Prem Chandavarkar

Changing Demographics of the Architectural Profession in India | Prem Chandavarkar

Prem Chandavarkar shares his views on evolving demographics within the architecture community of India and what it means for the two regulatory bodies- the Council of Architecture and the Indian Institute of Architects. 
Prem Chandavarkar

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This article was originally published on Prem Chandavarkar’s blog: Musings on Architecture & Urbanism

The architectural profession in India is represented by two organisations: The Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) and The Council of Architecture (CoA). Each has a different role, and therefore a different constituency to which it must focus.

IIA is the forum where members of the profession can gather and exchange ideas and represent the profession to the public. Therefore, the organisation exists to promote the profession of architecture, and the constituency it focuses on is the fraternity of architects. IIA is the older of the two organisations and celebrated its centenary in 2017.

The interests of the profession should be served by a professional forum constituted by its members, and the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) is the sole national forum that currently fits this bill. IIA has failed to perform this role with consistent and high rigour.

Prem Chandavarkar in Whither the Council of Architecture?

CoA, on the other hand, is a statutory regulator. It is the more recent organisation, brought into being by The Architects Act of 1972. It defines and protects the qualifying standard by which one is legally entitled to call oneself an architect so that the public knows what is claimed by those who represent themselves as holders of this professional qualification. It also regulates architectural education as the primary pathway that leads to the professional qualification of being an architect. Regulatory standards are established to serve the public, and therefore, CoA’s constituency is the public rather than the fraternity of architects.

The purpose of this analysis is to look at some changes in the demographics of the architectural profession, and the impact it would have upon both these organisations. I focus here on two demographic factors that are changing the composition of how the profession is constituted in India: age and gender.

AGE

At the time when the Architects Act 1972 came into being, there were less than 20 colleges of architecture across the country. Most of the architects who registered were those who had already received their qualifications in the profession, and many had been practising for several years. Therefore, the age demographic of that time constituted the profession as one made up of mature adults rather than young adults.

This is changing very rapidly. The total number of registered architects is 1,22,971 (according to COA’s website). There are currently 406 recognised colleges of architecture in India, as per the CoA website. Colleges typically start with a sanctioned input admission of 30-40 students per year, but many go on to receive approval for higher figures, with some receiving sanctions for up to 120 students per year. If one assumes that on average there are 35-40 students graduating from each college, that means that about 14,000 to 17,000 young architects are entering the workforce every year. Even if many of those do not continue to practice architecture, the age demographic will rapidly transform the profession into one dominated by young architects.

Some of this has already happened. The CoA website does give some statistics on age-wise breakups.  These statistics are older, for they list the total number of registered architects as 93,117, whereas the current total is higher. But even at this lower total, 85.4% of the registered architects are of or below the age of 45. This percentage is poised to rise rapidly in the years to come.

The major impact of this change will be felt by IIA. IIA membership is voluntary, and currently constitutes roughly one-fourth of the total number of registered architects – so it is already in a minority where its claim of representing the profession could be challenged. Further, peruse the attendees at any IIA event restricted to IIA members, and you would be hard-pressed to find architects below the age of 45. 

When I have asked younger architects why they do not join IIA, they respond that they do not see any benefit from doing so. They perceive IIA as an old boys’ club that has little relevance to their concerns. At one time IIA could afford to function as an old boy’s club, as that was the demographic of the profession. But as demographics of age rapidly and inevitably change, unless it reforms to attract young members, IIA’s minority status will take on alarming proportions.

To win younger members, IIA must first earn their trust. To do this, it must undertake radical measures such as transforming into a dynamic learning organisation looking to the future, rather than one that preserves the status quo; creating a library of quality learning resources, including publications; providing an opportunity, particularly on social media, where young (and old) architects can express their concerns and interact with each other; and creating a website with contemporary design, with a structure that will provide an online location for the forums and exchanges that will energise the profession. It must eschew the arrogance of assuming that IIA leadership or senior membership can offer guidance to the younger generation on how to live and work. Times have changed to the extent that the younger generation does not wish to see the world through the lens of the older generation.  IIA must evolve into a vibrant and inclusive forum where the exchange of ideas offers a path to the future.

If IIA moves further into minority status, this could have an impact on CoA as well. Currently, as stipulated by the Architects Act 1972, the constitution of the Council incorporates representation from the profession by admitting “Five architects possessing recognized qualifications elected by the Indian Institute of Architects from among its members”. 

This legal framing made sense in 1972, as at that time it was inconceivable that there could be any other professional forum for architects other than IIA. However, there is no legal foundation that allows IIA to claim monopoly status as the only forum that can represent the profession. All it needs is a few energetic leaders from the young to create a new forum that appeals to young architects, and the membership of the new forum can overnight exceed IIA membership by two to three times or more. The new forum could then legally challenge this language from the Architects Act cited above, and through court orders force a reconstitution of how CoA draws representation from the profession.

