Prof. Ranjit Sabikhi’s keynote speech at IIA Convention, Hyderabad | March 03, 2023
I would like to thank the Indian Institute of Architects and the Telangana Chapter for having invited me to give the Keynote Address at this convention. Let me begin by congratulating the Institute for having pulled itself out of its long period of hibernation. It is in fact exhilarating to see the Journal published by the Institute over the last couple of years. A magazine with limited advertisements, showing interesting research studies, along with the architectural designs produced by young architects from different parts of the country. It also establishes the presence of IIA Chapters in different states. I look forward to this publication continuing to grow and become more influential and meaningful over time. This journal, along with a couple of online architecture sites featuring a variety of built projects, is a heartening indication of important change.
As urban development continues across the country and as villages change and small towns get larger and, in some cases grow into cities, we need the active involvement of more architects, town planners, urban designers, landscape architects, engineers, demographers, and traffic planners, etc. This is a need that is going to continue to grow.
The current approach of providing a toilet in every rural home and hailing the building of millions of toilets as a major achievement is also conveying a false message. The provision of toilets needs to be linked to a process of overall health and cleanliness, along with adequate water supply, garbage removal, etc., for all sections of society. Rural areas also need proper connectivity both physical and online, through cell phones and artificial intelligence to bring about real change.
In the early fifties when I started practice there were very few architects in the country. As a newly independent country, there were very few available resources. Building materials were scarce and it was expensive to build. As cities began to grow there was a demand for more space and more structures were needed. There were a few building contractors and there was a shortage of skilled craftsmen. This shortage got further exaggerated when large numbers of building contractors and workmen migrated to the Middle East.
Huge oil reserves were discovered in the Eastern Arabia region in the 1930s with large-scale commercial extraction beginning in the early 50s. Soon these countries became major world oil exporting countries amassing huge riches in a short time. These countries had large desert areas and a small population, which was inadequate to meet the labour demand. To meet this challenge immigration of labour and skilled craftsmen was increased, to provide for the massive demand for both skilled and unskilled labour across the entire area from 1945 to 1995.
In addition, a number of Indian architects picked up design projects in the Middle East, and many young qualified architects also moved to offices in the area, as they were being offered much higher salaries than what they could get in India. The incentive for architects and other qualified professionals to take jobs in the Middle East was given another massive push as the Indian government introduced a law granting tax exemption for incomes earned abroad and brought in as foreign exchange into the country. The only important requirement with this tax exemption was that such income be earned by private limited companies. In order to take advantage of this a number of professionals set up private limited companies for their practice. This exemption was later withdrawn.
The Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) was established in 1917. In the earlier years, the practice of architecture was guided by the Institute which had also printed a booklet defining the principles of practice and the scale of professional charges. In 1972 for the protection of the title of Architect and the creation of an architect’s registration body to regulate the standard of education and the profession, the Architect’s Registration Act was passed by Parliament. The Council of Architecture came into being and was entrusted with the responsibility of approving courses in all schools of architecture. The Council also defined the scope of comprehensive architectural services along with the scale of professional charges. In 2022 the Council published the Manual of Architectural Practice consisting of five volumes.
As more and more schools of architecture were established in the different states across the country, the total number of architects steadily grew.
Despite this several schools have steadily improved over time and are producing well-trained young architects, producing good designs, and doing excellent research studies. It would be good if the Institute were to set up a system to recognize and honour such schools and at the same time organize a system for downgrading schools that fail to maintain the Council’s minimum education standards.
Along with the steady increase in the number of schools, there started a massive decline in the state of the architectural profession.
The Council took no action in relation to this blatant flouting of rules and regulations.
There is a prescribed Scale of Professional Charges included in the Council’s Charter.
In relation to this Clause 1.4.1. Architects (Professional Conduct) Regulations sub-clause B.xii clearly states ‘Observe and uphold the Council’s conditions of engagement and scale of charges’.
This clause clearly restricts government authorities from calling for bids and negotiating fees for projects of all sizes. Master Plan guidelines and local regulations have also been ignored. The Council has been unable to resist pressures imposed by politicians and administrators through government agencies and has taken no steps to correct the situation.
This process of deterioration began a few decades ago with government agencies inviting architects to submit bids for projects which architects should not have accepted. They should have insisted that the Council of Architecture norms be followed both in letter and spirit, and the Council should have taken action by cancelling the membership of architects who flouted COA guidelines. Because of the silence of the Council, government agencies have persisted with even more blatant aggressive action.
From the mid-sixties onwards until 2010 for almost all our projects we were paid a reasonable professional fee. During this period, we were commissioned to do a number of large projects for government agencies, including District Centres, and educational complexes at a professional fee of 5% of the total cost. This was never questioned and there was no bargaining involved. Suddenly around 2005 some developers and government agencies like the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and National (NBCC) started inviting bids for projects. They also started including requirements like the firm must have done work worth so many crores in the last 3 years, or one year, to be eligible to bid for projects. Like in the case of construction contractors, some clients also asked for the submission of a fee for the purchase of the bid documents.
