Professional Practice
Why do we need architects?
It's been two years since I set up my practice in Kochi, India. It has definitely not been easy for very many reasons- but none of that seems to bother me as much as the question that repeatedly hits me- "Why do we (a layman) need these architects?"

There are many people who practice architecture and have not even the faintest idea of what they are dealing with. So the role of architect gets challenged very often. I strongly feel the need of awareness among community regarding the role of an architect. This, I understand, is well practiced in the West. In a developing community/country like ours I strongly feel the need for the same.

We have a architecture community here (a branch of IIA -Indian Institute of Architect, Kochi) which is not such a significant organization (not completely -it's of some use). The organization is not - to the best of my knowledge - very capable of implementing control at the grassroots level.

They take big decisions, but can't penalize an architect for taking a very low fee and undercutting other architects in government projects/competitions. (I think this is common out here where the contractor pays the architect- this is in appropriate practice).

We have foreign architects practicing in India and the council does nothing to stop them. They (foreigners) find some loopholes and the entire rule is violated.

Countries like Switzerland have very firm rules that define the role and the right of practice. In India, apart from the architects, a bunch of people can approve an architectural drawing.

In short, the role of the Council is not felt at the grass root level, except the Supreme Court where they might be fighting some high-level cases.

All this, I would assume, sends a very mixed signal to ordinary people. The level of awareness has to be tackled in some way too. I would be interested in knowing if there has been any past discussion on the same, prior, or any initiatives that answer "why do we need these architects?"

I don't intend to generate a discussion on the definition of an architect. It's more the role of an architect in a society, and if it's not defined, how do you create the outreach?

I think small cities like ours, with a population of less than 4 million people, need a good eye wash regarding the profession.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
Here in the US, too, if one lives in an unincorporated area, the countryside/ rural America, one does not need a building permit. And this permit is what forces one to go to the architect.

It is the same with many other basics of life, the eatery, plumbing, electrical works and so on. If one desires to safeguard the trained skill one has learnt, one must desire to follow the Swiss or the western bureaucratic mode of the so-called "civic society," as determined by a bunch of bureaucrats who determine what is good aesthetically and safe in their metro political domain.

The same is true with medical practices, or even religious practice.

In one of our heated discussions in a San Francisco graduate school faculty meeting, the school president had told me, rather matter of factly, that, even Jesus Christ or the Buddha would not be qualified to teach Christianity or Buddhism without the academic credentials here.

Just because one spends a number of years and a considerable sum of money in pursuing a skill in the academic school, be that of architecture or medicine, does not mean that another person, who acquires the understanding of the same skill intuititively, or in some other way, does not know what one is doing.

If one has any doubts about this, just look at the still-standing bridges and buildings of the past. None of them were built by a graduate of any academy.

And the American Medical Association (AMA) is struggling hard to keep the disenchanted and disillusioned American patients fro being drawn to the non-academic, non-AMA-approved medical practices making inroads into mainland America.

The term "globalization" may be new only as a word, but the practice of it will lead people to the time before there were boundaries drawn in people's minds, be they political or any other kind.

Even in the Indian past before the Islamic invasion, people were free to pursue and promote one's stance upon any thing or thought. Wherever one belief system erected a temple, the opposing belief system built its own in close proximity. Just go to Khajuraho or Bhuvneshvar to find the believers in God, Vaisnava and non-believer Buddhists trading their philosophical wares side by side.

So what does it matter whether a non-degreed person gets to build his own structure next to yours, so long as it stands the test of time without endangering the life of anyone else?

People will always go to someone whose work has stood the test of time to get help, be it in building or medicine or anything else. It is only the academy-supported bureaucracy that struggles to establish the permit system to safeguard its own survival.

Ponder over this.
Shailesh Dave
Why do we need architects?
Hello Shailesh,

Thank you for your reply. I understand that your reply is acknowledging the presence of talented people who are capable of practicing architecture or any other formal program without formal training. My concern is not about that- the people you are speaking of are a tiny fraction- a miniscule. What about the rest of them? And above all, it still does not address the concern!
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
I also agree with Shailash.

In fact, this question must be clear to the people who are newly joining this field.

Because if they doesn't know that, then they get nothing after spending important 5 years of life.
Sanj Shah
Why do we need architects?
In the topic "why do we need architects?" the "we" refers to a layman.

Often I have come across situations where ordinary people (in India) are not aware of why we need architects. So when you work on a residence there are good chances you would find people saying- "we could have done the same without paying this architect". Now this issue might be prevalent because

  • large scale mediocre works that are being sold out by architects as "high architecture"
  • lack of communication between the architect and the client

Now I am thinking there must be some way to address this issue.

Recently when I was traveling by train I was accompanied by an Australian couple and a pharmacist. We were having a general discussion about the situation here and back in Australia. We were discussing various problems that have marred the planning of structures around the costal belt of Kerala and a lack of conscious effort to correct it, and so on.

In short the conclusion was that most of these issues were a result of vested interests and the lack of a professional approach.

As the conversation progressed, the Australian couple showed us (myself and the pharmacist) a photo of their house in Australia. The response to this from the pharmacist was "hey!!! This is just what I have planned for my new house. The present house that I have designed has no architect involved and because of that I saved a lot of money. The new one will be just like yours." Now, the house that the couple showed had a lot of glass, and it would work for their climate- if the same is done in a tropical place like this, then we would be toast.

Last week there was this residence featured in the local newspaper by a local architect. The house had a large pond in it and the architect said the idea of having such a large pond was to cool the surrounding as the evaporating water would cool the area around it.

Now, as I said previously, ours is a tropical climate with an average humidity of 90%. What we need to cool is good flow of air. So in a way both these people (the pharmacist and the architect) are not so different from each other- the only difference being that one is trained.

You reap what you sow. I feel the architecture community has not sown in the right direction.

Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?

I imagine the reasons why people say "why do we need architects?" is because many architects have little or no respect for the views of people, and so there are too many modern buildings built which are ego trips for the architect.

Plus, architects are now seen as part of the expensive bureaucratic process which results in ego trip designs or mediocre buildings which could have been built cheaper and quicker without the tiresomeness of official meddling.

Until architects return to designing visually aesthetic architecture, then people will not be impressed by the mediocrity of ego-trip designs and will look for those who are willing to listen and build them their dreams. :)

The reason why I changed to architecture as a career at 35 was that I was one of those "laymen" who were disgusted by the rubbish created by so-called architects.
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?

I think that you have picked up a very good topic.

John, architecture is a totally market driven profession.

What we lack, is that unlike lawyer's chambers, we don't have architect's chambers which specialise in many fields like housing, hospitals, airports, etc. You need to practise to learn.... I thnk that every district and city should have one.
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?

In principle, an architect should be able to design and build anything, but in practice, architects (by accident or by design) tend to specialise and by experience create their own design database. :)))

Maybe what the 'layman' client needs is to be able to go the local architectural association and ask for architects who specialise in the type of building they want. I realise that this is a step back into the past as this is something like the Master Craftsmen Guild system, but it should help laymen clients and architects. :)
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?

You are absolutely correct, that is what is required. A database of architects.

Unfortunately, you can't go to a website and look up which architects can be hired for, say, airport design, or say housing construction, etc.

There are various companies who come out with annual directories and databases, but these are again incomplete. There should be a system within the Council of Architects (I am talking about India at present) which will allow transparent `logging' of assignments taken by architects & to what level. I am sure that the Council of Architecture can grow to become something like the lawyers chambers in each city. However this idea is good, to have a constantly updated database.
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?
Architect, like any other professional identity, actually limits the ability of the human person to experience the full potential of existence.

The prime example of this self-imposed confinement in the narrowest prison cell that the self identity is the superstar, an Olympian medalist, a movie star or a US president. It fixes not only the type of work one must do, but it also forms a handicap in the rest of the interactive motions of life, keeps one ignorant and unaware of the beauty of living a wholesome life.

In my elementary school English lessons, there was a story of the scientist Newton: Newton went to a carpenter to ask him to cut two holes in the door, one big for the big cat and one small for the small cat, so that his two cats could go out and come in without his having to open the door. The carpenter asked, why two holes? The small cat can surely come in through the big hole.

The professional identity is nothing but a device to try to secure an income, a socioeconomic security. If everyone is allowed to build one's own home, as other creatures and primitive and rural people do, then not only there would be no architects needed, but even the schools of architecture would be obsolete.

Still, this does not deny one from having an insight in the art of building, but rather it enhances the understanding of its purposefulness in the eco-centric nature of all interconnected motions of life.

Maybe then the builder, too, would be guided with a code that is similar to the medical profession, the oath of hypocrite, and guided with that insight, one would refuse to build monuments and symbolic structures no matter how rich the customer.
Shailesh Dave
Why do we need architects?
Dear Shailesh,

Do you mean to say that the practice should be opened to all irrespective of their background? Not that it is not that way now. In rural India all people are self made architects- and this must be the situation world wide.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
Chitradeep, Hello again. :)))

Yes, I like the idea of a transparent logon system for use by laypeople. The idea is to have a system which allows the layperson to (a) directly access a database and choose for themselves, and/or (b) ask for technical advice.

The role of the organisation should be only as a database centre/clearing house and never "an advice centre".
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?
Hello Frank, :-))

Great to hear that. In fact today so much of research has gone into every detail of architecture, that the time has come to see it as a fully organised industry. There is enough experience and research on earthquake resistance, cyclone resistance, cyclones (natural disasters, that is), fire, etc.

There is enough knowledge treasure floating around to tell us exactly how to harness natural energy sources. Some where, every where, something has been standardised. So if you have information, tested or 'being' tested technologies. If you have specialised manpower or general manpower (like surgeons, general physicians, etc.), I think a lot of work is floating around in just creating a database and making it continue. There are companies who have done it for the suppliers, who I think by far are best documented with International and National Standard codes being followed by whosoever matters.

A similar thing can be done for architects.

However there is always an argument that by standardising creativity is suppressed. To such an argument, my answer is that I do not propose standardisation of creativity, but simply those things that can be standardised.
This is where knowledge of writing softwares for building design and the construction industry comes into play (somebody please help me in this logic :-)

When you write a programme you need specific information, and when you do research, you realise everything follows a set pattern (barring creativity,.. I myself support that!)
Somewhere down the line, as the building industry flourishes, I am sure what you are thinking, what I too wish to see being implemented, will come through.

There is no rocket science in here, but a question of huge work and implementation. I am sure it will be a learning experience.
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?
Hello Shailesh and Kiran,

You are pointing to a specific case of India and SE Asia, where there is too much skill available and too little market.

Just because you know how to make a type of mud house, that does not make you a contractor, mason, carpenter or architect. (Yes, please read them in a single breath!)

I know how to fabricate the bicycle that I rode years back. Does that make me a bicycle manufacturer? You think that there is only 'getting' materials and lapping it up to build a house.

No! There is more to it than meets the eye! Think about it.
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?
Hello everyone,

I have come across umpteen number of people who think it's a waste of money paying the architect. I am affirmative that the situation should be more or less the same throughout India. Might not be the same abroad- perhaps! But how do you address this?

Most people don't know why do they need an architect. Some people have access to softwares like "homearchitect" etc., that make them feel that the professional is avoidable and this means saving a lot of money, according to them. As a small start, can the council do something about that?
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
I am not sure if I am getting myself clearly across- we live in a cynical world- there is competition. Getting payments and making things work without kickbacks is not that easy.

