Prem Chandavarkar
Bangalore, 24 December 2003


I am told that writing of the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ incorporates two
pictographs – one that denotes the word ‘danger’ and the other that denotes
the word ‘opportunity’.  In this spirit the recent events that have shaken
up the regulation of architecture in India, which have often been described
as a ‘crisis’, also offer an opportunity for reassessment.  This note seeks
to put forward a few fundamental principles that could be kept in mind
during the debate that ensues.

The profession of architecture needs to regulate two issues – the licensing
of professionals that entitles them to practice, and the regulation of
education.  A principle common to both of these issues is that regulation is
best conducted by peers.  This is preferable for two reasons.  Firstly,
peers are best positioned to understand the complexities and working of the
profession as a discipline of knowledge.  Secondly, the major manner in
which architects assess their success is in perceiving the level of peer
recognition that is achieved.

The need for peer review therefore carries a concomitant requirement that
the peers in charge of regulation should represent a level of achievement
that is commensurable with the highest standard of the profession.  Rather
than being selected for their abilities for administration or political
networking, it should be a requirement that the head of the regulatory
authority should have a prior track record of excellence either through
reputed design practice, or published scholarship.  We need to define in
detail how we will establish and enforce such a benchmark.

Apart from the need for peer review, licensing and education impose
drastically different focus, principles and requirements for regulation.
Therefore, the two are discussed separately below:

1.        Architecture, as a cultural and aesthetic artifact, should not be
regulated from above.  Culture and art evolve in all their richness when
there is no restriction on their operation.  Therefore any regulation
through licensing should make no attempt to impose design standards related
to design, aesthetics or culture.
2.        The purpose of licensing is to set a minimum standard so that the
practicing architect does not impose a danger or disadvantage to the public
in terms of the tangible and explicit issues of safety standards, building
codes and building systems.  In other words, the purpose of licensing is to
set the bar for the ‘lowest common denominator’.
3.        The need to integrate such issues within a design project is the reason
why licensing examinations continue to centre on an examination in design
(even though most colleges have abandoned such a practice).  Other
components of the licensing exam would be tests of knowledge in professional
practice, building systems, and construction procedures involved in
executing projects such as contracts, tenders, etc.
4.        Since the focus of licensing is on practical issues, it should also
ensure that candidates for licensing hold a minimum quantum of practical
experience.  We should abandon the assumption that a person fresh out of
college is worthy to practice.  A candidate should be eligible to take the
licensing examination only after a minimum of three years of experience in a
licensed architect’s office after graduation from college.

1.        The academic institution, since it remains comparatively detached from
the practical exigencies of practice, is the site best positioned to support
cutting edge reformative or stimulating thought on architecture.  Unlike the
regulation of practice, which seeks to establish the lowest common
denominator, the regulation of education should seek to push institutions to
the highest possible standard of discourse on architecture.
2.        A rich cutting edge discourse cannot be enforced through top down
control.  Therefore we should abandon the current template based approach of
check box auditing with a process-based approach that stimulates each
college to push the ‘limits of the box’.
3.        The first change should come through faculty standards.  We unfortunately
assume that in an educational institution the only persons who are coming to
learn are the students.  Academic institutions achieve excellence when the
faculty members are also learners, and the entire college is structured as a
community of learners.  So it should be mandatory that faculty demonstrate
an ongoing commitment to learning.  The ‘publish or perish’ culture that is
adopted by universities all over the world should be adopted here.  We
should insist that every faculty member should publish either a work of
design, theory, history or criticism in a national or international
professional journal at least once every two years.  While it could be
argued that given the editorial standard of journals in India this is not a
very high standard, it is at the least a worthwhile starting point.  Awards
in design or theory competitions could also be accepted in lieu of published
4.        The second change required is in reforming our attitude towards
curriculum.  The debate in India defines this term very loosely, and
mistakenly often identifies it with syllabus.  Curriculum should encapsulate
the philosophy of education that an academic institution adopts, and
consists of three major components – values, pedagogy and content (or
syllabus).  Values relate to how the college views the goals and ethics of
architecture and education; its philosophy on what architecture should set
out to achieve; its ethics of how a community of learners is constituted.
Pedagogy relates to the methods by which the college produces learning; how
it sets up the environment conducive to learning; how it assesses learning.
A committed pedagogy seeks to shift the paradigm of education away from
delivering instruction towards producing learning (and learners).  Content
relates to that core body of knowledge and skills through which the
discipline of architecture can be practiced.
5.        A rich and effective tradition of curriculum in our colleges of
architecture can only be achieved if colleges are given the autonomy to
construct their own vision.  Therefore the process of regulation should
change.  Rather then a predefined template driven process of check box
auditing, regulation should be based on firstly driving the college towards
producing vision on curriculum, and subsequently auditing the college
against the goals it has defined for itself.
6.        The inspection process begins 12 to 18 months in advance of the
inspection event.  At the beginning of the process the college has to put
forward its vision on curriculum in the form of a document that covers all
the aspects of curriculum.  A dialogue begins with the regulatory authority
aimed towards converting this vision into a set of goals that can be
documented and measured.  The final inspection (it goes without saying that
the members of the inspection team should meet a certain standard in
established credentials of scholarship) then seeks to evaluate the
·        The extent to which the college has performed against the goals it has
defined for itself.
·        The extent to which the college has a faculty made up of learners,
reflected in the track record of published work.
·        An evaluation of the work of students of the college in order to certify
that the standard of the work reflects what should occur in a college of
·        An evaluation of the facilities the college has to ensure that it is in a
position to conduct the course, with particular emphasis directed towards
studios, libraries, computer labs, and workshops.
7.        The regulatory process should drive a culture where colleges can compete
with each other in terms of their vision and the extent to which they are
able to achieve that vision.  It should aim towards pushing towards the
highest possible standard, and not think solely in terms of ensuring the
lowest common denominator.

1.        From the entirely different focus required to regulate education and
architecture, it is best if the two are conducted by different
organizations.  The Council of Architecture is probably best positioned to
regulate licensing.  It is best that we have a National Architectural
Education Accreditation Board that is solely focused on education.  If for
legal or logistical reasons, this cannot be separated from the CoA, then it
should be an autonomous wing with its own head who is qualified for the
2.        It may be argued that these principles are idealistic (and therefore
naïve).  But I would argue that if it is excellence we seek (and if we are
willing to accept mediocrity, then the whole situation is different) then we
have to keep principles in focus.  Principles should drive pragmatics, not
the other way round.