Habeeb Khan - Council of Architecture President

The Fraternity’s Voice: Addressing the Council of Architecture’s

On October 23, ArchitectureLive! published the Council of Architecture's outgoing President Ar. Habeeb Khan's interview. For one last time in his tenure, we now dig deep into the community’s reaction to the Council under Ar. Habeeb Khan.
Habeeb Khan - Council of Architecture President

Reactions to the Council of Architecture under Ar. Habeeb Khan’s tenure

The community of architects, like any ‘democratic institution’, can be broadly categorised into Council, the Custodian and Architects, the subjects. We recently interviewed the former’s representative, outgoing President Ar. Habeeb Khan on his tenure with the Council. The conversation painted the picture of an active Council. To validate the Council’s claims, we reached out to some architects and academicians from across the country, opened Ar. Habeeb’s interview to the public, and gauged the impact of these initiatives at the ground level. This article reflects the community’s perception of the Council of Architecture; In a nutshell, the consensus seems to agree that Ar. Habeeb’s term was the most proactive tenure the Council witnessed in recent terms. The visibility of the Council under Ar. Habeeb has eventually raised the bar for the incoming President, under whose tenure we hope the momentum stays.

In the last three years, challenges ranging from the Covid Pandemic to the Supreme Court’s ‘reading’ of the Architect’s Act, coupled with a few moments of slipped outbursts, have constantly kept the Council, led by Ar. Habeeb, under the scanner. For one last time in his tenure (as we now prepare to shift our focus to the new President), ArchitectureLive! digs deep into the community’s reaction to the Council under Ar. Habeeb Khan.

You may also want to read: Whither the Council of Architecture? Prem Chandavarkar’s views on Habeeb Khan’s Tenure

The Focus on Education

The Council of Architecture is a regulatory body on two fronts- Architectural Education and Profession, albeit in an unbalanced manner. Ar. Habeeb attributed this to the heavy focus of the Council on education while neglecting the profession- an imbalance he strived to address in his tenure. His opinion resonated with the community, who unanimously acknowledged the efforts of bringing the professional side of Architecture into the Council’s focus; Ar. Sudipto Ghosh commended Ar. Habeeb for starting in the right direction and hoped “for the next President to maintain the momentum”, while Abhishek*, an architect from Western India, stated that more remains to be done for advocacy and awareness.

“A key focus on Professional Practice emerged, and a committee was formed to produce a manual. This in itself is a key development that can aid professional practices, especially the younger ones, to refer to some standard practices and procedures.”

Ar. Vijay Narnapatti

The Manual of Architecture Practice

Ar. Vijay refers to the Manual of Architectural Practice (MAP)- what Ar. Habeeb considers the most promising initiative under his leadership. While, given the limited outreach in Manual’s propagation, this article might be too soon to pronounce a verdict on its actual impact, the architects we reached out to have already cited it as a step in the right direction. Nikita*, an Architect from Maharashtra, considers standardizing the fundamental aspect of architecture good for professionals “practising the conventional way from 20 years ago”. Ar. Vijay refers to it as an essential document, and Delhi-based Ar. Sudipto calls it a long overdue initiative. In a more critical tone, Abhishek* believes that the manual needs to be more comprehensive. Another Bangalore-based architect, on condition of anonymity, questions MAP’s relevance for established and operating practices.

“I think it would also help clients across governmental and private organisations understand generic practices, codes of conduct, etc., from a legitimate source recognized by the government.”

Ar. Vijay Narnapatti

MAP will also be a part of the Professional Practice curriculum in schools. We observed a more critical outlook at the Academic level in Architect Prasad Shetty’s, co-founder and dean of a Mumbai-based institute, opinion regarding MAP. Lauding the Manual as a useful initiative, Prasad pointed out its inability to address gritty issues regarding practices, such as converting projects, clearing approvals without a liaison or bribe etc.

Regardless of these limitations, MAP could be the beginning of a more organised practice of Architecture. Ar. Salil Ranadive, part of the MAP committee, called it a dynamic document requiring regular revisions; the current team under Ar. Habeeb did its part in introducing the Manual to the community, and it is now for the upcoming teams (and Presidents!) to ensure that it stays relevant.

The Manual has had limited outreach across the country. The Council’s limitations made us question the possibility of limited accessibility. We asked Ar. Habeeb the same, who mentioned the presence of local committees comprising IIA members in each state of India on behalf of the Council. These committees, involved in addressing the issues faced by the region’s local architects, would also be propagating the MAP. However, the architects we spoke to seemed unaware of the existence of such committees in their local regions.