There is a drastic need to address the role of an architect more seriously. This will in turn benefit all the architects. At the moment the question "why do we need architects" is not of any concern to the well established architects, as the people/clients they interact with with them are the ones who need them.

There needs to be a cohesive plan to bring about an awareness/outreach. I don't see anything wrong in developing strong rules/guidelines that insist/impose on the role of an architect.

Simple tasks like: any form of architectural drawing should be made approvable by architects. It's more to safeguard their interests.

Now how do I put it: ours is a professional course/program like any other program. If you look at the medical profession, their role is clearly defined and that has taken them a long way. They too have competition from pharmasists who often tend to be self-made doctors. Now there are people who practice medicine whithout proper accredition, but this has reduced considerably over time; think about it!
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
A discussion on the subject "why do we need architects," among the practicing and aspiring to-be-architects, requires a soul searching necessitating to look into the ulterior motives.

Why does one choose the school of architecture and not another skill? After learning the skill, what type of customer does one expect after hanging a shingle above the shop door? We all are aware that the single most reason for a parent to send a son or daughter to any school is the good financial returns for the investment in education.

And this includes so-called serving the nation as a leader or soldier. One chooses a subject one is somehow introduced to the earliest. There would be no child prodigy of piano if one is born in a country where there is no piano, and children born in a household with piano are more likely to learn to repeat their piano lessons for the rest of their lives, calling it improvisations. A little change in here, a little stress there, and call it a composition. To an ear trained to hear the Indian classical music, the very sound of Japanese samisen or koto feels a bit out of tune. And a westerner struggles to find the rock-type beat in the Indian drum. It is a matter of familiarity; a familiar place is a home or a holiday resort, a familiar face a friend, a familiar sound music and familiar thought religion or philosophy. Schooling makes one familiar to what is instilled in memory, day after day.

And what one is made familiar with is also how one makes a living in a socially acceptable way. Trained and reared thus, a medical doctor or architect would be unwilling to accept that someone else also knows things one knows, but does it in an unfamiliar way.

Seeing things thought and done different from the way one is used to poses question to not only what one knows, but it unwittingly challenges the livelihood and a way of life which is habitual to one. It is nothing more than a habit. And that is why the advertising industry spends billions of dollars to make a new product familiar, the same is with the building industry.

What feels comfortable in a building is not necessarily a new design, but the promoted idea of comfort attached to the notion of acquiring a new model car or a building design.

I am proposing a perception of that new that has nothing to do with the fear of losing the prospect of the socio-economic insecurity. Only then will I be able to see my fellow beings existing not for my notion of one up-ness, but rather co-existing; only them will I not deny their right to live as feels natural to them, rather than trying to convert them to my notion of what is good for them-the kind of the Soviet ideology, that the party knows better about you than you yourself do.

The capitalist business monopoly is based upon that ideology. In it every thing is pitted against each other. Monopoly brings about the monotony, and the same old, same old chain of designs of buildings, food menu, games, package tours and boredom and ailment and treatment.
Shailesh Dave
Why do we need architects?
As I said before, what worries me is not the marginal number of non-architects who end up putting building that are better than the trained ones.

The matter of concern is lack of awareness among the "laymen". What makes them feel that an architectural consultancy is worthwhile? Or are architects a dispensable accessory that one can be done with relying on books, your own skills or day today carpenters.

It's not a matter of professional insecurity- it's a matter of creating better awareness and thereby looking forward to a better habitable space.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
What we need is to demystify architecture? Now some of the professionals themselves make it mystical, and many of the clients realise it in due course.

You have an open attitude and work with the client, then many of the problems can be solved. He should feel that you are of benefit to him.

Also it takes some time for somebody to become self-suffient in practice. Nothing comes all of a sudden. One client has to recommend to others.

Clients are much more knowledgeable these days and they always cross check with others.

One important aspect in architectural practice is that you should take money like the way a bee sucks honey from a flower. They should feel that you have done enough service. The percentages that the Architects Associations put are of no use in the beginning stage.
Benny Kuriakose
Why do we need architects?
When do we seek professional help? Let us take the medical profession. When we have cold or muscle pain, we just buy over the counter drugs rather than going to a doctor.

When we feel that we cannot solve the problem, we take the help of the professional. This is true for most professions. I do not call an electrician, plumber and carpenter unless I am unable to solve the problem myself. When I call a professional, I know that the professional is providing me service that I, as a layman, cannot perform.

If I want to change toilet tiles, make a parapet wall, or do such stuff, I might not go to an architect. This brings me to the point I want to make- what do we, as architects, provide the client, and more importantly, how aware are the clients of the value addition that I provide?

I see very few architects talking of costs (both initial and recurring) while talking of buildings. I see very few architects talking to their clients about climate, electricity bills, construction scheduling and cost benefits, durability and cost benefits etc.

I would go to the other extreme and confess that many architects make buildings that are costly, environment unfriendly and in some cases alarmingly similar to laymen-magazine designed houses!

We need to train architects to understand economy, environment, construction, management, etc., with the same rigor as we look at concepts and ideas. This calls for a change in our educational system.
Vishwanath Kashikar
Why do we need architects?
Hello people,

What surprises me how come no one is speaking of awareness programs-making the public more involved in the decision-making process, etc., some sort of outreach program.

The council should also be taking the primary initiative in this direction. Strengthen the role of an architect; bring in a "right of practice" rule.

There will of course be people who have an innate architectural sensibility in them who can practice "good" architecture- but this is a minority- rules cannot be based on such minority individuals.

Then someone had mentioned that in bygone eras, there were no architects, and people built their own houses- now that is false.

All developed societies worldwide- be they Egyptian, Greek, Russian, Indian, etc., had a principal architect. Of course their then-title may not have been "Chief Architect of the tomb of Menthuhotep." Every developed society has always had a clear demarcation, and there was nothing wrong about it.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
Knowledge is power. Building a small structure requires only a basic understanding of structures and the materials used. The more components a complex needs, the more knowledge one needs to develop a plan to complete the project.