Surprisingly when all this was happening architects across the country remained silent. Neither the Indian Institute of Architects, nor the Council of Architecture protested or took up the matter, and they have allowed government representatives to insist on a series of actions which have degraded the quality of schools of architecture approved by them and have destroyed professional credibility.
In recent years the number of young qualified architects has multiplied and 463 approved schools add around 20,000 graduates every year that enter a profession that has lost its value and has been steadily downgraded.
Many of the new schools are nothing more than money-making machines admitting large numbers of students without adequate experienced staff to provide proper training. It is only when these students graduate and go out into the market seeking jobs, the wide gap between their abilities and actual professional need becomes apparent.
The Council of Architecture admits these graduates as members after they produce a B.Arch degree certificate showing that they have completed a 5-year course of study from one of the approved Schools of Architecture. No experience of having worked in a professional office is asked for. Many poorly trained graduates set up a board and start practice, flooding the market with poor professional service. They are the ones who flout all rules and regulations. COA needs to change the system to put a stop to this kind of degradation. They should change the rules and ask fresh graduates to work for a minimum period of two to three years under the guidance of an architect with a minimum of ten years of professional experience. Following this, the COA should conduct a professional practice examination to check their basic competence before admitting them as members of the Council.
Many schools of Architecture are charging unreasonably high fees to students without taking into account the current state of the profession or the kind of financial situation young graduates are faced with after completing the course. Most professional firms pay young graduates a maximum of Rs 20,000 to 25000 per month which is a pittance after their having paid exorbitant tuition fees for a five-year course. It is time that COA took note of this, and drafted a reasonable maximum scale of tuition fees that may be charged by architecture schools that are approved by them.
The COA has also to date not taken any notice of the increasing difficulties faced by architectural firms.
Several architects registered with the local authorities merely charge a fee, and sign drawings being submitted for approval.
At present Building bye-laws vary from state to state and an architect based in a particular location is forced to adapt his designs in accordance with local or state building bye-laws. It would be much better if, like the National Building Code, there was a set of National Building Bye-laws applicable all over the country, with specific exceptions defined for locations like hilly areas, river valleys, forest areas, etc. Architects are also currently overburdened by legal liabilities and the added cost of obtaining insurance like professional indemnity insurance and the need to give legal undertakings for the execution of professional works. They are also often subjected to considerable pressure from certain clients to oversimplification of design in order to reduce cost, in addition to putting a fixed cost of construction prior to design. They even in some cases dictate that architects follow a particular form of design because of the client’s perception related to salability, marketing, etc. All such pressures often result in serious compromises in the quality of architectural design.
Serious issues relating to the cost of professional services are often not understood and are overlooked by most clients.
One of them is the cost of the constantly changing hardware and software related to practice, along with the expense of annual renewal. New hardware includes updated computers, plotters, scanners, etc. and software which constitutes CAD, Presentation, Estimate tools, etc.
Along with these items, there is the problem of retaining architectural talent after having trained young graduates over the years.
In addition, many join out-sourcing offices that provide facilities for drafting, presentation, etc. but are not involved in architectural design work. Computer software and Graphic interface firms also employ architecture graduates.
Despite the availability of many alternative choices, a large part of the market for professional architectural services, particularly in small towns and rural areas is taken over by civil engineers, draftsmen, and builders offering poor quality of professional service. There is no system in place to put a stop to this, as a result of which the steady deterioration of building structures, including collapses, is common as can be seen in regular news publications.
Another issue that the Council needs to address is the increasing number of several large projects being designed and implemented by foreign consultants.
Regardless of the fact that it is important to be fully aware of local conditions and controls, developers and even some government agencies believe that having foreign consultants improves marketability and leaves it to the local associates to get the necessary building sanctions and clearances. Because we have such a large number of qualified professionals within the country the Council and government agencies need to put a stop to this kind of exploitation. The only exceptions that should be made are for winners of properly organized architectural design competitions, in which case the winner must associate with a local professional for the detailed design and implementation of that project.
In a much-publicized statement on 1st March 2023, the Prime Minister declared that well-planned cities will decide the fate of the country.
He asked stakeholders ‘to focus on three questions – how to improve the state’s urban planning ecosystem, how to use the expertise available in the private sector, and how to develop centres of excellence for urban planning. Urban planning will determine the fate of our cities that will determine the fate of India.’ This is something that he has repeatedly said in different ways over the last six years. Unfortunately, none of the executed projects including the Gift City in Ahmedabad or the various city projects executed under the Smart City mission have really been particularly successful. One may well ask what went wrong.
In the long-term interest of the profession, architects across the country need to be aware of the steady decline in the state of the architecture profession and help the Institute (IIA) and the Council to come together to bring about real change.