Council of Architecture, Architect’s Act, Blah Blah Blah… Do we really care?

I may gently presume that all those who are caring to read this post are Architects (or thereabouts). If so, then after finishing five years of B.Arch education, many of you would have registered with the Council of Architecture (CoA). There was always an inkling of self pride when the rather shabbily and unimaginatively looking Certificate of Registration came from the CoA’s office at New Delhi. In your heart, you convinced yourself, that now, whatsoever your true calibre towards design and execution of buildings may be… here was a piece of stiff paper, signed off by a Registrar that few knew of and even fewer met, that vouched that you were fit for carrying off the due functions of an Architect! You could design and sign off drawings, submit them to the Govt. and write in your resume that you are a “Registered Member of the Council of Architecture”. We Architects always adored fancy titles and recognition, and this seems proper enough.
 
There also remained a large number of “couldn’t-get-into-any-other-stream-hence-joined-Architecture” Architects, or some homely, studious and well meaning lady Architects who chose to throw her hard earned degree into the fire… for “family causes”. There are surprisingly a large number B.Arch graduates who became Pilots, joined Infosys as a Software Engineer, joined his father’s petrol pump business, became Journalists… became something else. They didn’t feel they needed to “practice” Architecture, and hence didn’t bother with the formalities and annual fees of registering with the Council of Architecture.
 
All in all, for a vast majority of annually churned out B.Arch graduates, the term “COA” would have crossed their mind at this threshold stage itself, and never again. Very few would have actually had the interest or patience in reading the Architect Act of 1972, a seminal piece of legislation, which defines our role in society and legally protects our interests. Those who have read the Act would know how the Council of Architecture was set up, and that its primary function was to uphold and enforce the tenets of the Act.
 
The bottom-line statement would be that COA has remained a mere Regulatory Body, disassociated as an entity to a vast majority of regular working or practising young Architects’, an organisation whose merits and credits delve in the intangibles and legal.
 
When visionary Architect-Politician Piloo Mody pushed for and got the Architects Act passed in 1972, it paved way for a proper way of educating and registering Architects competent to handle the design and building of a truly “developing” nation. It must be noted that the Act was instrumental for the time, and based on the needs of the time.
 
Hence, the COA has remained a body which primarily maintains a registry of Architects and monitors the minimum standards of architectural education in India. Unlike England’s RIBA or USA’s AIA, it is not an Institute that has a dual purpose of registering and regulating the profession, and also as a professional body entrusted with promoting the profession of architecture by organising and uniting in fellowship the Architects of India. This may be seen as a lapse in the way the Act was formulated. Hence in India, we have the regulatory COA and the more “club-like” IIA – with programs, “fellowship” cocktail dinners and workshop-conventions. These dualities have often playfully sparred with each other for recognition and a sense of “I-Know-More-About-the-Profession” ego. Yet, thankfully, all-in-all, they have remained mutually supportive (but not completely unselfishly).
 
Eminent academician, Prof. Akhtar Chauhan of Rizvi College, Mumbai has maintained over the years that the entire Act and focus needs to be reformulated to create an Institute of Chartered Architects of India, much in line with the established Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. He strongly feels that this merging of interests would be of better benefit to the profession. I, personally, feel the same. However, this idea may be quite radical for this point of time, and it would require a visionary leader with significant political clout to establish this Institute at any point of time, especially amongst a group of people who are notoriously infamous for harbouring great amounts of ego and dangerous brinkmanship.
 
In the recent episodes of The Architects (Amendment) Bill, 2010 and its counterviews, see here, on which I shall write in the next blog post, the architectural fraternity witnessed countless instances of protests and active lobbying. There was active propaganda from both sides of the coin to either support or protest the Amendments (in its present form), and Architects throughout India, asked for letters, signatures, votes, and participation in discussion debates and workshops on the same. I was part of this “propaganda” and I tried to look at this logically, rather than emotionally or egoistically. During this time, I noticed that the same old motley group of senior, battle-worn Architects were fighting away with diminishing strength and heavy hands, while 95% of all Architects, dangled their legs and twiddled their thumbs comfortably from the fence… oblivious to the impact that pieces of legislation can have on our lives.
 
Initially, I was upset at the careless disdain with which Architects chose to treat their profession. I was upset that 99.99% of all Architects bitterly cribbed about the state of affairs, yet only a few scores chose to participate in change. After the tide of disappointment had passed, and after I spoke to many, I realised that Architects (and I specifically mean those between 23-40 years of age; about 70% of all registered Architects) have a general disenchantment towards CoA. They plainly asked what they were fighting for. They asked what the Council actually and effectually means to them, what good they really do? Young Architects like finite tangibles – figures they can see, effects they can feel, moments of glory they can celebrate. This is where they felt alienated from the Council. The COA, by virtue of the limitations of the Act and its purpose, has not endeared itself to its Registrants. Some realised that they are not actually “members” of the Council of Architecture. The COA registers and looks over the control of education in countless schools of Architecture. The COA is not IIA. The IIA fared no better in any unofficial public opinion poll. A small percentage of graduating Architects feel the need to join IIA, an organisation they feel is run by beer-bellied and whiskey guzzling Architects of lesser public standing. The problems of Architects have remained and increased. We still get paid less. We still get scant acclaim for our efforts in society. We still have to beg for our dues in Govt. projects. We still do not get recognised as Architects on foreign shores.
 
We tend to fight for things that endear themselves on us. If the COA was to be fought for, this hasn’t happened. Despite COA’s intentions, it has remained a memory of a strict, unsmiling Teacher who gave us a Good Handwriting Certificate in Kindergarten, and who may or may not be in the best of health in a faraway land. We just couldn’t care less.
 
Yet the actual truth is that the Act and the COA are the only legitimate things that we have; the only instrument of power and recognition that can actually protect and improve the lot of our fraternity. Hate it or love it, but please do not ignore it. Change is needed. And Change is but ‘round the corner. But to truly make it count… for changes to have tangible effects on our profession and identity as Architects, we cannot afford to be distant from it. Read about it, criticise it, protect it, cherish it and participate with it. That’s the only way, such that some years in the not-so-distant future, our apex body will be a body OF Architects and truly representative of our profession… a body we may yet learn to love.
 
Author_ Dwaipayan Chakravarty, is Sr. Architect – Urban Designer at Asso. Space Designers Pvt. Ltd, Pune. Click here to view his profile on LinkedIn
 
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