Bridging the gap: Profession and academics in architecture

By: Sudipto Chakraborty

Picture: Aayojan School of Architecture, Jaipur

The first task is to define and clarify the major elements of this discussion. This short space can only consider the very general sense of all the items like academy, education and solution. Exceptions, excellence and variations are not covered here. Only the broad general scene.

True there is a gaping gap between the profession and the academy in architecture, but I feel that there are two wider and more dangerous gaps – between our actual academic scene and what it should have been, and also between our actual practice scene and what it should have been. We have to first take care of these two gaps and then we should take up the final gap between the profession and the academy. In other words, I mean to say that we need to first revamp both our education and practice, and then try to define the real gap between the two and try to discern the actual need to bridge the actual gap. Let us try to perceive the issues now.

The gap between the profession and the academy is not fully unhealthy – it has some natural, unavoidable and even desirable differences. They should work as complementary to each other.

The academy, ideally, should have two clear goals – 1) preparing students for doing respectable justice to the profession and 2) seeking and suggesting improvements, turnarounds and new horizons for the profession. Currently, the academy in general fumbles even at the first goal, of course, due to various reasons, and does not even think of achieving the second goal. The word ‘school’ in the names of architectural institutes actually means ‘a distinct school of high thought and pioneering philosophy’, which, imbibed in their students, should ultimately guide and mould the profession. I do not think this idea is clear to all in the academy, and the word ‘school’ is operating today at its lower meaning. And the academy is sort of vague regarding the focus and goal of teaching.

We need to shake off smallness from our education and keep things very simple, we just need to teach well globally at stage one. At this stage architecture is a complex skill, combining and synthesizing routine know-how, special skills and a dose of genius. In fact, the final design product, like fine art, cannot be taught at all. But still, there are art colleges, they teach the methods, materials, and techniques, they provide the history, awareness, and exposure, and they transmit the basic skill part. This part is the same for architecture education. But architecture has, in addition, to learn a lot of engineering, information, technology, psychology and sociology. We need to just teach these things well, in a balanced manner. There is a big gap here, presently we are not teaching well. Then for stage two, we need to remember that even after all the changes the world has undergone, teaching remains a very special vocation; it is not a mere profession. Just like architecture itself. Teachers have to be special. And the entire system must help them to be special. Only then the academy will be able to play its real role – the pathfinder’s role, the role of a guardian even to the profession.

The profession is in a very complex position which might need a book to explain. Apparently, it is free to do architecture and people do so, but in fact, it has neither the time nor the understanding, intention or full freedom to mould the minds of the consumerist clients to gradually go for a green version of architecture. I mean really green and not the gimmick green. Each practitioner of architecture should ideally ‘sabotage’ their projects, in the good sense of it, to reduce wastage and introduce sense. Instead, the general scenario is one of ‘immediate service’, ‘style’, ‘fashion’ and ‘competition’ as the predominant features of contemporary architecture. There is a sense of rush. One notable thing is that the government, the generally blamed creature, is showing some really good intentions and undertaking some genuinely wise measures to spread the message of green architecture. The profession, hinted by the inaction of clients, has so far shown a general lethargy to get geared up. It has no time or wish to research. The professionals in architecture are not writing enough, not speaking enough and not thinking enough either. They are busy with the trend and struggle.

Having said all this, the existing actual gap between the practice and the academy is that, the academy is not simulating the practice environment and not manufacturing ‘fully finished plug-and-play products’ for the profession, and the profession is negligent and oblivious to the academic potential of help and enrichment.

The academy should involve more and more professionals to interact in the studio, get feedback about their students and get advice about the need for syllabus synchronization and teaching stress. The academy must also strive very hard to keep ahead in information, theory and philosophy, so much so as to be able to advise the profession. At the same time, the profession should regularly invite and involve academicians both in their live projects and also to simply learn about the ‘new schools of thought’ and ‘latest developments and ideas’. The national or local bodies of architects and architecture students can do a lot in this respect. Regular interaction is both necessary and possible.

Research, not necessarily individual doctoral research on some superfine subjects to acquire personal qualification, but real and meaningful joint research for the better and better architectural product is the common point where the academy and the profession must collaborate. The initiative and the fund should come from the state.

