What is the relevance and role of architecture in the present time? This is in no way a unique question, but the conditions and circumstances in which we ask this question are special and need some diagnostic elaboration as well as critical analysis. At the turn of this century, economic and political fluctuations defined our context, and architecture seemed lost in a state of flux. In such times, we turn to history and ask questions hoping to figure out some answers that will explain, justify or simply clarify our chaotic times. History may answer our questions only if the questions themselves are appropriately framed.
The inaugural conference The State of the Profession is an attempt at making sense of architecture in India today. In what forms and with what methods will we approach the study of architecture in the subcontinent today? There is a need to develop fresh ‘ways of seeing’ when approaching the idea of architecture itself. A necessary corollary may be the development of a framework to understand the role and relevance of the figure of the architect in the contemporary moment.
We invite individuals engaged with architecture as practitioners and thinkers, critics and academics, writers and historians to dwell on some of these issues grouped under the following categories:
State of the Profession: The roles and responsibities of the architect are framed within a professional structure of services s/he is expected to provide; is the architect simply a provider of services to the best of her/his abilities or is there some larger contribution we imagine this figure to deliver? In what way does a professional relate to society, culture, and politics that s/he helps create? Do the professional duties of an architect end with the delivery of a job to her/his client, or is every job part of a larger vision s/he should embody for the progressive development of a society? Where are professional ethics situated — in the processes of production, or in cultural engagement?
State of Education: A few, but good, analyses of architectural education in the subcontinent have clarified the historical contexts within which the education of an architect has been shaped and developed. However, we have failed to understand the larger role that education should play beyond the shaping of a professional with specialised skills. The perception of architectural education within the broader context of higher education in the present-day culture, along with considering the tenacity of a trained architect to act and engage simultaneously with ‘making, doing, and thinking’, is absolutely necessary. How do we envision the space and time of education for an architect?
State of Criticism: For any area of cultural production, for a practice, as well as any profession, reflection on its activities and state of affairs is absolutely important; where does a practice and a discipline rediscover itself besides practice, if not in the laboratory of criticism. Criticism and theory have their own protocols and methods of action and they may be different from the acts of architecture and building or making — this needs to be not only understood but carefully cultivated through forms of research-practice, active-criticism, and education. The job of critical reviewing also needs a mature and discerning body of practitioners who can engage with criticism productively as a discursive space rather than an arena of judgements. As we go through chaotic times, how developed is the art of architecture criticism in South Asia?
State of Institutions: All professional clusters organise/institutionalise themselves into governmental or peer-group structures with the aim to streamline professional behaviour, roles as well as responsibilities. Different institutional bodies emerge out of varying historical demands, conditions, or crises; but how they shape and reshape themselves over time and with changing historical contexts is an important question. How do professional institutions imagine themselves today? And how do architects relate to the professional bodies that represent them? Roles and relationships need an analysis in times when the figure of the architect itself is being drastically redefined and her/his role is in question.
State of Practice: What does the architect do? One could rather ask — what is the architect supposed to do? As economic and cultural scenarios are taking on newer and nuanced avatars, the architect as practitioner, as the maker of buildings, is often in a dilemma regarding her/his role, job, and definition. This is often reflected not only in the range of different projects that may be dealt with in one single architect’s office, but also in the different shapes and sizes that architects’ studios are taking. From corporate setups, to home-run studios, to boutique practices, or international collaborations: architects are playing their roles at mind-bogglingly varying scales. Do we have theoretical frameworks to understand the architect’s job and the organisation and scale of her/his practice?
Rahul Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote, Kaiwan Mehta, Convenors – The State of the Profession