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  • Kasturi Goswami

How Architectural Education Needs To Eye And Risk The Normal To Evolve In The Field

Architect comes from Latin ‘architectus,’ the origin of which is the Greek word ‘architéktōn,’ archi: to be the first, who commands and téktōn: mason, builder; i.e., the boss who sends the masons. In the basal memo that outlines architecture, architects declare themselves masters of the art and science of designing and engineering structures and buildings. Architects act as trusted advisors, blending technical and aesthetic aspects of a creative process while serving the public interest.

The ideal architect should be a man of letters, a skillful draftsman, a mathematician, familiar with historical studies, a diligent student of philosophy, acquainted with the music, not ignorant of medicine, learned in the responses of jurisconsults, familiar with astronomy and astronomical calculations.

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio

1st century B.C. Roman architect and author of The Ten Books On Architecture


History Of Architectural Education

In his research post, A History of Architectural Education in the West, Dr. Garry Stevens discussed that architectural education had changed patterns and formats since its Western inception. In the early nineteenth century, the French had created a rift in the traditional mechanism of history reproduction, which was through the chain of masters to pupils. They had opened a school, École des Beaux-Arts, to train architects.

This was a revolutionary step to crank the gears to formal architectural education establishments throughout the West. A century and a half later, the West had started certifying graduates, appointing professional proxies to monitor the quality of education, and encouraging research to increase professional knowledge.

Over the years, four different school systems were formed in the West; Britain, France, Germany, and the U.S. The British had introduced the concept of internships or apprenticeships as it was commonly known. The Frenchmen had given the world organized architectural education, while the Germans had imbibed the concept of research as their regular classes. The United States easily amalgamated both the German and French methods. This prompted the need for structured architectural education all around the globe.

Architectural Studies Scenario In India

The architectural diversity and geographical expanse of architectural heritage are vast and colorful in India. Established throughout history and cultures, the contemporary visions of architecture and its studies in India revert to the colonial era. The Western influence set the pace of modernization; hence for Indians, this concept was alien. Nevertheless, with time, they have been adopted into the Indian traditional scenario, the shift catalyzed by diversities of the climate, culture, and age-old traditions, evolving into a statement unique to India. Architectural studies in India are an outcome of the extremities between the ideologies of urban and traditional.

1913, Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Mumbai, Asia’s first arch school, is established. Introducing formal education has surged the number of students pursuing architecture as a profession, with the booming growth of institutions offering education in this field. According to a report, Perspective Plan For Growth Of Architectural Education, released by the Council of Architecture (COA) on August 2020, “The major spurt in the growth of institutions can be seen in the year 2011-2012 and 2015-16. While the number of colleges has been flourishing from 137 in 2006 to 553 in 2017; colleges had to shut down for various reasons and the actual number of colleges now in July 2020 stands at 465.”

The Knots In The Indian Education System

Christopher Charles Benninger celebrated architect, and academician, shares his views on the current state of architecture in India, "As a center for architectural education, India is fairly young." He lists out the key elements that Indian arch schools need to comprehend to change the current scenario, "We must move from artist to technologist; move from the great man theory to capable professionals; move from romanticism to objective reality; move from fuzzy logic to systems thinking; move from random acts of creativity to systematic and innovative thinking; move from text messaging on mobiles to writing serious texts on paper; move the blind from leading the blind; must rediscover our history; move from sick buildings to healthy buildings and sustainable cities; bring the focus of education back to practice; move from pretty architecture to serious urbanism."

The COA had reported a subdued growth spurt in the number of architectural colleges owing to substantial vacancies compared to the total sanctioned seats. This has created a shift in the profession from teaching; hence postgraduates and researchers having an academic inclination and aptitude for teaching have become scarce. The prescribed teacher-to-student ratio is 1:10. However, as only 10% of the practicing and registered architects apply, the number cannot meet the requirement. The dwindling resource of efficient faculty has become an issue of intense debate and scrutiny regarding the quality of education and its appraisal concerning changing times.

A holistic architectural education needs to amalgamate skills and information, the overall development of a profession's theory, and practical aspects. The evaluation process must be continuous, and besides the traditional means of assessment, the training in architectural education should comprise varied interrelated segments-theory, field visits, and studio/workshop.

However, teaching is still conventional, and an act of contrition is preferred as the more desirable option of practice, i.e., exposure to ground realities and real-life situations. This mindset sullies the system, depriving the students of quality academics. This has led to a high dilution in the quality of education and professionals themselves. The shift from qualitative consolidation to quantitative growth has become a major issue of abhorrence that needs disclosure.