About the Author:

Sudipto ChakrabortyArchitect Sudipto Chakraborty graduated from Bengal Engineering College Shibpore,  worked rigorously in the private sector, currently part of the design team at CMPDI, a PSU. Sudipto has also written various articles about the architecture profession and education which are published in many magazines. He has also a teaching experience as a visiting professor.

5 Responses

  1. In India, the statutory regulation of the architectural profession has been started recently in comparison with medical, legal and accounting professions; and therefore there is great confusion in the entire Indian society about it. During the foreign rule of the Mughals and the British, the original Indian system of controlling the architectural practices was discarded and over a period of ten centuries of their rule it has been completely obliterated, yet some references about it are available; but there are very few persons who can say something on the topic authoritatively.

    During the course of my independent practice of thirty seven years as an architect since 1971, I had opportunities to meet and discuss this topic with many eminent architects. I realized that almost everybody has formed some wrongful impressions about the “architectural profession” which is sought to be regulated by bringing in an Act of Parliament. I am sorry to say, but unfortunately it a fact that we architects are not taught the legal aspect of the professional activity and none of them seem to have tried to study and interpret the correct meaning of intent and the provisions of the Architects Act, 1972. In my opinion this has led to the present chaotic situation in the profession.

    “Architecture” is a universal subject like “Literature”. Languages and customs might be different, but the principles and aims are similar. Architecture is mainly the subject dealing with the design and construction of every three-dimentional object of utility, may be pertaining to the living spaces and the utility articles for various daily use.

    “Literature” deals with the expression of mental images or communication of thoughts by using languages and its scripts as the medium of expression. Each such language and its script have three main dividions; the art, the science and the technology, which together make it a complete subject.

    “Architectural Profession” is an independent subject that deals with the methods of conducting the activities related to communicating advice in the matter of design and construction of any three dimensional object of utility to person/s who need and desire to seek such advice.

    Prior to 1972, architects were undertaking to prepare “building drawings” as per the requirements of the building bye-laws of the municipal/local authorities, on the strength of a trade licence issued by them. Unfortunately, all architects treated that activity to be their “professional” activity. Even after forty years of existance of the Architects Act, architects at the helm of affairs of the Indian Institute of Architects and also the Council of Architecture have failed to properly define the words “architecture” and the “architectural profession.”

    In the year 1997, at the request of the past President of the Council of Architecture, I had submitted a background paper for suggesting certain amendments to the Architects Act, giving therein my thinking for the suggested definition to be included in Section 2 of the Architects Act; but the Council of Architecture is yet to decide and finalise my proposal for amendments. For the benefit of the readers, I reproduce below some excerpts from the paper :-

    “Definition of certain words and the justification thereof:

    If we consider the larger perspective, we find that we live in a group of people called ‘Society’. Everyone, living in the society, earns one’s livelihood by doing something for another individual and receiving from him something in return, either in the form of articles or money of equivalent value, which is assessed by both the parties before entering into the transaction. When one person extends physical help to another person, the activity is said to be the ‘work’ or ‘service’ and the person doing such work is called the ‘worker’ or ‘servant’. When one works for another person, using his skills, he is called a ‘skilled worker’ and his activity is called a ‘vocation’. When a person makes available to another person some article, either by producing or bringing it from a distant place, the activity is called ‘trade’ or ‘business’. But when a person makes available his knowledge and experience in some subject, to another person, so as to enable him to arrive at the proper and appropriate decision, the activity is called ‘profession’.

    It is possible in the case of ‘service’, ‘vocation’ and ‘business’ or ‘trade’, to assess fairly accurate quantity and also the quality of the work required to be done or the articles, which would be made available, before entering into the transaction. It is possible to return certain articles because it is possible to put them back into the store and make them available to another person. The Parliament of India has brought into force many Acts, such as Weights and Measures Act, Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Workmen’s Compensation Act, etc., for the protection of general public and for the proper and fair resolution of disputes arising out of such transactions.

    In case of a profession, what is transacted is only an idea, a mental image, of which it would not be possible in all such transactions to assess the quantity and also the quality of that which is going to be transferred before entering into such transaction. Because of this peculiarity of the professional activity, we normally tend to approach a person for advice in whom we have trust and only when we believe that the person approached possesses the requisite qualifications and is also trustworthy.

