This interview by the President, Council of Architecture, allows readers to share their comments on each issue that has been covered in this interview. We would request our readers to keep the comments to the point and short. Selected comments will be published on ArchitectureLive!
If you wish to share your comment/feedback as a long note, please send it to [email protected] for consideration.
My first interaction with Ar. Habeeb Khan was as a final-year student, attending a dialogue session, one of several initiated during the Pandemic. The year was 2020- when the World had come to a standstill. Two years later, in a candid chat with ArchitectureLive!, he discussed, amongst several other things, the Council’s approach during the Covid Pandemic.
In 2019, in a conversation with ArchitectureLive!, the then newly elected President, Ar. Habeeb Khan and Vice President, Ar. Sapna, delineated the Council’s vision for the next three years.
Now, a tenure later, we are revisiting that vision and looking at the initiatives the Council undertook during this time.
The Beginning of the Tenure
The Habeeb Khan helmed team started with the slogan, “Together we can bring about a change”.
“It was after a long time that a practising architect became president. Somehow, the Council’s attention was more on Academics and its regulations, while the profession was getting neglected.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
Ar. Habeeb’s tenure observed several controversies and new challenges. But before these unprecedented challenges, there were the existing old that the Council initiated to address by identifying three verticals- Academics, Profession and Administration.
“We identified some 30-odd issues faced by these three verticals; we found certain overlaps like an outreach program, an amendment to the act in education and profession.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
Architects have always been critical of the Council. According to Ar. Habeeb, the Council’s focus on education and the neglect of profession contributed to the detachment between the Fraternity and the Council.
“CoA was known as a regulatory authority, which due to the neglect of the professional issues was perceived as not working efficiently.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
Irrespective of the reason, the opinion of Architects regarding the Council has been unfavourable; the Council is considered ineffective, corrupted, away from reality and non-transparent. To bridge this gap, the newly elected committee started its 2019-2022 tenure with an outreach program.
2019 also observed the Supreme Court judgement on CoA vs AICTE.
The Landmark Judgements
In the last three years, the Architectural community witnessed two landmark Supreme Court judgements- the 2019 judgement on CoA vs AICTE and the 2020 judgement on ‘Practice of Architecture, Section 37 of the Architects Act.’ While the former, pronouncing CoA the regulatory body for architectural education, was in favour of the Council, the latter, which stated that the Act only protected the title ‘Architect’ and that anyone could practice architecture, led to a lot of criticism of it.
“There was a lot of dejection, but the judgement doesn’t affect the profession. Society is aware of what is architecture, and the services of an architect.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
In response to the judgement, the Council filed a review petition and proposed amendments to the Act after consulting the public, talking to the stakeholders, and conducting online programs. The submission of the amendment, which defined architectural services, saw 800+ objections from Engineers, with a few including screenshots of conversations between architects, claiming that the Council was unsupported by its community. Unfortunately, there would be little objection to this claim from the community of Architects.
“We pass comments, give judgements and express views without understanding their impact on the present and the future. We don’t think twice before washing dirty linen in public and also usurping each other’s project.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
“When we submitted the amendment to the Ministry, not a single architect showed support. There were social media discussions and criticism, but architects didn’t write where it mattered. We (architects) will take part in conferences and stay in five-star hotels, but won’t stand for our profession when the need arises.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
The Covid Pandemic
The Supreme Court’s ruling was in March 2020. March 2020 also saw the country go under lockdown and come to a halt. The Council shifted online. It launched CoA Social, with four verticals- Dialogues, Reads, Women in Architecture and People.
“Dialogues implied a dialogue about architecture; social reads were about books written on architecture; women in architecture addressed issues concerning women and young girls in architecture.“Ar. Habeeb Khan
During the Pandemic, the Council formed a committee for women in architecture. The committee, which the Council states is still active, would issue advisories to institutes and practices to address the issues faced by women in the field of architecture.
“People were non-architects- we reached out to them, made them aware of Architecture and what architects do.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
When it comes to awareness, Architecture, as a prospective career option, is an unexplored territory for school-going students. The field, despite its omnipresence, is largely unnoticeable outside the small circle of architects. Addressing the same, the Council suggested an elective on Architecture at the Senior Secondary Level and conducted awareness campaigns, such as a film on Architectural awareness, ARCAUSE- a walk with Ethos (Gita Balakrishnan), and celebrated World Architecture Day on popular radio stations.
(India will now include design thinking and innovation in school curriculums. But, this is a joint initiative by the CBSE, the Innovation Cell of the Education Ministry and IIT Bombay.)
Another initiative that the Council believes could collectively help architects and non-architects alike is the ‘Manual of Architectural Practice’. The Manual, which guides architects towards organizing their practice, would also benefit the non-architects who wish to procure the services of an architect.
