In 1917, a group of alumni from the oldest school of Architecture in India, Sir JJ School of Art, came together to establish what was to become the country’s first National Body for Architects. The Indian Institute of Architects was established on May 12th, 1917, 55 years before the establishment of the Council of Architecture, as “Architectural Students Association”, later christened “Bombay Architectural Association” in 1922, and eventually becoming the “Indian Institute of Architects (IIA)” in 1929.
Today, IIA is one of the only National-level Association of Architects in India, the other being the Council of Architecture, with the principal role in regulating the profession of architecture and education in India. However, despite its 106 years old legacy, the voluntary body remains under-utilized, often cited as an invisible entity for the non-members.
Expanding its membership and encouraging architects to join IIA has been the focus of the 27,000-member-strong organization for a long time. Leading with the objectives for the future of IIA, groups of IIA members, helmed by Presidential candidates- Dilip Deshmukh, Lalichan Zacharias and Vilas Avachat, are contesting the upcoming IIA election for the organization’s National Council.
Architecture Live! reached out to all the presidential candidates to understand their vision for the future of IIA and the profession. As architects Dilip Deshmukh and Lalichan Zacharias responded to our request for the interview, we started with the latter- who promptly shared the team’s manifesto and agreed to this interaction.
You have been active in the IIA for many years- how has your association been with the Institute over the years? What motivated you to contest for the President’s post for IIA?
IIA is dealing with a lot of challenges. Going through the past 100-plus years of IIA, it is clear that the first is membership. If we look at the number of architects registered with the Council of Architecture (CoA)- a mandatory registration to practice as an architect- it is close to 1 lakh 50 thousand. Compared to this number, IIA has only about 27,000 members.
People question the benefits of becoming an IIA member. For the last few years, we have been trying to attract more members by providing benefits and incentives to the architects with membership in IIA.
I joined IIA as a member in 1987, after which I became a chapter Chairman. I went to the National Committee in 1994 as a committee member and, in 2011, became one of the 10 National Council elected members from across the country. Over the years, during my association with the IIA, I have been a part of several initiatives- such as introducing the inter-chapter cricket tournament, IIA Premier League (IIAPL).
I became the Secretary in 2015. It was under this tenure that we changed the submission format for the National Award for Excellence in Architecture by introducing online submissions. We got 540 entries that year, compared to the average of 100. We introduced IIA-CAD to cater to the problems faced by our members of being audited by multinational companies for using pirated software. The customized CAD software started attracting more members to IIA. I was also the editor for our National Journal for the last term, which we revamped and is now considered one of the best design magazines.
In the past few years, IIA has been very active in organizing programs such as the National Convention, Young Architects Festival, and regional conventions. During this time, we have seen a significant jump in registrations- from nearly 20,000 members to a community of 27,000.
I think having agendas like these to take it forward will make IIA the most powerful body of architects in our country.
This is the background of my contest and why I want to take such things forward.
The Manifesto of ‘The Way Forward’- the team helmed by Lalichan, focuses on Financial Sustainability, Administration and Outreach, Collaboration with Chapters and Centres, Professional and International Collaboration, Member-centric experience, Academic strategy and Publication. What are the top three priorities that “The Way Forward” is focusing on for this election?
The first is to address the finances. Instead of bringing in companies or sponsors to organize just one program, we plan on introducing a pattern wherein we bring in multiple companies responsible for organizing events for the next two years. So, the money given to the national body will be shared with the Chapters and Centres organizing the programs. We also aim to digitalize our journals. Currently, we are printing about 15,000 hard copies. We have to address that certain people are willing to accept e-copies. So, a hybrid mode will bring down the expenses. It is a priority area on which we will work at the start for the term to run smoothly.
The next one is increasing the membership. For this, we plan to introduce more programs like an indemnity insurance scheme for architects. Nothing of this sort exists in India as of now. Due to increasing cases of architects being sued because of design deficiency and lack of supervision, we have to support our membership. Greater member strength also implies better impact. So, we are looking at an immediate increase in membership to 50,000 or more- that is our target number.
Our third major priority is strengthening our public relations– a better connection with the governments (central and state policymakers). This has to be a consistent process. It will help us address the issues faced by architects and further attract more members to the IIA. So, these are the three priority areas we would like to work in initially.
Why should young architects or architects, in general, be a part of IIA? What benefits will IIA provide to encourage them to join?
For the past few years, we have been working towards strengthening our membership. Both members and non-members can participate in events. To attract more members, we have introduced members-only programs like the IIAPL, reformation for the awards and the introduction of the IIA-CAD. We have observed an increase in membership in the form of non-members who want to participate in the tournament or submit for awards.
We need to make our organization active. Our centres in Kerala, for instance, are quite active because we conduct many programs there.
