The profession of architects is very difficult to define but a broad definition could be expressed as follows. Architecture combines the skills of a technologist, an artist and a social psychologist. Although the qualities demanded are so varied, present training concentrates around aspects like aesthetics, functions and elementary building technology. All through training and later, during professional practice, the architect is fond of talking about the variety of clients, client-architect relationship, client’s choices, client’s satisfaction, etc. No architect tells the truth but the fact remains that architects are terrible ageists and rarely design in accordance with the demands of the job in totality. Any soul searching on our part reveals this gap between precept and practice.
Common observation shows that architects and doctors are very conscious of their professions. Let us compare their role in society with that of other professionals and find the points of vulnerability. Any neglect by food processors or drug manufacturing concerns can affect the life of thousands. Politicians can destroy the morale of an entire society. Educationists train hundreds of youngsters year after year who are the makers of future society. An army general could, perhaps, decide the destiny of the nation. Doctors are essential for a healthy and thriving society. Compared to this, we are designers of buildings and however badly they may be designed, people get accustomed to them and keep living in them for generations. Any comparison of roles does not justify the importance which society attaches to architects.
What we exactly imply by our role as professionals would provide endless discussion. However, there would be no difference of opinion on the fact that we have definite responsibilities to society in general. Talking in the Indian context, we architects have hardly contributed to the general good. Whatever contribution has been made can be summed up in the general category of ‘better aesthetics’. This has invariably been the result of foreign stimulation, i.e.,Le Corbusier’s and Louis Kahn’s works in India, and the architectural training directly in the West or indirectly in India under western influence. Beautiful buildings were in demand when there were very few architects and the profession was not recognized by society at large. Then came the period when an architect’s service was considered vital for a good building.
However, there were very few clients then - only the very rich or industries and institutions. It was easy to satisfy them. Recently, in the wake of socialism, the need for building for millions and the shortage of resources, architects with their aesthetic assets are now more vulnerable. They are required to perform the additional role of shrewd economists. Certainly, in the near future they will Architects have failed to recognize the need for this and, subsequently, neglected the necessary modifications required in training. The result has been that no architect of repute is concerned with the many large housing project, the thousands of developmental building units and the common man’s home in different regions which comprise the bulk of building activity. Works of this magnitude pose problems like the optimisation of resources. the maximum exploitation of land, minimum cost, permanency, little maintenance and a very fast rate of construction. These are handled individually or collectively by engineers, bureaucrats and developers We could all sing in chorus about these buildings being ugly, inhuman, impersonal, iniquitous and everything else. That may be so but they reflect the need of our society and, consequently are a commentary on the incapacitated profession of architects which can only be addressed by greater competence on our part.
Whereas the individual client during the fifties and sixties was interested in good looking buildings with adequate facilities, the present day buildings are designed for dummy clients (developers) or faceless clients (community). The demands of the situation are to provide solutions which are not exclusive but general enough and readily multipliable. This is an acute problem in urban areas where the demand is towards imitating westernized solutions and in rural areas where they want to transplant the urban image on their environment.
Against this background, architects have notions of their own regarding the needs of the community. They tend to disregard feedback data and social research in the field to ascertain the success or drawbacks/limitations of their projects. Contempt and a false sense of ego in relation to fellow professionals prevents any constructive criticism to permeate their thinking. Every project has defects which, if unheeded, are repeated by every other architect facing the same problem afresh. The root cause of this lies in the working methods of architects. They tend to be impressed by photographs of buildings in glossy magazines ignoring the concept of function and the demands of each individual situation.
The need for architects to play a constructive role in a developing society hardly requires elaboration. An enlightened architect can contribute a lot in dealing with the multifaceted problems of buildings. The technological aspects of evolving new building materials and innovating new techniques requires the urgent attention of experts. Certainly the architect has to find substitutes for brick, steel and concrete to meet the increasing shortage of basic materials. New methods to exploit the potential of these materials have to be found. Our resources of land, material and money demand new forms and new solutions to problems. The concept of rooms, the dimensions of which vary from ten feet to fifteen of eighteen feet in either direction, has to undergo change. There must be another solution to square or rectangular rooms with definite doors and windows. We cannot bypass the problem by saying the clients want it. Research in terms of sociological implications of building types, applied economics on cost, rent, instalments, land price, etc. is necessary to meet with the demands and aspirations of clients.
Housing is a most vital sector. As a recent estimate shows, a total of 24 million housing units are required to be constructed to provide homes for all. It is a fact that most of us should have to be working with housing projects and service in situational buildings. Whereas we architects visualize each housing project as an exercise in community design the client needs an identity of an independent unit. This may invariably take the shape of a cluster of one-storey buildings or, at the most, two or three storied. It is a challenge to us to devise independent units so that clients can repair, replace, rebuild to suit changing needs and personal tastes in accordance with the over-all economics of land and structure.
Take, for example, the use of high-rise housing in the centre of the city in order to provide high densities. No building has yet been successful because it fails to fulfil the client’s expectations of a house of his own. Why cannot we provide independent units in a multistoried building? Having fulfilled this basic desire, most people will find it easy to adjust to a different living pattern.
Different clients have different problems. Although most of what they demand is easy to visualize, of great importance are their psychological demands which require more serious notice. Building brings about a change in the physical environment for the client. Such a change has to be incorporated with the special demands of human nature. A general remark applicable to all of us is that we are obsessed by beauty function, technology, etc. and we forget that the demands of society are more important than the private vision of architects. Architects have to search for and pose problems based on intensive studies in problem areas. No one attempts this nor does any other organization function to provide the necessary relevant background information. The present problems have to be projected adequately in scale, economy and a time perspective to meet with future demands and problems.