Society requires architects if it is going to grow.

A small community of farmers has little need for advanced plans. But I have seen many towns that outgrew their planning, and thus it is difficult to get around. There have been multi-story structures that have collapsed because the original design was created for only a couple of stories.

The governing bodies need to have reasonable regulations requiring designs are safe and efficent. Building inspections to ensure that designs meet building regulations will naturally lead to designers who can meet the requirements.

Training and experience are very important. I wouldn't want a medical intern doing brain surgery, or have a student pilot flying my airplane when I am flying to your country. Having a listing of one's training and experience would provide the knowledge of who could do the jobs that is required to the consumers.

Best Regards :)
Peter Larson
Why do we need architects?
Hi Kiran,

I understand why you are bringing up this topic and why you feel the need for taking some action in this area. However, the way I look at it, more laws or rules will not help the problem. Enforcing 'right of practice' rules will only lead to more rule breakers!

The outreach programmes seem more feasible. Such programmes, however, will have to clearly demonstrate the advantages of hiring an architect. Just saying that it will lead to better design is not going to help. Firstly, personal preferences vary so much, and one cannot talk of good design by itself.

The advantages have to be demonstrated in a tangible manner. Could we talk of buildings performing better? Maybe we could highlight how buildings designed by architects lead to better indoor comfort in terms of temperature, light conditions etc. resulting in lowering of electricity bills. Advantages could also be demonstrated in cost and time savings due to methodical approach by architects during execution of projects.

If we look at it from the client's point of view, they are paying more to employ an architect. At present, only rich people spend money on architects while constructing homes (I am presuming that this is largely a debate on homes, because for other larger projects, architects are always employed).

Only if we were to clearly highlight the advantages of hiring an architect, we can look forward to a better future. Even then, there will be many who do not employ architects. It is similar to other services and products. Some people go to experts only when all other remedies fail.
Vishwanath Kashikar
Why do we need architects?
I think a large part of my frustrations come from the regulation of professional practice in India.

Here, once you pass out of a 5 year program you are granted the permit to practice and you are registered! It's unfortunate and of course the legal systems are not as strong as it is in US. And to make situations worse there are not very many competitive architecture schools.

But this would be just one part- the other issues, like reaching out to the grassroots and making the community more involved in various decision-making processes makes it worthwhile. I think there is more to be done in a developing country like ours and issues like-

"The architectural professions of the world spend a great deal of time bemoaning their poor status, low income, and the growing competition from other fields," [Christopher Kershaw]

need to be addressed worldwide!

In India there are loopholes to an electrical engineer practicing architecture- like: if he employs an architect, he can not be sued.

I think the architecture council of India should be sued for damaging the status of practice and improving the code of practice.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
"To design a house does not require the 5 to 12 years of study required to become an architect."- Christopher Kershaw.

I don't agree with this. There are not very many people who learn how to develop a residence in spite of having stayed in a decent one for decades. There is lack of interpretation of the vernacular- but I don't think the community can do much about that!

"I feel that the self design of one-off houses by the layman should be encouraged, as it is one of the few forms of vernacular architecture that is allowed to persist in an increasingly complex world." - Christopher Kershaw

This can be encouraged only to a certain extent- as vernacular architecture is seldom brought into practice by the subsequent generation. We live in the digital age where information is in the air. In rural India where the vernacular architecture should flourish to a certain extent, it fails to flourish (there are isolated cases) as there is some vague awareness of modern materials.

For example- people used to use lime plaster in the past, for finishing the wall surfaces and chunna (lime rendering) for wall finishes (both have traditionally proved) but now it gets replaced for some strange fancies.

Definitely we can't influence them- but the need, the existence of the architectural community should be felt at that level. Perhaps these institutes that churn out architects should keep community service as a mandatory part of the curriculum.

The council should assert the need/involvement of planners at the initial stage- rather than wait for an unorganized sprawl.

I am unaware of the situation in different parts of the world- but architects had a significant role in all early civilizations. In traditional Jaipur, when the city was envisaged, then the chief planner drew out a plan for the township. Still earlier during the early phase of the Indus Valley civilization there were clear town plans developed giving definitive role to the "architect" at that time.

I am certain that there is something missing in modern society regarding the role of the architects- and primarily the architects are to be blamed for this. There is this blatant prostitution where nothing is clear- often the architect and the client are not clear of what each one is getting- apart from the financial gains.

By saying this I refer to a previous article featured in India's leading newspaper and no one is there to point out the error!

"Last week there was this residence featured in the local newspaper by a local architect. The house had a large pond in it and the architect said the idea of having such a large pond was to cool the surrounding as the evaporating water would cool the area around it. Now, as I said prior ours is a tropical climate with an average humidity of 90%. What we need to cool is good flow of air. So in a way both these people (the pharmacist and the architect) are not so different from each other- the only difference being that one is trained."- Kiran

"Lots of people in my hometown have built their own houses. Are they inspired? Not necessarily. At turns nice, at turns proportionally painful, sometimes badly constructed, sometimes solid and serviceable." -Chitradeep

Can't there be some control or "help" or anything else to reduce the damage created to avoid "at turns proportionally painful, sometimes badly constructed,..."

All that I am saying that at the grass root level the presence/use/role of an architect should be there. In a rural scenario he should be there as a planner (I am specifically referring to the Indian scenario- planning at rural level must be prevalent in the west).

There is even a possibility of the government or the council assigning a team of architects, geographically located closest to the village, in developing a few modular schemes affirmatively involving the locals, understanding and reflecting their needs, the vernacular, economics, local materials etc.