GENDER

CoA displays on its website a breakup by gender of registered architects. Here too, the statistics are old: although they claim to be updated on the same date as the statistics on age-wise breakup (as of June 16, 2023), the total of registered architects is different, indicating a number of 1,22,970, whereas the age-wise analysis yields a total of 93,117. Leaving this discrepancy aside, the statistics show that in 2023 about 52.62% were male and 47.38% female. While this still shows male domination, it is likely that if this was measured in 1972, it would have shown close to 80% male domination. Representation of women in the profession is clearly on the rise. This is likely to rise further, for most colleges report a majority female enrolment, with women constituting about 55% to 60% of total enrolment. Many of these women do not continue to practice architecture, so there is likely to be a mismatch between the percentage of women architects graduating from college versus those in practice five to ten years after graduation. While a female-dominated demographic is still some time away, it can no longer be dismissed as an unlikely prospect. The fact is that the changing demographic is going to pose a challenge to the status quo where the profession is viewed only from a male perspective.

This is part of the challenge IIA faces in claiming continued relevance: it must not only represent the concerns of young architects; it should respond to those of young female architects.

This means taking on a set of difficult challenges such as the glass ceiling that prevents women from rising to senior positions in architectural firms; social biases where clients do not place female partners in architectural firms at the same level as their male counterparts; support networks that help women achieve work-life balance, recognising that the challenges women face are far more imposing than those that men face; outreach programmes that educate the public on the need to place women professionals at the same level as their male counterparts; and gender biases in design, where urban design and architecture propose typologies with an ingrained male bias.

The profession should also move with the times by recognising that gender cannot be viewed with the simplistic binary lens that has categorised it so far. Gender, expression, sexual orientation, and identity cannot be collapsed into singular definitions, and each of them occupies a spectrum that covers the whole range between binary opposites. The Government of India now recognises trans-gender identity, and while there has been critique that this recognition does not go far enough, one should recognise that the architectural profession is yet to explicitly recognise how the world has evolved. This means covering a range of issues from advocacy in creating professional workplaces that are friendly to LGBTQIA and female constituencies to evolving design guidelines for gender-neutral toilet design and other related factors that need to be considered in the design of the built environment.

The gender issue also has legal implications, and CoA as the statutory regulator must take these implications into mind. 

A primary issue is that of sexual harassment, an issue that the profession has been silent on, and silence from senior members of the profession makes them complicit in the problem.

Here there is established law that must be followed: The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act) 2013. This act does not just stipulate measures that redress problems of sexual harassment: it also stipulates proactive measures that firms must take to create a conducive climate that facilitates recognition and redressal of problems of sexual harassment. This includes setting up an Internal Complaints Committee that will sensitively tackle these problems, sensitisation of partners and employees on the issue, and legal demands of conformance the firm must enforce with clients and all other persons and entities the firm deals with. To conform to this act, it is not sufficient that the partners of architectural firms refrain from sexual harassment: the failure to implement these proactive measures is also a crime.

CoA, as a statutory regulator determining who is entitled to call themselves an architect, is entitled to enforce a code of ethics. Gross violation of this code constitutes grounds for disbarment. This code requires reform so that it specifically addresses gender issues: recognition of the law on sexual harassment, as well as the prohibition of discrimination based on gender.

In conclusion, the demographics of the architectural profession in India are exhibiting structural changes that will demand jettisoning the habitual lenses with which we have viewed the situation thus far. Both IIA and CoA will fail in their mandate if they do not urgently and seriously take these changes into account.


IIA is the oldest National Body of Architects in India. The Institute is now gearing up for its upcoming election for the 2023-2025 tenure; a section of IIA members have raised concerns regarding the lack of transparency and unfair process of e-voting. To understand the manifestos of the contesting candidates, ArchitectureLive! also reached out to the three Presidential candidates; read Lalichan Zacharias’s interview here.

