The profession of architecture, as we know it today, has been practised for a relatively short time in India. Here we do make a distinction between the architect of today and the classical sthapati who was well-versed in vaastu vidya and astrology. The contemporary professional architect has emerged only in this century and has a markedly different training from the classical sthapati.

The first formal training programme for architects was started in Bombay in the first decade of this century at the JJ School of Art. This was a time when the British rulers of India were consolidating their empire and were engaged in a politically motivated programme of constructing public buildings to house new institutions. Towards this end, building construction was managed mainly by military engineers, assisted by a few British architects who were adventurous enough to forsake the luxuries of Edwardian Britain and travel overseas to work in the heat and dust of India. These gentlemen required the services of architects trained in a tradition which was familiar to Europeans and could draw up the designs of public buildings and structures needed to consolidate the gains of empire.

The empire did not last long, and by the middle of the century, India achieved political independence. At this time there were only two schools of architecture in the country, and a small number of qualified architects practising in the presidency towns of Bombay. Madras and Calcutta, and in the capital city of Delhi. However the scenario changed radically with the building of Chandigarh. As Corbusier’s towering global presence captivated the minds of the nascent architectural community in India, the European architectural ethos got even more firmly entrenched in the sub-continent. At the same time the government of India embarked on a model of centralised economic planning which among other features, gave extraordinary prominence to the Central Public Works Department. The CPWD along with the State PWDs embarked on a major programme of constructing public buildings to house the new institutions of independent India. The PWDs were a carry-over from the colonial administration and were dominated by civil engineers. Architects served as a subordinate profession whose usefulness lay in being able to draw up the ideas of the civil servants and their engineers.

Fortunately some far-sighted architects of the colonial era had got together at the beginning of this century and constituted the Indian Institute of Architects as a voluntary organisation. This institution, started in Bombay, kept growing over the years and gradually including in its rolls of qualified architects from all over the country. The IIA developed as a platform for professional discourse and many eminent architects served as its office bearers. By the 1960s it was clear to most that with the bulk of building projects in the country being entrusted to the CPWD and the State PWDs, it was necessary for the architectural profession to define its own place in the hierarchy of decision makers controlling building activity. There was no doubt that this place was as the lead professional of the team. Architects, in their own right, entered the government sphere of influence through the enactment of the Architects Act in 1972. It is worth noting that the background work and lobbying required to prepare and steer this crucial legislation through parliament was performed by senior members of the architectural profession and coordinated through the offices of the Indian Institute of Architects. The Act stated that it was “to provide for the registration of architects and for matters connected therewith”. Accordingly the Act specified the constitution of a Council of Architecture which would recognise architectural qualifications granted by authorities in India and in foreign countries, and which would prepare and maintain the register of such qualified architects. The Act also empowered the Council to “prescribe the minimum standards of architectural education required for granting recognised qualifications by colleges or institutions in India”. Further the Council was empowered to prescribe “standards of professional conduct and etiquette and a code of ethics for architects”.

In the next two decades the influence of architects grew and a large number of new architecture schools were established throughout the country. Concurrently there was an increase in building activity in the private sector, and a new set of demands emerged for the construction trade. Prominent among these was the demand of housing for the growing middle class, and the need for solving the shelter problems of the poor in urban and rural areas of the country. This new requirement led to the rise of many private builders and real-estate development companies on one hand and on the other a proliferation of non-governmental organisations, working for urban slum dwellers and other economically disadvantages communities in rural areas. The PWDs were patently ill-equipped to deal with these new architectural opportunities and their viability for providing relevant architectural services diminished in overall societal terms.

In the last decade there was a policy shift in government towards integrating with the global capital market. This further reduced the significance of the PWDs and other public sector agencies in the construction field since capital investment sources shifted to the private sector, both nationally and internationally. At the same time public awareness was also changing rapidly with the introduction of satellite TV and the information technology boom world-wide, with India becoming an important player in the global software trade. These new trends have resulted in a kind of design revolution which impinges directly on the architectural profession.

In the light of the current scenario it becomes clear that the Council of Architecture, which is the only statutory body to regulate our profession, has to widen its worldview perspective. The Architects Act. in chapter II section 3(3), lays down the membership of the Council of Architecture. It describes the membership as consisting of:

  1. Five architects elected by the IIA
  2. Two persons nominated by the AICTE
  3. Five elected heads of architecture schools.
  4. The Chief Architects in the Ministries of the Central Government to which the Government business relating to defence and railways has been allotted and the head of the Architectural Organisation in the CPWD, ex-officio.
  5. One person nominated by the Central Government.
  6. One architect from each State nominated by the Government of the State.
  7. Two persons nominated by the Institution of Engineers (India).
  8. One person nominated by the Institution of Surveyors of India.

In this long list, there are only five members sent by the IIA, which is the only body in our country which represents the very extensive architectural profession in practice. The overwhelming majority of members is made up of government architects. This kind of distribution made some sense in 1972, when the bulk of building activity in the country was financed and controlled by the government. Today, with the scenario having undergone a sea change, this preponderance of government architects on the Council’s list of members makes for a potentially regressive situation. It would appear that the Council of Architecture is best suited to extend the heavy hand of a limping public sector on the extremely vibrant public of our country, which is poised to make its distinctive mark on the emerging global scenario. Such a situation will certainly discourage the establishment of the architect as the team leader for the building profession.

What can we do to correct this situation? The primary task would be to work together on bringing about the necessary legislative amendment to make the Council of Architecture volitionally acquire more representative of the profession as a whole. This would allow for appropriate revision of the rules and regulations, especially those relating to the standards of architectural education. In the long run it is the nature and scope of the training we impart to the coming generations which will produce the greatest impact. The new generation is already intellectually tuned to the global net, yet it is simultaneously aware of the rich cultural tradition which is its inheritance. If the profession realises these realities of today and can establish its distinctive identity, there is every possibility that social forces will, on their own, project the architect into a leadership platform.