One could design a bus stop or a cattle shed or something that the locals are in touch with. This should be made mandatory for the larger benefit of the architecture community as well as creating a better habitable situation conducive to growth.

Now in terms of practice as right of practice- that can be based on the area/scale of the project. I don't mean to say architects should design ALL.

What I am trying to get at is to more emphasize the role/ presence of the architecture community. I am not an authority on feng shui, but I feel that feng shui and the vastu shastra (Indian) were partly devised by the smart cookies (during those times) to ascertain the role of an architect. Now by saying this I don't mean to say we need to develop a new age mantra. I only want you to look and tell me, is the new age so self-indulgent and missing out on working a tiny bit for the larger benefit of the community?

"The architectural professions of the world spend a great deal of time bemoaning their poor status, low income, and the growing competition from other fields." Christopher Kershaw

Why is this so? I think this is so because of the lack of awareness of the role of an architect. It's the people from the rural India (in my case) who are going to come to town tomorrow and going to go places (as a result of large-scale migration and a diminishing rural population). If he has enjoyed and experienced the role of an architect, as a planner, as a person who can design houses, he will appreciate that throughout.

The situation in the States and other western countries is different; you have books like "home design" featuring umpteen layouts for a specific cost. Now this is fine as this is just mass-producing architecture. The architect is still there.

The situation in India is way different; in Kochi (India) there is this big time "architect" who is basically an electrical engineer practicing architecture and selling designs right out from the American "home designs book".

Speaking of education, CEPT, Ahmedabad, is an outstanding school of architecture in India. I am not sure how is it doing now after the death of Professor Varkey. I met a very senior person from CEPT and we were generally speaking of practice- so he pointed out a very interesting fact- according to him, although CEPT is one of the oldest schools India, it has not brought out many people with outstanding (financially very successful) architecture offices. I am not sure what this implies!

"We should be investing this time rather in seeking opportunities for our clients, encouraging public debate and becoming spokespeople for the communities we live and work in." -Christopher Kershaw.

This is more of what I am speaking of.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?

The clients of architects can be divided into two distinct types - the professional client and the layman.

In my 10 years of architectural practice in the UK and Spain, my experience has been predominantly that of working for the professional client. Projects have included medium to large housing developments, office buildings, historic building conservation and reforms, urban design masterplanning projects, and, most recently, the design of hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

This debate seems to have focused on the design of one-off houses - one of the most simple building types from the point of view of scale, cost, complexity, familiarity (everyone knows how to plan a house as we've spent our lives living in them), procurement methods, environmental design, structure, construction techniques and materials. To design a house does not require the 5 to 12 years of study required to become an architect.

I feel that the self design of one-off houses by the layman should be encouraged, as it is one of the few forms of vernacular architecture that is allowed to persist in an increasingly complex world.

Architects are essential for: more complex briefs (on a cultural, technical or legislative level), buildings for companies or the state rather than for individuials, buildings that form part of a complex or dense urban fabric, the rare client who seeks a work of art.

The architectural professions of the world spend a great deal of time bemoaning their poor status, low income, and the growing competition from other fields.

We should be investing this time rather in seeking opportunities for our clients, encouraging public debate and becoming spokespeople for the communities we live and work in.

At present, there are too many architects in many countries of the world. Too much supply and too little demand. The supply could be reduced by more rigorous entry requirements to universities, and the demand increased by widening our role in society - not by preventing perfectly able individuals from designing their own homes.
Christopher Kershaw
Why do we need architects?
Hi Kiran,

I think you are making too many sweeping statements. Some of them are absolutely right, but I would like to differ on others.

You talk about the presence of architects at the planning level, and in grassroots areas. I think most cities and planned towns have certified and educated planners working on master plans. The apparent chaos that you see in towns is due to the non-implementation of planning proposals. Of course, one could also debate the planning proposal itself, but to keep within the limits of this discussion, I would like to point out that in the field of planning, planners are always there.

I don't understand what you mean by planning in rural areas. Are you talking about developmental planning, infrastructure planning, urban regional planning or physical planning?

I don't think urban design/physical planning is required in rural areas. Architects who haven't done planning are not qualified to do infrastructure planning or regional planning, and I am sure you would agree with that.

I firmly believe that architects are not required to design cattle sheds and bus stops in rural areas. The villagers can take care of this themselves.

Rules regarding the practice of architecture are similar to Western countries. An architecture degree is mandatory to practice architecture (with some exceptions for people who have practiced architecture since the 1970's or thereabouts).

You can always get around by employing an architect and getting him/her to sign on behalf of you. It is the same in the West. You will be surprised to know how many of the big architects in the world do not actually sign their buildings as project architects, and some of them are not even qualified practitioners! As long as an engineer appoints an architect and gets work done, what is the problem? Shouldn't we be pointing fingers at that architect? If that architect is not in control of the design of all projects, then he/she should quit. Otherwise you would be implying that all medical facilities should be owned by doctors, all steel factories owned by mechanical/chemical engineers, etc. I think that this argument is flawed.

I don't know where you get your information on CEPT, but I think you are not aware of what is going on. Have you heard of the 12 on 12, Varkey Forum, Asia Link Programme, etc.? It is also interesting that your source didn't say that they don't produce outstanding work; but rather that they don't make lots of money.

Do you think that a person working in rural areas designing houses for villagers, working in post-earthquake projects, spending lots of time on design and less time making buildings out of brochures and standard design kits can make more money? I am surprised that after having talked about grassroots and villages you still go and equate architectural success with money making!
Vishwanath Kashikar
Why do we need architects?
I think I should have simplified the question a lot more. The discussion that I intended to have would generate more ideas to create focus/awareness of the presence of architects and the value addition architect gives- that is all. The intention of the dialogue is not to ridicule the role- but to enhance it!