Along with these programs, IIA also needs to be active on-ground by addressing relevant issues, such as the salary of a young architect or the conduct of national architectural competitions. If we start addressing these issues, people will want to join IIA.
IIA was established much before the Council of Architecture. Despite this, in all these years, you have only about 27,000 members. Does this represent a failure of IIA in its duties towards the architects and the profession?
As I mentioned, non-members are probably wondering about the offerings of an IIA membership. During my association with the IIA, this has always been an important focal point.
As Lalichan talks about ways to increase membership, he points out the disconnect between IIA and the government.
This disconnect (between IIA and the governments) is hard for me to understand, especially because IIA is an important body.
My policy is that it is important to make the government aware of the importance of IIA and architects. That is not happening right now.
But even within the architectural community, accessibility seems to be an issue. IIA’s boundaries make it look like an elitist club. Because the architects are unaware of what IIA can do for them, it remains invisible to its non-members.
I don’t agree with that because any architect can become a part of any program by IIA- the only difference being the delegation or participation fee.
The seminars, conferences and events conducted by IIA often come across as limited to the interests of architects. Is your team also looking at creating a connection between the architecture fraternity and the non-architects/public?
This is one of our agendas- Outreach and connecting with non-architects.
This notion has to go. We need to include and invite the public from different walks of life into our program through special events curated for this. We need to reach out to them [non-architects] and help them understand the impact an architect can create.
Lalichan narrates a couple of instances where IIA members’ interventions were appreciated by the public.
One project in the IIA Cochin Centre started because of a massive fire in a solid waste management plant within 5-6 km of the city centre, which spread to about 110 acres and went on for 12 days. There was supposed to be a treatment plant, but instead, the corporation kept on dumping the waste. About 60 architects got together to create a detailed report for the government. Architect Jay Gopal Rao and I went to Indore to see how waste is managed in the city and information is disseminated among the public. We proposed this 2-month campaign in Cochin to the Minister. This was one incident where people listened to us [architects] seriously and were thankful.
Calicut is another example where the PWD wanted to demolish and reconstruct an old school at Karaparambu. IIA Calicut intervened with a proposal to retrofit and remodel it. The proposal was also presented at the Union of International Architects (UIA) and was well received. Such interventions make you visible.
The Way Forward team aims to encourage every Chapter and Centre in the country to get involved in public projects like these to become visible.
Your manifesto mentions non-architects practising architecture, which CoA fails to control because the Supreme Court allows anyone to practice architecture. It is only the title “architect” that is protected. Do you think this is an issue? If yes, how will the IIA resolve it?
This issue can be solved only by an amendment to the Act. By registering, you can call yourself an architect. Currently, the Act only protects your title; it doesn’t define what architecture is and who practices architecture. Unlike the Architects Act, other acts like the Medical Act delineate who is a practitioner.
At the time of drafting, architect Piloo Mody (a Rajya Sabha member) piloted the Act because the number of architects practising in the country was less.
But today, the concern is not just about non-architects practising architecture but also the quality of the formally trained architect.
When the Government of India wanted to form an agreement with about 29 countries regarding the export and import of services in which architecture is included, some countries pointed out that they could not consider architects registered with COA on par with theirs. This was because we don’t have a professional examination.
In other countries, after passing the university examination, you have to pass the examination conducted by the registering agency. The Government contacted CoA, and a committee was formed to find the feasibility of introducing such an examination in India.
We worked on introducing a professional examination in India but also demanded an amendment. The Government disagreed initially because of the small number of our members. In the USA and other countries, people who practice architecture (other than architects) are brought under the purview of the Registering Authority. They go through 2-3 examinations, undergo professional training under an architect, and write a professional examination. They can register as a second stream and practice architecture.
The professional examination may be implemented in India within two years. The final draft is being prepared and will be submitted to the Government soon by COA.
Another issue is the number of architectural colleges that have drastically shut down in the past two years alone. Does this reflect the loss of trust in the architecture profession and architecture education? Does IIA play some role in this?
Certain colleges were shut down because of COVID’s impact, and they could not sustain themselves. But we have decided that we are not looking at numbers right now.
The demand is increasing, as the NATA examination had 17,000 applicants this time. Last time, it was around 11,000 for the first NATA examination this term.
In our manifesto, we have a program to affiliate all the 400 plus colleges to IIA. We will start mentoring them and helping them with visiting faculty and assistance from our side. We propose to start IIA student centres in every college to get regular information about the activities of IIA through newsletters. They will be invited to participate as a delegate if we have a major program or event conducted.
Meanwhile, we need to have quality improvement programs for registered architects. After 2025, if you want to renew your membership with the Council of Architecture, you should acquire a certain number of points during that term by participating in quality improvement programs approved by the Council of Architecture. COA looks at IIA for conducting quality programs. The architect will get points if they admit a student/ young architect/ a fresher architect into their office for training. This will also encourage people to take trainees in offices.