“I don’t know if such a community exists in the state. I believe only IIA has the numbers to rally the community together and support the architects, either individually or as a group, on all issues about them, often highly area specific. The IIA consists of architects practising in all aspects of the profession, so I believe the support and solutions generated there are much more practical. Collaborating with IIA is a welcome step.”

Ar. Nikita*

If such a committee exists, the lack of knowledge regarding its existence hints at either a ‘committee restricted to paper’, a communication gap between the community and the Council, or both- neither a favourable position for the Council. As Ar. Vijay Narnapatti states, “The committee needs to disseminate the information not only within the council but also to the rest of the profession in the form of talks, press releases, white papers etc.”

Women in Architecture

The MAP also addresses the non-male genders in the field of Architecture, an aspect not considered in framing the professional conduct regulations in 1989. Nearly half of the graduating students in architecture are women, but this ratio does not reflect in the country’s practising architects. 

Addressing the issues women face in architecture, the Council formed a committee to issue advisories to Practices and Institutions to ensure a safer and more comfortable environment for women. Despite its relevance, especially in post-binary India, the committee seems to have received little notice; Several of the architects we reached out to were unaware of its existence. Nikita* believes that the “women in architecture” committee is merely lip service, pointing out the greater need for “architecture for women” and claiming that the majority of females entering the profession are from society’s privileged class, who are well aware of the implications of being a woman in the profession. She welcomes the Council’s new initiatives to reach out to the professionals, and shares that, “Only with the continued involvement of professionals can we as a fraternity grow.”

In contrast, Ar. Vijay considers the committee a necessity due to the dominance of male legacy in the power structure and decision-making in the discipline, education and profession. Abhishek* considers having more practising women architects as the only solution to curb the stigma against women in the profession.

Ar. Prasad believes that at the academic level, school administrations, management and faculty members need to have an internal brief and commitment. “Otherwise, committees, laws, etc. will be made, and they will remain only for namesake”, he adds.

We asked our readers if they were aware of the existence of these two committees. A majority of the comments were in denial of this knowledge. This denial made us question the absence of a connection between the Council and the Community.

Approachability of the Council and its Connection with the Community

To address this gap, Ar. Habeeb started his tenure with an outreach initiative in Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, and Chandigarh, reaching the community of architects; even this initiative attracted little attention from the community- Bangalore-based Ar. Vijay (while aware of the idea) could not recall any event or communication.  Ar. Abhishek*, based out of a tier 2 city and a frequent traveller to tier 1 cities, did not observe the initiative in any. Delhi-based Ar. Sudipto questioned limiting the outreach to certain cities.

“Why it (the outreach program) was not conducted in every city I cannot fathom. The slogan that Habeeb Khan stated, “Together we can bring about a change”, is crucial to the success of all that followed. I would have been a part of the outreach programs if it had happened in Delhi. It needs to happen over several days, not just an hour on Zoom.”

Ar. Sudipto Ghosh

To increase its visibility, the Council launched CoA Social- we observed certain loopholes that were still prevalent. CoA social had four verticals- Dialogues, Reads, Women in Architecture and People, but a gradual loss in interest was observed post-pandemic. The Council’s visibility on social media increased, but no major change was observed on-ground.

“The topics (on Dialogues) became perhaps more esoteric. Perhaps, they were not in tune with the pulse of what architects and students of architecture were looking for.  Perhaps the platform and format needed to be tweaked. But, going forward, one will have to creatively pursue this since it is essential to create a seriousness and erudition around the profession.”

Ar. Sudipto Ghosh

Abhishek* put forward the idea of reaching out to non-architects and making them aware of architecture and the services of an architect. His suggestion reminded us of Ar. Habeeb’s statement that society is aware of an architect’s services. 95% of our readers disagreed- the awareness about the field remains absent outside the community.

“Outreach to the public about the profession has not been addressed much. What we do, how we do it and what we charge for it are mysteries that we first have to solve for people who want to avail of our services. Conferences, festivals and seminars about architecture held by the CoA can also be topical and involve non-professionals to get the public discourses going. Critiquing infrastructure projects, public policies of national importance etc., and their impact on cities, citizens and the profession can be taken up by the Council along with institutes. The Council can voluntarily be a part of public surveys for such work. A peer review process can be set up to review projects of such importance.”