With respect to Kasikar's comments, I will clarify whatever I can. Your first concern has been the planning at the grassroots level. The Indian cities have not planning at a grassroots level. None of them. Now by planning, I mean a basic schematic layout describing the possible growth, locating the amenities etc. This task obviously has to be done by a planner. Regarding the cattle shed and other facilities- what I meant was there is a need for outreach. In the field of medicine, just like in our profession, they have a internship period. Now what is interesting is that they have a subject called community medicine, where they reach out to the rural communities that are less connected. This exercise has many advantages. Now as far as we are concerned, a similar exercise would be very useful to us. It gives tremendous insight into various building aspects, climatic design, understanding vernacular details and solutions, etc. This should be made mandatory as a part of the program.

"I feel that the self design of one-off houses by the layman should be encouraged, as it is one of the few forms of vernacular architecture that is allowed to persist in an increasingly complex world."- Christopher Kershaw.

Unfortunately I don't think that either the architects (in general) or the layman has a complete knowledge of the vernacular. A mandatory service at the grassroots level will broaden their perspective/ understanding. And over and above that, it creates awareness among the rural masses. I think a great amount of importance lies is this as it is the rural masses that eventually become urban.

"The architectural professions of the world spend a great deal of time bemoaning their poor status, low income, and the growing competition from other fields," -Christopher Kershaw.

I agree with Kershaw and think the community should get more constructive.
An extreme step would be to dedicate a TV channel exclusively for architecture. This of course should be headed by any strong institutes that can screen off garbage and disseminate appropriate information.

In the present period, all fields are facing stiff competition not only from within but also from outside. There is a lot of overlapping happening and the fied of education has been open like never before. This is excellent and leads to umpteen possibilities. The media is a very strong tool for outreach. This also brings a lot of focus to the field and the progress.
With respect to the rules of practice- we follow an outdated and flawed system. Here, a fresh graduate, as soon after he completes his 5 year architectural program, can apply for a membership at the council. The membership comes with the title "architect" in the next 2-3 months.
I think Kershaw should check what is happening around. Regarding the right of practice- I don't dispute that engineers can employ architects but it's the sheer frustration when I see my fellow practitioners blindly copying designs from the west with absolutely no concern for the present situation here- climate, sociocultural background, etc.

Regarding CEPT I am not sure if you have read what I have said. Please be patient when you go through this as I am not on a crusade against the school. The school no doubt is one of the most outstanding schools in India. That is of no debate. But what is to be observed is that this file school produces a batch of fine architects every year. I met this senior person from CEPT who pointed out this interesting fact that there are very few architects from the school who are doing financially very well/ outstanding. The architects from this school we can conveniently assume would be doing good work. Now there might be very few people who can appreciate their role and their designs. I feel this also because of the lack of awareness about the field and lack of design awareness.

Italy is known for their designs and their capability to appreciate good designs. Can we think of developing a similar or better situation here? Now by stating this, Kershaw, I don't mean to make India, Italy. All that I am focusing is on elevating the design sence/awareness/appreciation. Once this happens we will have a lot more, Daniel Owen, and reduce the experience that people like Frank John Snelling had (refer above postings).
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
Do we need architects? No, any more than we 'need' artists, musicians, poets, writers or dancers. We can live easily without all of these persons.

Who do we need? We need structural engineers, HVAC designers, plumbers, masons, carpenters and electricians.

The question is more properly stated: Do we want architects? I do, but only great ones whose works will be valued in, say, two hundred years at a minimum.
Daniel Owen
Why do we need architects?

Yes, I totally agree with your thought about the conflict between standardisation and creativity.

The fallacy that is swallowed whole by today's world is that "standardisation creates standards of quality." In fact it does the opposite, because most so-called "standards" are approximations of reality. Standardisation kills creativity, because the focus is upon pigeon-holing reality, rather than accepting that life and reality is more complex than the narrow, static and simplex view of bureaucrats.

On the other hand, creativity is not a mystery and it should not be made into a mystery. Today far too much modern architecture and architectural thought is presented as though it is too complex for laypeople to understand and by shrouding architecture in secrecy as a mystery (known only to architects) means ordinary people have no interest in such bogus make-believe.

Architecture is complex, in that the architect is supposed to create the whole design using elements from many fields, many sciences and many trades. This surely is enough complexity without any need for "mystery".

Most ordinary people know enough to realise that when an architect behaves in an egotistical and patronising way then the bill for the design will be bigger because they then are paying for the ego and not for the design.

The fact that many in the architectural profession deliberately distance themselves from the image of being workmanlike builders; this actively puts off ordinary people, as does the elitist attitude assumed by students in schools of architecture that "the architect is always right."

So today, the architectural profession has painted itself into a corner and appeals solely to the middle-class ego.

Meanwhile, (good, bad or ugly) tradesmen builders get most of the work from ordinary people, because they do not treat their clients like their intellectual, cultural or economic inferiors.

An architect should be ready like any general (professional) practioner to accept any work, any client and try to express the wishes of that client within their means. Architects used to be known for their individual style of design and quality of construction.

In conclusion, both architects and the architectural profession seem to be more interested in maintaining an imaginary standard of superiority than in creativity in the real world.

To quote two old sayings, "deeds speak louder than words," and "a picture is worth a thousand words." In other words, a design stands or falls upon whether or not it works in reality. To have to "explain" a design with words is to hide the poverty of design.
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?

1. Experienced architects may have egos. I don't think that unexperienced architects can afford to have egos.

2. Architects get percentage based fees. Which is correct in Europe and N. America, percentage-wise. It is extremely low in India, percentage-wise. A tradesman can earn from the job he/she gets on a turnkey/contract basis. There is more money to be earned in construction than in just consultancies. That itself acts as an attractive bait for the tradesperson (contractor, plumber, carpenter, mason, etc.)

There is nothing called an imaginary standard of superiority... It's got to do with the fees :-)
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?

