsy command over written language and inadequacy of English language coming from the pre college education has not been addressed in the curriculum. Lack of reading habit ensues from the same aspect of command over language. Compared to the previous situation, emphasis on dexterity and skills seem to diminish. A gap between family background and forward looking education does cause social alienation and behavioral problems in the student community. Gender considerations, fast changing materials and technology, lack of dedicated and quality teaching staff, inadequate and badly designed learning environments are some of the other areas that need to be looked into.
The students are trained as generalists and there are no issues with this aspect. In fact many of them pursue non professional careers and find something else to do profitably. Those who want to carry on with further studies find it easy to do so. A number of students go for graduation to western universities. It has not been too difficult for them to find jobs in the international market. Generalist education should be dispensed in such a way that the students and teachers would, on their own, find their areas of specialization. General is a matter of optimum and minimally required whereas specialization is a matter of individually focused choice.
Globalization has brought about new challenges that need to be addressed. The American model of Masters in architecture is becoming important but not imperative. As a matter of mechanism, aspect of globalization should be elucidated in the undergraduate courses and the students should be made aware of the future ground reality of changing practices. Competitiveness, broader understanding of new professional role playing and the aspect of liability must be inculcated. In the graduate courses and additional one year courses specifications, tendering, contracts, legal dimensions of practice should be emphasized. In fact, the subject of project management should be added to the present curriculum.
…”Then the carpenter said if you want to know how good the carpenter that you have hired is, ask him to plain a wood block of 2’’X2”. Watch him do it. If he can plain the block well from all the six sides, he is a very good carpenter. If he does not show any clumsiness while doing this, he is an excellent carpenter”…
Pedagogy is the core matter to any education because it is here that the action takes place. The student and the teacher get simultaneously engaged in the business of learning. I am of the opinion that as teachers, from time to time we must ask weather or not we are learning along with the students. It is interesting that in most of the Indian languages there is no direct verb for ‘teaching’, rather, the verb is constructed from ‘learning’. This brings about a philosophical distinction to the academics and education. In ‘Heuristic’ method of learning the stress is on finding and therefore taking ownership of what is found, possessing it as precious moment in learning process. Heurism automatically suggests the use of tools, techniques and exercises that would serve to discover. A sense of adventure that is associated with a process of discovery need to be capitalized by both the students and the teachers in the architectural learning. It is then that the exercises will not be repeated year after year and every time the learning may become a new journey of the individual, both teacher and the taught.
At the end of such a discussion, we will have to ask a few questions again. What is more important, a curriculum or teaching method? What are the mechanisms of keeping teachers motivated and encouraged? How important is the architectural quality of learning environment? And what is more important, catering to the globalizing world or the local and regional world through which the education is nurtured?
…”while counting from one to ten; a child would always forget number four. We reminded her of ‘the four’ many times but she would invariably skip number four. Even the teachers complained that she neither writes nor counts ‘four’. Once, in a relaxed moment when she was engrossed and enjoying some game, I brought up the question of the missing ‘four’. Without looking up she answered “But uncle, what can I do if the Four does not want me to learn Him?”
I humbly submit that my views are not the final ones and your situation, here in Indonesia must have its own debates and solution. I thank you for the patience with which you have listened to me. I am particularly thankful of Bandung Institute of Technology and to Professor Himasari Hanan for the opportunity.