Prem Chandavarkar; architect, theorist, and managing partner of CnT Architects, while accessing the state of architectural education in India had stated, "A practice that survives by absorbing graduates who may have skills but cannot think critically and innovatively is one that only repeats conventions of the past or one that does not go beyond surface imagery."

In his paper, Architectural Education in India in the Time of Globalisation (1998), A G Krishna Menon, architect, urban planner, and conservation consultant, quoted three dominant issues the Indian government policies had to address to ensure a wholesome architectural education system. Though stated years ago, changes have been seeping in at a slow pace. Thus, the issues are yet to be apprehended in totality, "First, issues relating to sustainability in both the ecological and human systems under conditions of poverty and scarcity of resources; second, conservation of the built and natural heritage; and third, how to deal with emerging technologies and their implications for architectural design and education."

The Changes Of The Hour

  • Architectural Aptitude

Education is a gradual process. It is gaining or imparting knowledge. Effective and complete learning is possible only through the inculcation of constructive critical thinking and analytical aptitude. In average terms, architectural aptitude.

In Europe, the general education approach is anticipatory action learning. It draws from prior research, a unique approach that involves taking actions and later questioning through iterative processes intending to transform organizations and society. According to the US National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), their approach is through action learning theory. The first step represents the understanding of a problem (capacity to classify, compare, summarize, explain or interpret information), followed by the ability to act (application of information, selection of proper information and its fair use, the ability to distinguish information depending on the effects of implementation). In developing countries, however, these approaches have not been sufficiently included in the education curriculum. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) defines sustainable architectural design pedagogical objectives, emphasizing the need to gain relevant competencies and experiential abilities to blend knowledge on problems through practice.

In a curated set of archival discussions, Architectural Education: A Road Map To Reform, Ar Prem Chandavarkar mentioned the need for a properly curated professional experience beyond vocational training for architectural students. His study led him to conclude, “The profession is served only when it builds the capability where each practice can construct its niche of innovation, and this will happen only when the education system moves beyond threshold levels of skill to truly strive for a level of academic excellence that is represented by critical and artistic rigor.”

A group of three from The University of Belgrade-Faculty of Architecture conducted a case study, Towards the Conceptual Changes in Architectural Education: Adjusting to Climate Change (2017), on the newly incorporated problem-based learning methods to increase the applicability of up-to-date knowledge on climatic change. This different climate-sensitive approach to the Urban structure course positioned to the second years in bachelor studies was researched for two school years (2013-14 and 2014-15). A semi-open questionnaire (16 questions-13 MCQs, and 3 allowing the possibility of additional individual answers) was created and distributed amongst the students. Two hundred forty-six undergraduate students took part in the survey in two phases before and after the completion of the renewed course.

The analysis revealed the changed perception of their knowledge, interests, and awareness of environmental issues. It had successfully enabled them to contribute towards sustainable development of the arch sector, especially important in a developing country (i.e., India but in this case, Serbia), with limited resources and lower environmental consciousness. The survey’s outcome showed the influence of the Problem Based Learning model on the increased quality of proposed climate-sensitive solutions in architecture and planning. Thus, the early stages of architectural education are underlined as crucial for developing new intellectual frameworks, abilities, conceptions, and values.

  • Sustainability And Technology Inception

The snowballing human consciousness has sparked the need to develop the built sector in a manner that is ecologically sensitive and sustainable; in short, environmentally friendly. In the words of distinguished Ar Chitra Vishwanath, a sustainability researcher and the MD of Biome Environmental Solutions, “Future of architecture lies in it being ecologically sensitive wherein it incorporates water, waste, energy, biodiversity, food, and resources to build it.” Adhering to the GRIHA, IGBC, and BEE rating norms is today’s ever-present reality in India. However, it is still far from being a widespread implementation to ensure true sustainability.

The COA, in its report, states the need for a suitable curriculum that aims to provide appropriate skill development and encourage research in the fields of Affordable Housing, Sustainable Development, Environment Sensitive Building, Landscape Architecture, User Interface Design, Parametric modeling, Lighting Design, Public Space Design, Interdisciplinary research, and pedagogical innovations, etc.

Besides, the emerging technologies viz. 3-D Printing, building information modeling, virtual reality, etc., if deployed, will take the construction world by storm. However, the blending of modern technology and sustainability in the technical education curriculum is still lacking to a diverse degree.

