The commercial journal on construction projects, as per the marketing information, boasts of having real time information on 75,000 sizable projects in India. Of these, 46,000 are currently at various stages of implementation with a total investment equivalent to around 70 per cent of the total Indian GDP.
With such a large volume of construction underway and building industry having been one of the most critical in environmental balance, have we pondered how the professional responsible for the same— the architect — is selected?
Architecture is the profession governed by the Council of Architecture and created under the Act of parliament, way back in 1972. Like the medical council or the Bar council it governs the profession’s codes of conduct, norms of professional education and the dos and don’ts for maintaining professional ethics. It also regulates and monitors the conduct of practice by its member architects and holds power to debar any for violation of its conduct.
Under the Act only professionals possessing right education and qualification from recognised schools and curriculum can practice as an architect. The first issue of concern is that today as many, if not more, non architects, especially, engineers and allied service consultants practice as architects.
The irony is that they are even officially registered as architects in most of the municipalities, public works departments and governments or institutional panels of building design resources. This is the first violation of the Architect’s Act and that too by the government authorities themselves. When medical doctors and chartered accountants find such protection, why are architects taken liberties with?
At the time of independence there were only one or two colleges of architecture in Mumbai and Chandigarh and induction of non architects may have been compelled then, but today when there are nearly 350 schools of architecture, recognised by the Council of Architecture, across the country with 20,000 architects graduating every year on an average, it is imperative that authorities take a serious call on this and respect the profession’s sanctity by acknowledging it in its due rights and the education as specific to the field and only professionals graduated within the course curriculum to be competent architects.
Until now, total number of architects registered with council of architecture nationally is 40,000 while from now on every year half of which will be graduating every year. On the other hand the fact of the matter remains that only four percent of the total registered architects nationally are employed with government. How many authorities have official posts specifically for architects and how many are filled in genuinely with registered architects?
The other matter of concern is how the architectural design projects are commissioned. Architecture, recognised as a profession in its own right for a long time, has been a referral practice. Projects were awarded based on familiarity with individual and personal referencing from friends, family or peer circle.
More as a club, projects continued to land with definite names and simply by the process of selection rather than competition. Again with fewer professionals being available, this may have been the acceptable trend. Today with rapidly growing numbers of qualified professionals, it is time this aspect of job commissioning process got serious reviews.
While private assignments may get liberty of personal choices for selection of architectural professionals, are governments and public institutions justified in doing so? Most of the developed countries have a norm that projects with public funding must be awarded through open competitions and not by personal appointments.
This makes it plural where young professionals also can participate as well as stand a chance to win the projects on merit. This also means that rather than personal credentials projects are commissioned based on the product credentials. Can authorities not formalise such an open-ended system that is more plural and equitable?
Often competitions, even though held, are designed as disguise to formalise the appointment of pre-selected firm or individual.
The riders of the competition are designed to exclude major competition and maintain the professional club for selection. One such rider tends to be the volume of work or turnover of fees as the factor for pre-qualification. Most of such competition rests in favour of consortium of non-architectural firms rather than genuinely creative and concerned architectural professional with modest turnover. These riders are founded on false assumptions.
Larger number of manpower does not reflect the right backup of required professionals. Often, these numbers denote non-related qualifications or capabilities doing other assignments under the larger umbrella. Similarly, large number also may mean very thinly stretched manpower and attention per project, having to attend several projects at go.
Perhaps a modest firm may better dedicate its resources and attention solely to the assigned project. The higher volume of turnover also often represents repetitive bulk of construction (i.e. multi storeyed structure with exact duplication of floors) or non-related type of construction (i.e. roads, bridges, walls and service infrastructures) reflecting neither creativity, nor complexity of scale, nor capabilities of design.
It is high time we prioritised what we expect of architectural profession, had full clarity about each profession’s roles and assumed full responsibilities under the professional roles assigned to each faculty.