Engineers are not architects.. – Abhishek Bij

Recent ruling by Madhya Pradesh High Court has put the whammy on architects. Architects in India is a small community of about 60000 professionals, but every year the number seems to be substantially growing. On the other side Engineers (Civil) are in lakhs. The fight over ‘powers’ and roles between architects and engineers is not new. Both Architects Act 1972 and National Building Code have several ambiguities and gaps which must be addressed. The Council of Architecture and many other organisations seem to be actively working towards reducing these ambiguities and define roles more clearly.

We invited views on the matter from some architects, which we will share here as and when these come. To start with following is the post by Abhishek Bij, Associate and Lead Designer at Design Plus Architects, New Delhi, Principal at Design [+] Design Research and Director – AA Visiting School, Delhi.

Click here to know more about Abhishek Bij.

Architects and Enginners

A Jabalpur division bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court has ruled that there is no difference between engineers and architects, primarily on the ground of similarity in educational qualifications and technical competence (See footnote ref: 1) While this judgement was passed in the context of Rule 26 of the Vikas Bhumi Rules, the impact of such a mis-informed ruling is not only harmful to the professionals involved but to the development of any city. Let me elaborate the gravity of the situation in 3 sections, that will demarcate the differences in the profession and clear roles in the “design and construction” of any scale.

  1. Academic Qualifications: B.Arch vs B.Tech

What the Honorary Bench of chief justice AM Khanvilkar and justice KK Trivedi clearly missed out was the primarily role of architects as DESIGNERS. Needless to say that Construction is an important part of the entire life-cycle of a building. But a needs to be designed well as per a many factors (user needs, building bye-laws, environment, urban design, climatic, structural, material availability, site conditions, brand value, health and safety, sustainability, cultural understanding and many more) before it can be constructed and then last a healthy life. Structural build ability is a one part of the entire game (albeit a big part).

One glance at the Educational curriculum of B.Arch and B.Tech (civil) courses at the country’s premier Institute will elaborate which professional is more equipped to handle the Architecture and Building design.

To have a fair comparison, the links below are from IIT Kharagpur only. There are many premier stand-alone architectural schools which elaborate much more on design.

1. B.Arch (5 years) – IIT, Kharagpur

2. B.Tech (Civil 4 Years) – IIT, Kharagpur

3. M.Tech Dual (Civil 5 Years) – IIT, Kharagpur 

Of the three courses, only B.Arch offers

  • “Architectural Design” in minimum 6 semesters – a subject with highest credits always.
  • History and Theory subjects on Architecture and its impacts.
  • Landscape Design and Site Planning
  • Electrical Design
  • Building Acoustics
  • Town Planning and Urban Design
  • Architectural Design Thesis (also Architectural Design)

It is more than glaring that which professional is trained from his/her nascent years to tackle all aspects of architecture and urban design (AT VARIOUS SCALES). In fact the B.Arch course has several structural design sessions which are present in M.Tech or B.Tech.

  1. Professional Competence: Architects vs Engineers

Architects are governed and regulated by the Architect’s Act, 1972. Architects in India also have an autonomous statutory body of the government of India, Council of Architecture, under this act. The Act and the Council are paramount for the profession. Council regulates architectural education, professional registration, defines ethics of conduct, services and specifies guidelines for professional liabilities.

The council also defines clearly, the role and services of an architect (See footnote ref: 2) These services reinforce the professional education and are inclined towards delivering a comprehensive building (from conception to finished product). The services, apart from other things, include engineering services such as structure, electrical, communication, HVAC etc.

The Act makes an architect publicly accountable for their services.

 On the other hand the Engineers’ Bill is still pending, which will register and regulate the engineering profession. Currently, engineering services are also undefined by any statute.

  1. Impact of the Ruling
    1. MEDIOCRITY – Engineers are not equipped to provide any designing capabilities. They cannot fathom the parameters that are involved in a comprehensive proposal. This will lead to MEDIOCRE BUILDINGS, MEDIOCRE INFRASTRUCTURE, MEDIOCRE LANDSCAPE, and hence MEDIOCRE CITIES.
    2. IMBALANCE FEE – Since, Design is not even a considered criterion for engineers; they will bid for projects on lower fee. This will damage as mentioned above but also directly impact the bread of architects. (L1 in any case should not be a selection criterion for Architectural works, but that’s a different debate)
    3. ACCOUNTABILITY – If architects are bound by their act and are liable for what they design and build, why should no liability be associated with any engineer? It’s a tight noose that hangs around an architect’s neck with all the responsibilities that are assigned to him/her. In such a scenario why an engineer should be indemnified?

The honorary bench was probably not educated on the larger impacts of such a ruling and a judgement was past from a very narrow outlook of rule 26. Architecture requires engineering as a subset but it is much more than making a building stand under a specific earthquake zone.

I am aware that The CoA, is drafting an appeal against the ruling as on date. I am sure the judicial system will see weight in the arguments that have been presented here and many more that the architectural fraternity can and will offer.

References: 

1Hindustan Times, Bhopal, April 09, 2014
2 Handbook of Professional Documents, Council of Architecture, 2011, Page 87

2 thoughts on “Engineers are not architects.. – Abhishek Bij

  1. Now Architect can practice as Structural Engineer/designer , take this advantage and apply to Municipal Corporation for Structural licence , If Architect go by this way then what is the judgement pl. follow this route .

  2. The Article is no longer relevant as the Jabalpur High Court judgement, I believe, stands superseded by a larger bench of that Court.

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