“I believe the Manual of Architectural Practice, along with the Appraisal process, will go a long way- they will address a lot of loopholes and issues.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
The Manual, a guide on the practice of architecture, was conceptualised due to the rapid change in the profession observed since the framing of the professional conduct regulations in 1989. The Council states that the manual’s content will also become the Professional Practice Curriculum.
Institutions and Architectural Education
The curriculum of Architectural Education requires re-assessment, especially when the profession is diversifying into several fields such as writing, research, documentation, urban/heritage management, sustainability building, etc. There is little awareness about these lesser-known branches at the academic level. (Read: Architect Manoj Mathur’s take on broadening the scope of Architectural Internships here)
“Architecture is concentrated in urban areas- metros or financially active centres. If you go to tier three cities, the profession is yet to establish itself. We (Architects) need to spread into other parts of the country that have not been explored, especially the rural areas (where migration happens from) where development has not received enough attention. This sense of contribution needs to be present at the institutional level- we need to train our students, who would be aware and venture into these fields. And, it is the role and responsibility of the Academia.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
While exploration in these fields is yet to form a strong presence in Architectural Education, the CoA claims to have made several reforms at the Institutional level, such as making the Inspection process more transparent with the use of Artificial Intelligence and preparing a Faculty Training Program- a mandatory three-month program for all new teachers, in the form of online modules with regular tests and checks.
The Council also identified loopholes in the NIRF ranking system for Architectural Institutes.
“We realized that NBA- National Board of Accreditation, gives accreditation to academic courses and does the NIRF ranking which is not conducive to architectural education. Therefore, institutes lose out on the ranking. So, we worked with them for two years, as part of a joint committee, and submitted a final report to make the accreditation and the ranking framework more sensitive to architectural education.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
The current committee introduced a closure policy; if the institute was unable to enrol 30% of students in the past three years, skipped the approval process in between for a year, and showed qualitative and quantitative shortfall, it was to be closed, and the students shifted; according to a presentation shared by the Council, 65 such institutes were given notice.
“During the lockdowns, the Ministry worked towards an amendment to the regulations of Minimum Standards of Architectural Education. After 38 years, it was notified and gazetted by Ramesh Pokhriyal ji, the then Minister of Education, who officially announced and released the minimum standards of architectural education 2020 in an online event, attended by about 10,000 architects.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
The NATA Exam
The lockdown introduced a change in the pattern of the NATA exam- an objective section focusing on the candidate’s observation powers, neuroimaging and diagrammatic reasoning skills, retention power etc.. replaced drawing. The Council claims that the Institutes observed a significant improvement in the quality of students admitted through this new structure of the NATA exam and that the same was endorsed by the Heads of these institutions.
Another shift to the online mode, triggered by the Pandemic, was the digitization of the Council’s Training and Research Centres (TRCs), physically located in Bhopal and Pune. The Council is now planning to expand these Centres with Centres of Excellence.
“We had a steering committee consisting of prominent people from Architectural education and profession- they prepared guidelines about the conversion of TRCs into Centres of Excellence. We are establishing one in Delhi, which will be inaugurated in a month. We declared the winner for COE Bangalore and are now in talks to open one in the East- Kolkata or Guwahati. The COEs are envisioned as a space to promote every field which enriches architecture. It will also be a cross-platform for the interaction of architects and students.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
Decentralizing of the Council- Samarthaya Portal and State Committees
The COE, Bangalore open competition was conducted on the Council’s Samarthaya Portal- a digital portal for academia and professionals alike. Through this portal, the Council has been conducting open competitions- it conducted the bus shelter competition for NHAI, open to architects and non-architects, and is now conducting a design idea competition for the intermodal station in Katra, Jammu.
The Council has been encouraging the government to procure architectural services through open, transparent competitions.
“I am dreaming of the day when every architectural procurement of services will happen through competitions; I hope other Departments follow these departments and organizations.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
In the 2019 interview with ArchitectureLive!, the then newly elected President shared the Council’s plans to make all the institutes’ libraries accessible to the entire community. The Samarthaya Portal is expected to include these libraries and enable cross-platform sharing.
With a digital portal, the TRCs and the COEs, the council is decentralizing itself. However, the less developed cities are yet to have a local CoA connection. CoA claims to have formed architecture communities, in collaboration with IIA, in each state of the country to address the issues architects face, especially in regions where the Council is not physically present.
The Council has also digitalized the process of registration renewal.
“We are linking the registration of architects (in the form of a unique QR code) with all the regulatory and statutory bodies, such as the Municipal Corporations, Authorities, and Zilla Parishad, through an API to avoid fraudulent use of the registration number. The architect gets intimated via text and email when the registration number is used; so, there is a mechanism to safeguard the architects.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
The Council aims to introduce a professional examination for an architect to register as a practising architect.