12 Responses

  1. IIA elections में president post के एक उम्मीदवार ने जानकारी दी है कि IIA के पिछले चुनाव में सिर्फ 4500 Architects ने मतदान किया.
    CoA द्वारा लगभग डेढ़ लाख Architects का पंजीकरण किया जा चुका है.
    मात्र 4500 आर्किटेक्ट ने IIA के चुनाव में पिछली बार हिस्सा लिया.
    मात्र 3 प्रतिशत!
    97% Architects ने दूरी बनाने का फैसला इस लिए किया क्योंकि IIA की जो प्राथमिकताएं हैं उन पर Architects को न भरोसा है न ही Architects के सरोकारों का इन की गतिविधियों में समावेश किया जाता है.
    #architecture
    #coa
    #iia
    #nakshe
    #IIAelections

  2. एक भावी प्रेसीडेंट का पूरा इंटरव्यू हमने पढ़ा. इनके लिये सरकारी विभागों में Architects की नियुक्ति, municipalities द्वारा Architects का harassment, Architects से EMD की मांग और इस तरह के मामले कोई मुद्दे ही नहीं हैं. 29 देशों में Exit exam होते हैं तो ये भी करवाना चाहते हैं. आप जैसे सीनियर Architects को हर बार Registration से पहले “evaluate” करना चाहते हैं. आईपीएल क्रिकेट मैच को अपनी उपलब्धियों में शामिल करते हैं.
    इनकी सोच और vision हमें विचलित ही नहीं विस्मित भी करता है.

  3. As long as IIA projects itself as an organisation based on politics, north south divide and a bunch of senior architects who stay on chairs even after thier term is over as immediate past presidents xyz is a deterrent for thinking architects.. yes it’s true there are no benefits of this club and it’s not a monopoly. When else do we hear about IIA except for at events…. And there areany event management companies hosting talk shows and exhibition better than IIA.
    De politicise iIA
    Get some standard architects at the group reps, not some people from practises that one would consider as absolute mediocrity, trying to preach and guide.

  4. Simple question is how many good and accomplished architects are there or have been there at the helm of affairs of either IIA or COA… when young generation searches by their names for a good building designed by them… they get disappointed… so for them COA is only to get their licenses renewed and IIA if they are interested in happy hours sponsored by latest building materials suppliers in the market…

    1. World over in the professional institutes you will not find well known architects getting involved.

    2. Sir , it’s a fact.
      One of the reason as Ar Suresh patel says, most of the well known would not like to put their works on public platforms, may be to avoid criticism, /are not completely satisfied with their own work, / as business secret etc
      Research shall bedone by academic faculties and professional bodies. It shall, documented, exhibitiedmade available to students to evaluate and learn from it
      Let me share an experience
      We few faculties teaching subject sustainability
      In SPAV , We searched a building designed by Ar Bhimesh of Vishakha patnam, 10 years back in Vijaywada, with us Ar Bhimesh joined along with 60 students, the experiment he did with exposed bricks, in peak summer the owners were so happy that they never used celing fans, etc No documentation done except as students case study
      I feel proper documentation by institution and local AIIA chapters can be great in put to learners
      NEW POLICY OF CETRAL GOVT JUST ANNOUNCED FOR RESEARCH MAY IN FUTURE BENIFITS LEARNERS

  5. The most important issue is of payscales Just as the central government and the other state governments have payscales fixed on the basis of qualifications, age, experience etc. there should also be scales minimum/maximum for architects employed in the private and government sector based on entry level examination, experience, age, etc.which should be looked into by COA/GOVERNMENTS/IIA ETC. Presently everything is based on the market and availability of professionals etc.

  6. First and foremost is to change the way the website looks and functions. For this I think young architects can hop in.

  7. I find this website to be a unique platform that accurately reflects the challenges faced by architects. It provides valuable insights not covered in our institutions, and as a young architect, I am impressed by the author’s dedication to highlighting the realities and issues affecting young professionals, including those related to IIA and COA. I extend my gratitude to the author for shedding light on these matters.

  8. Well written I must say.

    COA has its work area as per constitutional mandate and contributed greatly to the research and norms for improvement in education and professional practice.

    Every profession has its own challenges. And architecture is tough.
    A. It is still unable to defend exclusivity of architects as practitioners in built up design. B. By virtue of complexity of coordinated drawing production, professional practice is time consuming and tiring. The drawings production for detailing can be endless while fees is limited.

    Most of the architects struggle to achieve work life balance. There are three types. One, some, the professionally busy architects, take up most of the important projects, and are super busy. They are those who are able to get projects, manage plenty many teams and also deliver work properly. Two, most of the other architects do not have enough work. Three, the young architects who are professionally challenged by low fee scale and competition from jhola practices by non architects. And consequently all of these do not have time to actively steer the association in the required desired direction. Say the majority. One, two and three.

    So,
    The lack of transparency is an impression from the evolving improving system and absence of majority, say the non participants. Events are curated to engage and activate architects in range of knowledge sharing to sports etc. With elections contests shifting towards agenda campaigns, IIA is shifting towards a better version. JIIA and other works by IIA have made quality benchmarks.
    Voices for transparency and other issues and contesting elections, is an example that IIA is democratic.

    Every association has its own challenges. Details of all issues and action needed can be dealt internally in the association. It’s just that it needs more and more active members.

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