Intervention by Prof. Manoj Mathur: 18/05 — Masters’ Course in Architectural Education: Aζ and Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Ansal University

Architectural Education: Its function and field

I see it in two split hairs, viz. a) in the context buildings, as in a habitational construct and b) in the context of design, as in the art and science of putting diverse inputs together to create a singular output of societal relevance,

  1. The relevance of Architectural Education emanates from the relevance of Architecture. Every building is not Architecture, just as every remedy is not Medicine or every argument is not Law or every shopping list is not Accountancy or screwing open a bottle cap is not Engineering. There are buildings which people can, and do, build without Architectural education and they function very well, thank you very much. Architecture, necessarily is about the “something more than the ordinary”, like a Baked Alaska versus Kwality Vanilla. True, to make the former, the extra-ordinary, it may be useful (not necessary) to understand the making of the latter, the ordinary. The purpose and the method of Architectural Education has to be the development of skills to create the former, as it is done forever (the “classical”) and then go on to create anew. It is in prescribing that only knowing the latter is the minimum required qualification to be an Architect that we demean the position of Architecture. That is where the CoA is in error and the Act is not.

  2. Architecture, “Mother of all Arts”, continues to be the supreme example of design thinking. Rather than seeing it as being a human competency confined to buildings it can be extended to other realms as well. That is how it has been hitherto, with trained architects venturing into myriad fields, even uncharted territories, where they have applied their acquired skills. Many of these “yet-to-be-disciplines” are too young or too nebulous to have formalised their own, specialised training regime and are dependent on lateral entries to get their best exponents. Therein lies the essence of a liberal education, that it is meant for learning: what you do with it, or not do, is a freedom of choice. Architectural education, likewise, can be seen as a worthwhile medium to nurture individuals with potential of service to society, like a an education in Literature or Humanities or Basic Sciences or Mathematics.

The present conundrum in Architectural Education is symptomatic of the confusion in professional practice. The CoA’s artifice of have all buildings designed only by registered architects has combined with two other poppycock ideas to create a lethal cocktail , viz. i) that Architects must only do Architecture, an not anything else, otherwise the huge investment in producing them would be wasted and ii) the objective of acquiring Architectural Education is to find an Architectural job, (not career).

An example would be thought provoking: At IIT-KGP in 2016, the graduating class of 37 had only one who intended to immediately go into architectural practice (family business) and one was going to Masters’ in US (enroute academia) : all the others had lucrative placements in corporates of various hues, few related to architecture or buildings, mostly IT-driven service outfits like Zomato. (Interaction with students after thesis jury). So should we stop this wasteful investment? But that’s how it is with the B. Techs. at premier institutions, year after year, and the world is none the worse for it. Clearly, the relevance of a Mechanical Engineering is not at the factory floor only. Simultaneously, the idealistic occupation following such a qualification would be Machine Design! (consensus from Interaction with respective HoDs in various institutions)

Why create a masters’ course in Architectural Education?

I am confused here. Do you mean a Masters’ for “how to teach Architecture?” or a Masters’ as a part of “how to do Architecture”. The questions of ideology, methodology and temporality seem to point towards specialisations in the practice of Arcitecture, though teaching by itself is a pretty tough game and deserves to be “mastered” as well. Jamia Millia Islamia has had a Masters’ in Architectural Pedagogy for over a decade now which offers a good take-off point for a discussion.

  1. Because there is so much to learn: All of what can be taught to an Architecture student below the age of 25 cannot be squeezed into a B. Arch. program, even of 5 years duration ( used to be 6 at CEPT, once upon a time, and we have added heft since)… Fifty years ago the need of the hour was to establish a profession and perhaps to attract the public eye, the architect in “name and style” was plugged as the one-stop building shop. The CoA struggling to come up with a viable description of Architectural services turned protectionist by creating an exclusive domain. However, in all these years it has yet to put a finger on what is the unique proposition an architect trained in the prescribed manner can bring to the table that no one else can. The under-graduate program, therefore, creates an equivalent of an MBBS, a general practitioner capable of providing a basket of rudimentary services all by herself. On the other hand, an inter-netted society, where information is never far away, seeks its MDs.

  2. To unbundle Architectural education: It is not necessary for every prospective Architect to be taught everything, whether it interests them or not as a career stepping-stone. Students need to spend more time learning what they want to rather than what they are forced to. In keeping with the growth in the demand for architectural services of varied description (design, design audit, design strategy, construction supervision, facility planning, whatever), apart from the opportunities outside mainstream architecture, it becomes necessary to differentiate one’s added value to a prospective client or employer, especially at the start of a career. A Masters’ course strengthens that differentiation. It also opens up the possibility acquiring of multiple differentiations, re-skilling, super-specialization and collaboration amongst specialists. The time has come to deconstruct CoA’s B. Arch. and formalize the Stage 1 and 2 as separate programs, whereby the latter becomes a Masters’ program leading to proficiency in Architectural Design, Professional Practice, Education, Advocacy and Outreach etc. with equal thrust on B2C and B2B paradigms.

  3. To lay a fecund ground for research: In today’s fast-changing world where every other discipline is contemplating the shape of the world of the future, India’s architects are looking like heels, of the Achilles type. The profession is in regression because we are not running ahead, not even among our Asian neighbours. In public perception we have been reduced to being purveyors of CGI, because all the rest of what an architect does, some one else can also do and perhaps better. Public disenchantment is expressed by an unabashed preference for foreign architects for India’s most significant projects due to an absence if any clearly visible innovation in architecture within the country. Certainly in India, Architecture lacks a research eco-system. Since under-graduate education is so emphatically practice-oriented, development of new ideas is mostly by chance. What used to be the new areas of exploration in the early days are now become spun-off disciplines, viz. City Design, Conservation, Landscape Urbanism, Interior Architecture, etc., creaming away a bulk of the intellectual capital out of the architecture’s mainstream, which I would describe as “the expertise of creating good buildings”. We need a movement towards learning how to do that.

Footnotes

  1. With support from Prof. Rajat Ray, Dean Faculty of Architecture, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.