Ar. Nikita

Working towards increasing this awareness, the Council made an appearance on the radio to celebrate World Architecture Day through interviews and jingles on several leading radio channels- the architects we spoke to were unaware of the Council’s radio appearance.

CoA Social was launched during the Pandemic- when education went online, practice halted, and the Council started issuing advisories to the community. 

“The Pandemic was new to everyone. I guess it was important that we carry on with our lives with high sincerity and effort and not wait for state structures to take care of us. They were also struggling.”

Ar. Prasad Shetty

To the professionals, the Council encouraged shifting online. However, a disparity in the information’s reach is observed, as Architects like Abhishek* (based in Western India) and Sudipto (from Delhi) claimed not receiving any advisory from the Council. On the other hand, Architect Vijay (from Bangalore) acknowledged the Council’s efforts to keep architectural discourse active and to use the online mode but pointed out that “little noise was made”.

These instances tell us that despite having taken up several causes and initiatives, the Council missed out on passing information as it should have, contributing to its image as an invisible body. As Ar. Sudipto pointed out for the three lesser visible verticals of CoA Social- Reads, Women in Architecture and People,

“I cannot recall a single one of these, perhaps due to my lack of engagement. But the visibility of such events is important, and I fear that they were perhaps not made as visible as they ought to have been.”

Ar. Sudipto Ghosh

Despite Ar. Habeeb’s efforts, the Council and the community remain disconnected enough for misinformation regarding the Council’s role to prevail. It was this lack of information that led to heavy criticism of the Council post the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Architect’s Act in 2020, where the Court pointed out that the Act protects the title of an architect and not the practice of architecture. The Council, in response, submitted an amendment to the Act. But, the Architects we spoke to believed it was the community’s responsibility more than the Council’s. Calling for architects to be more proactive, Ar. Vijay pointed out the need for more active discussions on the profession, its culture and its professional identity. Ar. Nikita* stated that the amendment would not serve any purpose, “As a community, if we cannot through our training make people see the value of us as professionals, we do not need to fight legal battles for that”, she adds.

“The Supreme Court’s verdict was a knock on the door to the state of the profession in the country. We have only ourselves, the professional community, to blame. This is our doing; the CoA cannot be blamed.”

Ar. Sudipto Ghosh

“It would not be appropriate to blame COA for the above-mentioned issue; it is the responsibility of the whole community– non-practising Architects, academia, professional bodies like the IIA and all of its chapters. What the Council should have done is resolve to unite the whole community and continue to do so, as Architects we do not exist as a community.”

Ar. Abhishek*

Samarthaya Portal

For CoA to be in a position to bind the entire community, it should be accessible to all. To increase its accessibility, the Council launched the Samarthaya Portal- a digital portal with an upcoming digital library in collaboration with architectural institutions. But the knowledge of this concept remained limited. Sudipto, who credits ArchitectureLive!’s interview for making him aware of this initiative, called it an ambitious project with legal and IP ramifications. He suggested allowing architects “to become members of local institutes’ libraries for a fee” instead.

On the Educational front, Prasad Shetty’s institute received conceptual communication regarding the digital library. Complimenting the initiative, he suggested each institute set up an evolving and detailed reading list of articles that an undergraduate student must read before graduating.

The Samarthaya Portal is also involved in conducting competitions. It recently conducted the Centre of Excellence, Bangalore competition. The open competition was credited by Ar. Vijay for encouraging a better understanding of CoE, and garnered a positive response from the community. The Centres of Excellence are an extension of the TRCs set up by the Council. The TRC Pune centre implemented the Council’s Urban Studio Research Project to fund projects on issues in urban areas and cities. However, according to Ar. Prasad, to his knowledge, funds were yet to be allocated to the schools.

“Council being a central body has a pull in the process of implementation. They need to get the projects out to the public at large, policymakers, bureaucrats and local elected officials to get them to implement these.”

Ar. Nikita*

The practising architects we spoke to were aware of the Urban Studio Research Project.

“While I am not familiar with this, I am happy such efforts are on. I work with urban issues and projects; very few architects are interested or equipped to deal with Urban projects, issues and opportunities in a way that can make them effective thinkers, leaders and actors in their own cities… These research projects can form a base level information, or go further to help those who want to act on them.”

Ar. Vijay Narnapatti

The Samarthaya Portal will also include teaching modules as part of a mandatory 3-month training program for new teachers. 