You make a very valid and interesting point about the difference between payment for construction and design. :)))

May I suggest that the idea of "percentage fees" is dropped and payment is made for the actual time spent on designing and checking the construction.

If construction craftsmen are paid for the actual work done, then this should apply to the architect as well. To make a distinction and use a percentage fee looks too much like an (unnecessary) tax on work done by other people.

Perhaps the time has come to shake up the whole process of how the architect is paid and drag it into the 21st century? :)))
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?
Hello there,

I think both Frank and Chitradeep have stuck on an important chord here. It might be best to charge as per time spent but I am not sure how easy is it to tabulate the time spent!

Sometimes projects like houses might be small but end up consuming a lot of time. How has the West resolved this issue?
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
Paying by the hour might not be openly welcomed by all clients. First, they have no clue of how much we work on a project. Already, I know of many laypeople who think that it is easy to come up with a design- many have asked me for a house design in one day. I then, have to painstakingly inform them about the intricacies of design and the time requirements.

Even if a client is aware of the time factor, the fact that they would have no way of gauging the fees at the design stage will be a inhibiting factor. I think fixed fees projects are looked upon favourably by clients because they can budget accordingly. It is a very small step for architects to convert these fixed fees into hours. However, I do not know of any architect who is able to stick to the number of hours.
Vishwanath Kashikar
Why do we need architects?

Nice words ... "Do a good work.'

But how do you evaluate good work?
You see, the time has come to put up STANDARDS of practise, in order to STANDARDISE the profession.

Professional practise (you can check up the website) uses very general terms like "understanding client requirements," etc...

But if you wish to make a hospital, WHAT are the client requirements. These are to be EVALUATED against WHICH BIS codes or International standards and norms?

Physics has laws. Chemistry has a table of materials.

Mathematics has numerous theorems.

Similarly enough work has gone into each field of specialisation in architecture to be able to come up with a standardised Practise handbook, however fat it may be, like the Nueferts or the Calenders or the NBC guidelines.

You see, a person who has got into the physics of sound (let's say the famous Prof. Bose and his speakers) attracts and INSPIRES a good number of people INTERESTED in sound and audio.

Similarly if 'x' architect has specialised in shopping complexes, s/he should be able to come up to a standard of institutionalisation.

The problem is that architectural data is not shared. Since architecture is a market-driven practise of many powerful and well connected players, (not as powerful as the builders lobby), the need for control and standardisation is probably not felt.

Please tell me against what parameters should a fresh graduate be given a project, however small it may be. What is the mathematics behind it? Our outputs often falter because we don't have fixed set of parameters to check the 'junior's' work. By the time he/she will complete reading the full volume of literature case studies (if any) the project might have been over.
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?

Ouch! In both Britain and Europe bureaucracy as a mindset has now replaced creativity and thought.

Such bureaucratic institutionalism crushes small and young businesses and favours big business, because big businesses can easily afford the time and money needed for the lawyers and other bureaucrats who interface with local, regional and national state bureaucrats. Small and young businesses, including young architects just starting out on their own are therefore at a serious disadvantage when competing with big businesses.

I agree with a database for laypeople to access for matching clients to architects, but the introduction of "standardisation" into any human activity has the unpleasant habit of replacing the original creative purpose with meaningless bureaucracy.

If the parameters of architectural practice are as vague as you say, then yes, there is an urgent need to cut out the vagueness and use plain words, but "standardisation" as a process is in itself a self-creating vagueness, because it uses the principle of euphemisms (approximations of reality) to describe reality in unreal terms.
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?
Well, I don't have much to say. I had sent mail to a few people whose comments would matter. but I have not received any reply from them yet, so I'm just making a comment so that the topic is back on the discussion board.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
I have had a few encounters with architects. I would like to comment on the architects we need, and the architects we do not need.

The architects we need are the ones capable of listening to the client and producing solutions that fit the client's needs, personality, and budget. Regardless of how small or large that budget may be.

The architects we do NOT need, but seem to be in abundance, are the ones who, in a nutshell, take the client's budget, multiply it by some factor (greater than one) and with it produce a "monument to themselves."

I am constantly amazed at the horrible houses and buildings designed by non-architects. But I am equally amazed at the impossibility of hiring an architect who will respect one's budget so that such horrible houses are not built.

And finally, I am also equally amazed at the monstrosities designed by architects.

What happens? What happens to these intelligent people that come out of our architecture schools?
Nando Cruz
Why do we need architects?

I imagine the reason why the budget gets thrown out of the window is because of the fee system, which means the more work done, the larger the architect's fee.

Another reason is that architectural students are encouraged to throw the budget out of the window when doing design projects. The way this is done is that students who ignore briefs and budgets get better marks than those who try to keep their designs within the realms of reality.

Therefore this means that those who graduate either naturally ignore or have learned to ignore the limits imposed by both brief and budget.

As regards the creation of "horrible houses and buildings," the visual aesthetic is now a dead issue because today beauty is meaningless word. The word aesthetic is turned upside-down and now means whatever the designer means it to mean because "the good, the bad and ugly" all have their own aesthetic.

Given that this is the case, then visually aesthetic design loses out every time to bad and ugly, because they make more impact, and impact is the name of the game today.

If you think about it, if you see a horrible or bizarre building, you are more likely to remember. In other words, like media adverts today, the worse the advert, the more you are expected to remember. This is based upon the psychological concept that something which threatens you is more likely to be remembered than something which is pleasant and unthreatening.

Today an architectural mythology based upon "the threat of mystery" has been created to replace aesthetics. So the bad, ugly, bizarre and horrible are now seen as natural and normal.