“This exam will also test the institutes and the quality of education that they provide. It will also facilitate reciprocal arrangements with other countries; most of the countries have a professional examination to get registered as an architect. In the long run, a mere degree wouldn’t entail you to sign as a registered architect- one may be an architect in any other capacity but to sign and take onus of the project, one needs to be a registered architect; it will bring in accountability in the profession.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
To the Professionals
Whether inciting good feedback or critique, the Council has always come across as more proactive on the Education front. The Professionals, on the other hand, are probably the most vocal critics of the Council. We asked Ar. Habeeb, a practising architect, his opinion regarding the Council.
“I always feel that criticizing on social media platforms is very easy, and you think that you have contributed…it doesn’t help. But, if you feel that something is wrong, it should be your moral duty to correct it. Things will change when you jump into the fray. I believed in this since the beginning, so there was no change in my perception of the Council or any other organization. But, when I joined, I identified the issues and decided to work on them for the better.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
Ar. Habeeb is no stranger to this criticism on social media; the 2020 judgement of the Supreme Court, involving the Architect’s Act, had led to heavy criticism of the Council on social platforms.
“I want to tell all my architect friends and students that the government makes Acts for the public. The Architect’s Act was not made for Architects. It was made for the general public to be aware of architectural services and protect themselves from fraudulent practices of architects (if any). The Council is the Custodian of the Act.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
The Council has also regularly faced backlash for not regulating the fee of an architect; architects are considered over-exploited and underpaid. The Conditions of Engagement and Scale of Charges under the Architects (Professional Conduct) Regulations, 1989 laid the guidelines to regulate an architect’s fee. However, it is not uncommon for architects to discard these guidelines. Despite several discussions, the situation is yet to observe improvement. While the Council has provided guidelines for architects to charge for their services in its manual, it maintains its inability to fix a minimum pay structure.
“Architectural fees cannot be regulated across the world by any regulatory body. Your brand value, your standing, and your quality decide your fee. We can only give guidelines- which are there in the manual. How can you bind the client to pay a certain amount? It is the brand value and the quality that matters. So the expectation that the Council will fix the minimum wage or the fee/salary is wrong and outside its mandate.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
“But, if you are charging a fee that is so ridiculously low- 0.5, 0.8, 1 per cent- how would you be able to manage the expenses in the office, what is the quality of work that you give, how would you be able to earn a living. That means there might be another source of income- direct or indirect. This is spoiling the name of architects and their reputation and trust factor.”Ar. Habeeb adds
Advice and Views
Whether Ar. Habeeb’s tenure stepped up the state of affairs in the Council is not one person’s opinion. Regardless of the take of an individual to this subjective question, it is an agreed fact that, perhaps due to the advent of the Council’s presence on social media or the Pandemic or the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ar. Habeeb has been one of the most ‘in the spotlight’ presidents the Council has seen in the past few terms.
The consensus regarding the Council has always been of critique. But, with CoA’s presence on social media, it has become easier to criticize it in recent years. For young people who got inducted into the field of architecture in this environment, we asked Ar. Habeeb to share some advice with young architects and students.
“Negativity has never taken anyone any place. We cloud our minds with negative thoughts, but you need to be positive and involved in the work that you do. Everyone has struggles; I did not have the money to afford petrol for my scooter. I am sure the young architects are struggling, but the difference is that the level of endurance of the present generation has gone down. We too spent sleepless nights on a project, eventually losing it to someone else. We had no social media to vent our feelings, we did not have a common platform to share grievances- you have one. So, utilize it to your advantage.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
The Council believes that providing a digital portal to address grievances has made it more approachable.
“Utilize the platform in a positive sense and support each other. The Council is there to support you in every manner; all our policies are for young people, for the future generation, so that you get a better professional life. The client has a choice and an equal right to not hire you. So, instead of the negativity, concentrate on your approach and the quality of service that you provide.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
Under Ar. Habeeb’s leadership, the Council claims to have introduced several initiatives for the welfare of our community. We witnessed the Council’s side and now proceed to gauge the awareness of this community and their reactions to these claims. Before we take this discourse forward with the succeeding article based on your response, ArchitectureLive! would like to congratulate the outgoing President for his tenure, which meant being under constant scrutiny for three years. And, to the incoming President, pass on Ar. Habeeb’s advice,
“I can only tell the next president and the incoming team that all of us (the core committee) have made their job very difficult. I request them to continue with the work and to not reinvent the wheel- to not undo something that is to have a far-reaching impact, to not take decisions that would negatively affect the Architectural Community.”Ar. Habeeb Khan
Acknowledging the support of his team members, Ar. Habeeb concludes,
“It is all teamwork. We have about 40 committees with around 300 people working and 800 members conducting inspections across the country; there is the Vice President’s and the Executive Committee’s support. I am grateful that I got a very good team. In essence, what we started with was ‘Together we can bring about a change’, and I hope that ‘Together we did bring about a change’. I hope that the next President could take that forward and get the same support that I did.”Ar. Habeeb Khan