(An article exploring the intrusion into the practice of this profession in India by professionals, foreign and otherwise, not registered to practice in the country.)
By Ar. Dwaipayan Chakravarty, Architect and Urban Designer, Pune
Recently, a July 16 article published in a premier Indian newspaper brought to the fore an issue that has been discussed within the architectural fraternity for some years now – the issue of foreign architects practising freely in India; welcomed with red carpets and bouquets. Economic liberalisation and the motions of globalisation brought about a deep impact on the design industry in general. Architecture, being directly influenced by such societal expectations, changed dramatically. Cities were awash with large floor slab commercial (IT) buildings that tried to ape the West, with glass, steel, heavy air-conditioning and the visual vocabulary of buildings many oceans away. It was a kneejerk reaction to the demands of multinational companies, willing to invest millions into Indian campuses.
Our governments have allowed them to grace our soil while making it exceedingly difficult for their Indian parallels to flourish. In a grounded subject like Architectural design, where the very basis is founded on principles of local land dynamics, legislations, climate, materials, design philosophies, cultural impacts and its people, the gushing priority to have an ‘international touch’, a ‘global branding’, overwhelmed all else. More and more projects were being conceptualised by international architects of varying repute, with Indians working for them, to ensure their localised viability. A rebirth of design colonialisation.
The High Court has upheld the sanctity of our architectural profession, in a bid to protect our own professional and development interests. There is a need to definitely open the grounds for foreign architects in our globalised reality, in a regulated manner, but give equal if not better opportunities to our own, to flourish.
Ar. K. Jaisim, a senior, reputed and flourishing Architect from Bangalore, has been in the thick of all these discussions for many months now. His article brings his free thoughts to the issue.
Jaisim has enjoyed the practice of architecture for over four decades now. His early years in the field were inspired by greats such as Buckminster Fuller, Koenigsberger and Geoffrey Bawa. And in the sixties, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead gave his aspirations a whole new meaning. He started Jaisim Fountainhead in 1970. Since then he has created and recreated innumerable homes, institutions and commercial enterprises. He has written over 150 papers and articles, made about 1500 presentations, served on several boards and councils, and interacted with students of architecture all over India. His iconoclastic views and individualistic endeavours are the hallmarks of his creativity. Today, he still continues to pursue the adventures of the built environment, searching and researching beyond the boundaries of time and space.
An Action Plan:
For the last few years, an awakening is happening in the awareness of the professionals practising architecture to the nature of an intrusion threatening their very lively hood.
We were a very lazy and content lot. Few schools of architecture and the practice as such were closely held mostly in the hands of a few well-entrenched firms, who had metamorphosed from erstwhile colonial firms into so-called Indian partnerships or professional practices. The few Indian exceptions were firms that had a family lineage and couldn’t care less.
Come liberalization and rapid economic growth along with new schools of architecture established and being established all over the country, the scenario changed.
New schools, fresh thoughts, new challenges and an environment conducive to a new genre of exploration and experimentation opened up. People and Corporate started looking for new ideas of expression. They were impatient and immature and were just returning from their ventures overseas. They had pastured in alien lands and had cultivated foreign habits. They returned to the homeland that had suddenly opened up and these returnees were mostly management gurus.
Instant Coffee and Hamburgers were their diets, although they hungered for Poha and Dosa. Similarly, their environment was all western glass and air-conditioned malls, suited for temperate climate and culture. Although our ethos demanded a complex and relevant solution, we the architects of India did not have instant solutions andmodes of business presentation that were hyped commercial salesmanship.
I am all for good if not great architecture. I admire great works of the past, the present and the visionary projects of the future from anywhere on Earth, but CUT and PASTE and deformed and shrunken foreign examples sold to wide-eyed Indian business and political bigwigs is a sad affair. Anything labelled ‘FOREN’ is sold. And especially if you had a three-piece-suited-from-abroad-business approach, it sold even better.
I can understand if we did not possess the expertise or know-how or even if there was a mutual pact between countries so that there can be a cross-border exchange of ideas and practices that can nurture greater growth. But one-sided affairs, and only when they are convenient to the other party must be abhorred.
Today, India stands amongst the emerging economies offering great potential for the built environment. And we also have the internal vigour, imagination and strength of innovation to take up these challenges. If we want any specific expertise then we can always call upon it, this by CHOICE, not by invasion.
There are mainly four professions protected by the CONSTITUTION. They are the Legal, the Accounts, the Medical and the Architects. The other three have learnt their lessons, and have strong rules and guidelines to preserve, protect and learn. Unfortunately, ours is the only profession in spite of constitutional protection, who do not know how to preserve our practice.
Yes, competition is good for healthy growth, but it must be healthy competition. The playing field must be fair to all. The rules of a sport cannot be changed in the middle of a game.
AGAIN, if one were to speak from the depths of architecture. It is obvious COMPETITIONS do not make objective sense. They are subject to the jury which presides and its ability to appraise or bias a selection. Design is not a competitive profession. The other big factor governing selection is the fee structure, again a very sad affair.
Accountants, Advocates and Doctors are chosen by their ability to deliver. Why not Architects also by the same measure?
This brings to perspective the profession and its intricacies. It is in the manner of speaking- still very young and complex. And they say it is one of the oldest professions!
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