Stop digging your own graves!! Solutions to the declining architecture profession in India
This article is not yet another debate about the problems faced by architects in India. We see only the problems being discussed everywhere in forums, social media and amongst architects, but nobody has brought up a solution. I believe ‘we’ ourselves are the problems, and therefore, the solutions outlined here might be of your interest.
We architects, are one of a kind of species who boast about being a professional with the knowledge of both art and engineering. The sad part is, we boast about ourselves amongst ourselves! We talk and praise about architecture only amongst architects! Only architects know who the great architects are and why they are great. More than half of the population of India believe architects are people who build houses with no difference between them and the contractor, and I am also sure 50% of Indian people wouldn’t know who an architect is, in the first place. Now of course there are thousands of lesser known professions worldwide, but with construction and real estate occupying a market size of Rs. 12,000 crore, it’s not good to be in the dark. Without any hesitation, I accept the fact that ‘we’ ourselves are the problems. We haven’t moved out of the stereotype working of architecture firms and then expect to be successful in this modern informative world. Each and every industry has accepted the change and moved to transition, except construction. Even after receiving computers and softwares, we haven’t dropped out of that ‘drafting’ concept into something more revolutionary. We are just using computers to lessen the time of hand drafting rather than something which would not have been possible by hand. We are still following the client-project-construction approach rather than inventing something new. So in a sense, we are digging our own graves for the death. Nothing else.
I have tried to give a newer dimension to these problems and outlined solutions which could probably help empowering architecture professions in India. Please read through the entire pointers to understand the ideology and mindset.
1. Don’t think only of design: Value addition
People don’t find any difference between contractor and architect because they are unable to see any visible difference. Thousands of construction taking place today are just the replication of a particular design, tailored to that project. A contractor can do the same thing without you! What is the ‘value addition’ that you are providing as an architect? If planning a bedroom, however artistic, has to be of limited size, and preferably rectangular. Contractor does exactly that. Now as an architect, you have to think beyond this, beyond the design and aesthetic. Over the years, an architect’s job has reduced to being a coordinator between various consultants and has never really thought what would be his value to the project. It’s not coordination, not curvy organic designs, nor a unique modern elevation which makes an architect stand out. Drop these thoughts first and think about what is that feature which only you can provide and nobody else could replicate. What is it that the common people need? What is the problem that stakeholders are facing in construction that you can give a solution to? So from now on, don’t just design, but also think of a complete package of ‘valued design’
2. Yell out aloud: Sell yourself
Marketing and selling is not a part of architecture practice, thanks to COA. They prohibit advertising of architect and other forms of it in any manner. No comments. But I am not asking you to advertise yourself, but to sell your ideas to execution. Why is it that a developer conceptualizes a project, appoints an architect to do it, and sells it to earn the profit? Why don’t we, as an architect, who boast to have the understanding of concept, justification, client’s needs, sustainability etc, take up a project idea, get the funding from developers, design and sell it to have a profitable equity share in the project? Why can’t an architect be the ‘captain of the ship’, rather than a part of it? If you argue that architecture profession has to be limited to service only, then you are lagging behind in the age of construction 4.0. If you argue that developers are the main funding people, which is why they are the ‘hero’ of the project, then you need to change your mindset. Sometimes a director of a film takes his story to a producer to fund it. Take example of filmmaker Christopher Nolan, who takes his film to a producer to fund it, and retains the captain of ship image. People watch those films because of his name, and not the producer’s. Here, we are the directors and developers are producers. Create proposals yourself and pitch to the developers instead of waiting for a developer to come to you. It’s time to transform the client-project-commission model to project-client-profit model.
3. Don’t build in Antarctica: Market study
Mumbai itself houses the most number of architecture colleges and firms in India, rest are concentrated in other major cities across the country. India ranks 44th in infrastructure quality in the world with a housing gap of 19 million urban units. With this gap of opportunities in place, architects in the country are still complaining of low salaries, slow career growth, poor job satisfaction etc. Somewhere there is a product-market mismatch. We are aiming for those stereotype projects like tower apartments, office spaces etc. which are already saturated with enough participants in the tier 1&2 cities. Mumbai is saturated. It’s time to move out and find the market which needs you, which needs your expertise and architectural consultancy. Those market demands won’t be what you will be generally expecting. Don’t dream of building a shopping mall in a rural village. A free market which is contextually relevant is the need there. It’s not that architects are not required in the other lesser known parts of India, it’s because we are never interested to know about them. Contractors are the ones who executes ‘all’ the projects there. Don’t look for scale, look for scope. You can execute only one large scale project in 3 years, in contrast to good 100 small projects in 3 years. So start the search of markets instead of companies for your future career.
4. Who is an architect? : Creating awareness
Anyone hailing from an average middle class family, must have come across this question from relatives and friends atleast once in his lifetime. Everyone knows about doctor, accountant, engineer, lawyer, but nobody knows who is an architect! We architects as a community, along with COA, are to be blamed for this. When a person does not know who an architect is, how can he value that architect and in turn pay him for his service? Value can only be created by raising awareness about this profession and their contribution to the society. There should be campaigns, seminars and exhibitions right from school with interactions among common people and architects to showcase the importance of architects in each and every project. Why don’t we celebrate architecture day just as yoga day? Great political leaders should celebrate this profession across the nation. I want a nation where common people chose architects not just because for their license and signature, but because they don’t trust non-architects any more. Even if the law allows non-architects to practice, such people shouldn’t exist because people don’t need them. How many times it has happened that you chose to visit a non-licensed doctor over a licensed one? None! That’s because we are aware, similarly people should be aware of architects. So my dear architects, don’t demand COA to fix a minimum salary rule for architects, instead demand for larger awareness platform and programmes which uplifts the value of architects in people’s mind.
If you agree with these thoughts, please spare a few seconds to share this among your friends and family to spark a debate. If you disagree, criticisms are accepted. Comment below and share your thoughts for a broader and healthy discussion. Thankyou!
He is a passionate architect from Virar, a small suburb of Mumbai. Apart from architecture, he is passionate about Film-making, programming, finances and dancing. He likes to be create-tive, which ultimately lead him in learning these diverse skills. Follow him on social networking platforms mentioned