Finally, it is not always the fault of the architects or engineers that a good design is ruined. I was put onto doing drawings for "Design and Build" office blocks, and because of one tiny mistake, the design slowly died. The mistake? The developer was given an estimate for the (saleable) floor area and demanded this same figure be kept. So the bold modelling of the window bays and outside was squeezed flat. :(
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?
Well, it sounds like all these are addressable problems. One is educational, sprouting right out of the masters' oddities.

The last issue, the inflexibility of one member of the team, seems to be counter to the concept of teamwork that is crucial in a "design/build" approach.

I still believe that a lot of the ugly and bad design that I see, be it aesthetic or functional ugliness, comes from the fact that people revert to builders rather than architects because of the widespread belief that "an architect will come up with a monument to himself."

I do not see much of the "in your face" ugliness that you are referring to. I do not believe that this is the primary problem.

And so people find themselves forced to accept whatever is available at the price they can afford. Which is sad.
Nando Cruz
Why do we need architects?

There is a difference between standardisation and bureaucratic tangles!
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?

I think you need to consider the history of architecture.

In the past when master builders (aka, Mimar) were master craftsmen, they knew building materials, they knew building techniques, they knew design techniques, and they designed and built onsite. Then somewhere about 200 years ago this changed with the development of architectural studio schools, and there was a great deal of crossover between craftsmen and architects.

Then about 125 years ago, engineers began to impact upon the construction of architecture. Yes, there always have been military engineers who were also architects. But the Industrial Revolution opened the floodgates for engineering in construction. So then engineers could compete with both architects and master builders.

So today architecture is not done solely by architects because both engineers and master builders compete alongside architects for business and so architects do not have an automatic right to claim all architectural work.

So many architects have turned their backs on trying to compete and instead have gone in for pulling the wool over peoples' eyes with pseudo-philosophy as a way to reclaim the high ground.

Good architectural design is design which works with minimal maintenance within a specific environment and climate. Bad, ugly architecture design are buildings which are uncomfortable for the users, uses more energy and needs more maintenance than normal.

Forget the waffle. Good design works. Bad and ugly designs do not work.

Chitradeep, Hello :)
I wish that what you say were true, but bureaucratic systems are based upon standardisation.

The real reason why bureaucratic systems are bad news is because they put the system (based upon standardisation) before reality. If there is a choice between reality and "the system" they will always choose the system.

Bureaucratic systems are created to control productivity. Standardisation as a system "controls" creativity and so effectively suppresses creativity and productivity.

Systems which "control" productivity or creativity will eventually become itself an out of control juggernaut that suppresses and destroys all. :(((
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?
Frank, I am quoting you...

Good architectural design is design which works with minimal maintenance within a specific environment and climate.

Bad, ugly architecture design are buildings which are uncomfortable for the users, uses more energy and needs more maintenance than normal.

Good design works.
Bad and ugly designs do not work.

You just restated my comments in very clear terms... Thanks.

In your snapshot of the history of architecure, is a great example where history has been a bad teacher.
Nando Cruz
Why do we need architects?

  1. If the bureaucracy is bad, don't blame standards. Standards are dynamic. They are modified at regular intervals. You are talking about bureaucracy that does not wish to advance forward in technology, time, etc. That is different from standards.
  2. There is no competition between architects, engineers, etc. They have separate roles in building design and construction.
Chitradeep Sengupta
Why do we need architects?

If you will look again at what I have written, you will see that I am addressing the principle of the systems created to control creativity and productivity.

I have nothing against any system which understands that the reason for its existence is to exert minimal control over the creativity and productivity of other people.

Unfortunately, once a such a control system is in place the "rags to riches to rags" cycle occurs and then the sytem itelf becomes a monster which suppresses and oppresses because the original intention of minimal control changes to maintenance of the Status Quo and then changes to the enforcement of the Status Quo.

The end result is "the system" becomes a law unto itself and thus creativity and productivity are finally seen as dire threats to the survival of the system.
Frank John Snelling
Why do we need architects?
there has been very varied contribuitions to this topic... but some how i think the system that countries like swiss has in practice makes it a lot more meaningful- this would mean pushing strong rules that would sfeguard the interest of the architects. There is a lot of need for architects to be involved in matters concerning them. In India, the NBC- National Building Code was developed by the Indian Beauro of Standards and not the architectual body!!!! God knows how many architect were present in that panel.
Kiran Aryan
Why do we need architects?
Dear Kiran, We do require architects, interior designers for our office or home interiors because we dont have that much time and mental energy to spend on thinking how to design our house or a office. In bangalore people are very busy and they dont mind to pay few percetage of their total project cost to an architect. Because he handles the project (Through his project managers & contractors) and give you a hassle free completion of your interior project. He is the right person who know how to co-ordinate with project managers, suppliers and the main "Contractors" and i think a layman doesnt know all this. Waiting for your reply, Regards, Hitesh Jain
Hitesh Jain
Why do we need architects?
We need Architects to conceptualise, make working drawings, Prepare Estimates....The usual 'scope of works' agreed upon at the start of a project.
One gets fees to do the above said works.
The above said activities can also be done by Non Architects. I see no harm in that. And it is possible.
Well even a layman/mason can be called an Architect if he can deliver professional work.
spiders,Pigeons building their webs/nests are also Architects. Do they need a license to build??
Small houses can very easily be designed by Non Architects. The level of creativity depending upon person to person.
Its a free market. If Architects are really worth it then the market itself will prove it in times to come.
Zoheb Kherada
Why do we need architects?
@ Kiran :
Indian National Building code committee I believe does not consult Architects to frame the Building codes.
Recently there was a National Building code seminar in Mumbai where a few Architects were present.
India is a country of Engineers and Doctors. Anything that delivers.
The Arts/Architecture are not given importance or even a thought. Maybe people need to make our ends meet before they can even think of luxurious services like those of Architecture. For a poor guy 5% of project cost can mean a lot. So they end up doing it themselves.
Zoheb Kherada


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