    The only course open, therefore, to the Parliament is as follows:

    Identify the appropriate qualifications;
    Prepare the list of those amongst them who desire to undertake the professional activity in the particular field;
    Prescribe the manner in which such professional activity is to be conducted; and
    Create a body to ensure that every person borne on such list adheres to the code of conducting the professional activity.

    This is the basic scheme of Acts brought into force for regulating different professions.

    Architecture – Summing up the definitions given in various English dictionaries, architecture is historically accepted as the subject pertaining to design and planning of constructions for creating spaces with different materials for performing certain specific functions. It has two main sub-divisions, namely: –

    Civil Architecture which relates to the construction works for creating amenities for the public and for performing the private functions and includes town planning, construction works pertaining to civic amenities and all types of buildings necessary for performing specific private and public functions.

    Military Architecture, which relates to creation of facilities for military activities for attack and defense of a city or a State and includes fortifications, bunkers and such other necessary structures.

    Engineering – is that part of the execution process of construction works where machinery is mainly employed.

    Civil Engineering – relates to forming of roads, bridges and railroads, the formation of canals, aqueducts, harbours, drainage of a country etc;

    Military Engineering – that branch which relates to the construction and maintenance of fortifications, and the surveying of a country for the various operations of war;

    Mechnical Engineering – refers strictly to machinery, such as steam engines, machine tools, millwork, etc.;

    The subject of architecture is similar to literature. Writing of a drama, poems or essays, expressing a thought, is the creative part and the language and its grammar is the technical part. First comes the idea, then you opt for a language and then you follow the rules of its grammar. What is finally produced is a literary product.

    In architecture you first decide the shape of spaces for performing certain function, which is the creative part; then you opt for a material considered to be suitable for constructing the shape and then adopt the technology of moulding and placing in position the material. What comes then into existence is an architectural product and not an engineering product.”

    I hope these statements are enough to start a meaningful discussion. Let us arrive at some acceptable definition and start correcting the future course of imparting the academic and professional training to future young generation of architects.

    Manohar Ranade

    1. hello sir im an aspiring student of architecture. i will be joining college in few months. sir i wanted to ask if its advisable to do some internship along with my 5 yr course? and i wanted to know difference between b.planning n b.arch?

      1. Medha, architecture, as I understood, is the main subject similar to literature. In the subject of literature and we find different methods of expression of thoughts. It has two branches one, prose and the other poetry.The ‘prose’ part includes drama, novels, short stories, memoirs, travelogue etc and the poetry contains poems and similar short forms of words put rhythmically. Similarly, in architecture there are two main parts. One, being the expression of form of the objects of utility and the other, for artistic expression, such as statues etc In literature, the languages are like the materials of construction in architecture. The grammar of a language is like science & technology of a building material in architecture. In both the subjects, what is appreciated is the idea; but it is invisible and has to be perceived. The perceptions vary from person to person. The designing and planning are parts of the activities undertaken for expression of thought.

        We find now-a-days, urban design, city planning, building planning, interior design etc being described and projected as if each of it is an independent subject; and that creates confusion, but the choice of course is your!!!

        Manohar Ranade

  2. These are the beginnings of an important dialogue. Bridging the gap with more professionals involving themselves in academic research which feeds their practice along with teaching is important. It also ensures that we don’t plunge headlong into the whirlpool of commercial practice where deadlines force our hands into cut-paste architecture.

    1. Sudipto Ghosh, it seems you are slightly off the track by adding “academic research” to the list of topics!!! Let us restrict this discussion to find the solution to bridge the gap between the “education in architecture” as imparted in architectural colleges and institutions and the day-to-day practice adopted by architects in the field!!!

      In my opinion, the present chaotic situation in the profession is because of mismatch between the requirements of the professional activities and the topics taken-up in colleges. Present-day architects are totally ignorant of the legal aspect of professions. They are not well-equipped to interpret and follow law related to physical development or say the construction activities. There are not made fit to act as the authorized professionals in the field of construction. We need to discuss and recast the syllabus.

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