“This is a very good idea. Not only significant for young but also senior and external teachers. Teaching is not easy and is a complex practice – it does require very good preparation and competence. There is a definite need to train teachers. We have heard about the training programme but not much.”

Ar. Prasad Shetty

Education

Along with preparing teaching modules, the Council is preparing an exit examination for graduating students to register as architects. While students seem to be against an exit examination, professionals consider it a requirement. Ar. Prasad calls it an ‘ideal scenario’. “But then, the Council has no reason to inspect and approve institutions and leave it to the Universities as it will evaluate the graduates. This may also encourage the proliferation of coaching classes and architectural education structured around these exams”, he adds.

“What exactly are they going to test? We have NATA coaching centres, and we may have institutes helping people clear the professional-level exam, so I’m not sure if that will help the cause. If it depends on apprenticeship and work experience in actual offices along with an exam to test skills, it might work. Then again, how does it help, for those going into writing, research, and allied fields of architecture get a registration.”

Ar. Nikita*

“Yes, an exam is a must, I feel- this can further be developed into an elaborate intern development program that makes graduates more practice ready. The same system is followed by the America Institute of Architects and RIBA, as well.”

Ar. Abhishek*

The quality of architecture education seems to be deteriorating. The Pandemic led to the replacement of drawing with an objective section focusing on observation powers, neuroimaging, and diagrammatic reasoning. The Council stated that Institutes validated an improvement in the quality of architectural students enrolled through this assessment, but Ar. Prasad has not observed any significant change in the capacities of students.

“I would suggest three coordinates to evaluate student’s capacities – sensitivity (to cultures and environments), imaginative capacity (to be able to think in oblique ways) and communications (to be able to draw/write what is imagined). This is because their analytical abilities and mathematical skills are already tested in higher secondary education. These can be simply three questions on testing orientation, creativity and communication instead of many questions and this will make evaluation shorter.”

Ar. Prasad Shetty

Addressing education, the Council has also set up independent committees for the implementation of NEP, for post-graduation studies, for NIRF rankings etc. But, the institutes seem to be unaware or remotely aware of the existence of any of these committees. A similar level of awareness is observed for the Council’s scholarship program, where 20 Crore has been allocated for economically challenged students. 

Architecture is diversifying, and this could be the right time to reassess Architectural education. Ar. Nikita* maintains that CoA cannot keep up with the pace of the profession’s diversification and cover all. “However, it can, at students and young professionals level, address the options available to anyone getting into the professions and the diverse options available to the person”, she adds.

“Academia in India has been reduced to education, and education has been reduced to exams, approvals and certification. But, to interrogate society, requires research and experimental/exploratory practices. Architecture needs to articulate its theoretical base to mark itself as an important discipline. Otherwise, today, engineers do claim that they can design structures. They may be right.”

Ar. Prasad Shetty

The Council’s inspection process also invites frequent criticism. Delayed inspection, repeated applications and appeals to get approvals and affiliations involve a long and cumbersome process, leading to delayed admissions. Even the legibility of the process is questioned. Recently, Ar. Ashok Goel’s video address on YouTube mentioned the experience of a Haryana-based institute’s faculty member who pointed out the institute’s poor infrastructure and the only recently constructed toilets for females.

“The institutions get nothing from the government other than getting strangled with high regulations, repeated inspections, hundreds of letters every year asking schools to undertake activities that would take up much valuable time, etc. There is no encouragement for efforts, no access to good resources, and no resources to undertake research. The faculty members, despite norms, do not get adequately paid.”

Ar. Prasad Shetty

Within the profession, the fee has always been a much-discussed topic. The Council has maintained its stance of being unable to regulate an architect’s fee. Ar. Abhishek* considers fee regulation as one of the pivotal roles of the Council. He suggests an amendment to be passed in the government as to who can practice Architecture prima facie and a defined payment structure with appropriate remuneration.

“A general guideline which is stipulated in the current guidebook is good but needs to be updated. This should be more for the consumers availing of our services rather than the architects themselves. The rest is taken care of by the market forces.”

Ar. Nikita*

Ar. Sudipto agrees with the Council’s stance but states that minimum expectations must be prescribed for services and the corresponding fees. He adds that the public should be aware of the fee range they might be expected to pay for different categories of services/ architects/ brands.