How will this affiliation work for the students? Do they have to register separately with IIA?
We intend to keep it open. Not every student from an affiliated college shall be a member. They have to apply and show their willingness to be a part of this. It will act like NASA. We are trying to take it forward to disseminate information about the happenings in architecture and include the students in the quality improvement programs we conduct for IIA.
Regarding architectural education, another concern is the regressive curriculum that has not been upgraded for many years, which also contributes to the disconnect between education and the profession. Do you think that IIA, under your leadership, will be able to address and tackle this issue?
Certainly, the Council of Architecture is moving in this direction because we have to do it right now with the introduction of NEP – the new educational policy. There will be major policy changes for the people who study architecture now, along with changes in the curriculum. Here IIA has a major role to play because we can have meetings with colleges, we can discuss and collect ideas from them and submit them to COA. IIA, through its various chapters, can play a prominent role in supporting COA.
When we talk about mandates, I feel IIA is in a better position than COA to support the profession, as COA is restricted by the Architects Act 1972. Even though IIA has more power to work for the profession, for more than 100 years now, the institution has failed to build complete trust. Does IIA have a formal mandate in this matter, or does it go through COA? Do you think in the next two years, after the elections, these things will start improving and how?
No, we don’t have a mandate to do that, but as an association, we should be doing it- for the betterment of the profession. The mandate is for CoA to introduce such changes in education. These are areas that our team believes IIA should have a positive intervention.
I don’t know why these two organizations are viewed as competitors. I believe CoA and IIA can work together and complement each other rather than compete with each other.
There is only one point in your Manifesto that mentions women. What is your view on creating a better ecosystem and environment for female professionals; currently, their representation is low, which should have been improved by now.
If you look at the colleges, the female students are more in number. When it comes to practice, it is the other way around. After the course, when they get a degree in architecture, many women are not willing to practice, or they practice alone. Many of them, at least 20 to 30%, get restricted to their married life. They don’t want to come into the limelight. They don’t want to work together in the organization or the institutes, but this has to change. We understand that we should have a little more consideration for women. We should encourage them to come forward to practice and to take positions in organizations like COA and IIA.
We will be looking forward to that.
Could we say that the current environment within the profession is not conducive to women practising architecture? How could IIA contribute to encouraging more women to practice architecture?
We conducted a program in our Cochin Centre of Kerala Chapter called Feminarch Conference. It was a successful conference- a step forward in this direction, where these issues were discussed. More efforts have to be made by the IIA in this department.
Even in my practice, many female architects work with me. At a certain point, everyone believed that female architects could not lead a team for major projects. Most of the time, we also believe clients may not like a woman leading a team. But now I have realized that this is not the case. This is a mindset which has to be changed.
This brings us to an important discussion regarding the practice of architecture. It is no more limited to men and women but to others who identify as non-binary and are struggling to find a good place in the profession. We believe it is an important concern to be addressed. Do you think the discussion of gender equality should move towards every other gender rather than restricting only to women?
I admit that. Instead of women architects, we should have used a gender-neutral term in our Manifesto. We will address that. This is in the back of my mind but was not put in the Manifesto.
Coming to finances, IIA does not come under the purview of RTI, which creates an opaqueness in financial transactions. How do you plan to address this?
This is the first time I have heard that it is not open for RTI.
I think it is completely transparent at every end inside the Institute because we only work on one pan number across the country. All our Centres, Chapters, and the National Body come under one income tax return file. Everyone has to be compulsorily audited and submit statements to the national body.
We have administrative expenses at the National Body. These administrative expenses are met by the interest generated from the membership fee, which goes to the core fund- a fixed deposit. Only we- the National Body, can utilize the interest part of it to run the office, the staff members, IIA’s examination for others etc. When the interest rates decreased drastically, everything went to a toss as we could not meet the expenses. This is where the sponsorship part comes in- usually, done by the Chapters and Centres that organize programs. They also submit an audited account of the expenses. There is complete transparency regarding what is happening with the funds within the organization.
Lastly, coming to the election process itself, how many eligible members eventually take part in the Institute’s elections?
The eligibility criteria for a voter is to be a member with no dues pending. This time we have nearly 15,000 voters from our 27,000 members. Last time, we had 12,000 voters, of which, eventually, 4500 cast their vote. We expect this number to be close to 7,500 this time, as more interest seems to have been generated within the community.
As we are near the end of this interview, would you like to end with a message or any comment?
It ignites and excites certain people, which is good for our organization. But after the election, we have to take forward these agendas. Some call IIA a glorified event manager or event management company because we organize many programs. That’s good, but we need programs to excite people and fulfil the agendas as an organization, and not do things just to end it there; it has to be taken forward. That’s the way forward.