An exploratory study, A Comparative Study on Sustainability in Architectural Education in Asia—With a Focus on Professional Degree Curricula (2016), was carried out by four architects from Korea. It analyzed the curricula of 20 selected influential schools in 11 countries (China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan). Sustainability-related courses were analyzed. This helped identify the uniqueness of sustainability based on various regional or individual needs. Technology-related courses were absolute preferences, and sustainability design studios varied. They found that the general theory courses help sort out sustainability issues through traditional and vernacular philosophies aided by technologies and strategies in geographical and cultural settings.

The two schools selected in India were IIT Roorkee (IITR) School of Architecture and IIT Kharagpur (IITKGP). Both colleges provide a wide range of subjects focused on sustainability issues and have strong technological orientations. However, IITR had integrated sustainability issues in a design studio course while IITKGP did not compensate by more compulsory technology-related courses along the semesters. This has resulted in a lack of up-to-date quality college professionals.

Thus, the situation is straightforward; an almost desperate shift towards complete green sustenance and its viability through emerging technology in architectural studies are a must need in Indian arch schools. Institutes depend on conventional learning to an extent, detrimental to the student’s overall growth, debarring him/her of advancement in the present-day growing technological scenario.

  • Heritage Conservation

Sustainable design thrives on the reduction of depletion of resources, prevention of environmental degradation, and building eco-friendly structures. Sustainable design also advocates renovating and retrofitting pre-existing buildings rather than building anew; reducing operating costs and environmental effects. Several case studies and projects have been carried out in cities that have an extensive stock of old buildings of historical and cultural value; analyzing the influence of an ethical architectural education through heritage conservation.

A study titled, Heritage conservation and architectural education: “An educational methodology for design studios (2013), was conducted by evaluating design processes, concepts, and outcomes of conservation projects carried out in two of the famous historic houses in Jeddah city of Saudi Arabia: Ba Naja house and Nassif house.

The study concluded that architectural education programs focused on revitalization and conservation of communities’ heritage values had been the primary reason behind the thorough development of a student’s creative and investigative skills. Thus, stressing the importance of undertaking heritage conservation projects can be considered an effective approach in an architectural school’s curriculum to educate students in the right direction.

Unfortunately, few arch schools go through the scrutiny to test their educational objectives, ideas and observational methods or the role they play in moulding an architectural student with an innate desire to be a responsible citizen and human.

The education policies should fuel the yearning within the budding architects to respect and work toward heritage conservation. They should be capable to analyze conservation and keeping up with local values and community needs. So, the school curriculum must develop minds under the umbrella of architectural and urban heritage conservation. The current status quo of urbanization with no consideration for the preservation of history engages Yasmeen Lari (the first woman architect of Pakistan and Co-founder of the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan) emotionally, “There’s nothing wrong with building contemporary structures, every city needs them, but there’s no need to destroy one’s heritage in the process. In the pursuit of wealth and moneymaking, people are not bothered about collective good, which is disturbing.”

  • Changes After COVID-19

At present, the world is facing a global crisis for the pandemic situation; and at this crucial period, architecture can kindle a spark in economic growth. New lifestyle restrictions on society is a fundamental curve toward a change in the built environment. Examination of the current change that may very well forecast itself to be our normal future following the pandemic, can help remodel our architectural perception, studies and research. Thus, architectural studies should now bend towards incorporating changes causing the importance of less human contact. Planning of spaces will have to emphasize the need for social distancing; sustainable planning has to take the forefront of architectural studies.

What We Can Expect From Arch Schools?

Architects work with the abstract to create reality. Their work is varied and embraces many aspects; creative yet practical, calculated yet random. Knowledge of pre-existing formats of architecture; their origin and impact on the then and now; the evolution of the field; the collaboration between traditionality and modernity; and hands-on working experience on projects under established architects would ensure the blanket of education is whole.

An arch school should ensure to kindle and proclaim each architect as proficient in architectural thinking and application. The promise of quality education through well-trained educators is a dire necessity. Hence, the schools should manage to increase their education excellence with precedence to the student’s professional dexterity. They should nurture the enhancement of core competencies through architectural thinking. It helps the student to understand and develop solutions through connecting with people, places and ecology; while understanding relationships that the built environment shares with the community and environment. The schools should prep up architects for the future real-world situations of good work ethics; productivity and role shaping.

As an architect, you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown.

~ Ar Norman Robert Foster

President of Norman Foster Foundation.


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