“A minimum pay can be a double-edged sword, better pay for some and lower pay for those deserving more. This has to be debated more widely to understand if such a regulation can be done and, if so, how to make it effective and just.”

Ar. Vijay Narnapatti

The community largely seems to agree on the fact that CoA, under Ar. Habeeb Khan’s tenure took several necessary initiatives. However, the communication gap remains. Several architects we spoke to are not receiving the CoA newsletter. Initiatives, such as linking each architect’s unique QR codes with the authorities, came across as alien concepts when we reached out to practising architects for their comments. The Council’s scholarship program for economically challenged students has not reached the institutes we spoke to. 

But could this lack of communication be a two-way gap? For a community used to a seemingly dormant institution, little effort might have been made to come out of the perspective and encourage the relationship between the fraternity and the Council.

Despite the limited outreach, the community’s response received on Ar. Habeeb’s interview mentions him as the “most approachable President in the recent history of CoA”. Ironically, at the same time, communication with the CoA office is still considered a cumbersome process; it seems ordinary for the Council not to revert despite several follow-ups. 

This lack of approachability has led to its image of, as Ar. Nikita Bansal* states, a vanity project to safeguard the ego and insecurities of the architects. 

“We Architects cannot call ourselves a community- there is utter lack of solidarity, of any sort, amongst professionals. The Council cannot be solely blamed. It, however, is one of the reasons the Architects feel lack of a foundation they could be rooted to.”

Ar. Abhishek

Outreach to architects with their already established initiatives is the least the Council can do to promote unity in our field. Ar. Sudipto emphasises the need to identify, nurture and nourish a common purpose led by abled leadership- the Council should include every institution and individual as a constituent of it.

 “In this day and age, it will be a hybrid between a command centre and a hive mind or a server and P2P network. How the CoA is structured and operated can turn it from a quasi-government office dogged by inertia and protocol, to an agile and alert nerve centre of building activity across the country. At the heart of this is the network. We have the technology for it. We need effective minds to be able to engage such technology in the service of the profession.”

Ar. Sudipto Ghosh

Moving forward, as the Council takes up new initiatives and continues working on the existing ones, we hope this gap finally gets bridged. 

“The grievances and their address should be made public so that everyone can sense this revolution.”

Ar. Sudipto Ghosh

The process for the election of the next President is already underway; we congratulate Ar. Habeeb for a proactive tenure and look forward to the new leadership taking over his vision and initiatives- new and existing, for the community’s welfare. The Council needs to be more active in reaching out to the community- little impact would emerge if we remain unaware.

“Often, the people interested in becoming members of the Council are also promoting their need to be in power and their need to be recognised as respectable professionals. This self-serving need of some in the Council sets it up as a political group rather than a group of ‘servants’ of the profession. We need to bring people with integrity and a drive to help others than themselves. I think the recent Council has both kinds of people, we need more of the former than the latter, and that depends on the active participation of the professional who makes this Council relevant. Let us take more interest in the Council – its members and its actions. I am happy Architecture Live has taken this initiative.”

Ar. Vijay Narnapatti

*Names changed as per request

4 Responses

  1. As a matter of fact CoA is totally disconnected from the masses. The twitter handle is non responsive. Hardly any videos on youtube for masses. CoA social in Facebook is running recordings of CoA functions and celebrations. No information on the website regarding availability of CoA president, VP, or EC members in CoA office.
    Registered Letters sent to CoA are not even acknowledged, replies are a dream.

  2. The article on ground realities vis-a-vis COA’s outreach is welcome. Some of the points are valid, although I agree that Ar. Habeeb Khan’s proactive role is but a great step in the right direction and we need such continuous efforts over a decade to see it bear fruit in the long run. But even with Presidential push, the CoA has to change, and for that the Act needs fundamental amendment. People employed within the CoA also need to change and we need to have more Architects part of CoA and not just Administrators.
    Ad a critique on this article itself, there were way too few “voices” heard. Abhishek, Vijay, Nikita, Sudipto are just four architects! This article should have been preceded by a survey, and the article itself quoting from a larger representation. As such, this article loses ground in substantiating the ground realities.

    1. Dear Dwaipayan,

      Thank you for your feedback. The interview ‘Under the Microscope‘ did allow anyone from the fraternity to share their feedback for each issue. The article was shared through emailers and Social Media, and, we received a significant number of comments from the people.

      P.S. The survey is still open, and we are continuing to receive comments on Ar. Habeeb Khan’s tenure from people.

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