The shrinkage of a practice and the accretion of practitioners
As of November 2016, India is the second most unequal country in the world after Russia. The richest 1% of Indians own 58.4% of the wealth. The richest 10 % of Indians own 80.7 % of the wealth. This trend is going in the upward direction every year, which means the rich are getting richer at a much faster rate than the poor. India’s economy continues to grow with its GDP rising faster than most nations. But a rise in national GDP is not indicative of income equality in the country. The growing income inequality in India has negatively impacted poor citizens’ access to education and healthcare. Rising income inequality makes it difficult for the poor to climb up the economic ladder and increases their risk of being victims of the poverty trap. People living at the bottom 10% are characterized by low wages; long working hours; lack of basic services such as first aid, drinking water and sanitation. While little interest/monetary gain exists in providing design solutions for the majority of the population, the percentage of the population that would be able to hire professional help for the “design” of the built environment is rapidly shrinking.
With urban densification and cities scrambling for space, vertical growth is continuously reducing the scope of architectural practices. The increasing complexity in modern buildings has created the need for a diverse set of specializations and brought in an even larger number of professionals designing parts and components of buildings. The practice has become excessively collaborative, certainly reducing the scope of the architect to design with the authority that has always vested since the beginning of the practice.
Design of the built environment is rather becoming a business of a selection and assembly of commercially available components and assemblies. This commerce-driven standardization of the nature of spaces (especially corporate work environments) has brought down design to a competitive “square feet rate” market with little scope for experimentation in contextual design or in innovation.
The result of this lack of original responses has led to the ‘Pinterestization’ of architecture, where clients are frequently using imagery to “guide” architectural design, eventually devaluing the field of architecture to an apathetic exercise.
Vitruvius, in his ten books of architecture, had prescribed a very heavy responsibility with the architect. He wrote - Let him [who would be an architect] be educated, skillful with the pencil, instructed in geometry, know much history, have followed the philosophers with attention, understand music, have some knowledge of medicine, know the opinions of the jurists, and be acquainted with astronomy and the theory of the heavens.
Every year about 10,000 architects registers to practice legally under the Indian Architects Act. The registration statistics on the COA website indicate that the registrations since 2015 are more than all the years put together since the creation of the council. The intake of students into architectural education is continuously rising and a record number of young graduates are set to register themselves in 2020.
These numbers don’t include the graduates from relatively new programs of Interior design, Landscape design, Building Technology, Design and Construction Management. This commercial approach to diversify design education does more harm than a boon as one is merely diluting the approach to design. The need to increase supply in an environment of reducing demand has to be questioned. Else, the purpose of this profession and its education has to be questioned to be relevant for the tumultuous future ahead of us.
Finding relevance in the vernacular
Looking at the continuing building traditions in vernacular architecture, it is seen that architecture without architects continues to flourish with the beautiful balance of skill and wisdom and is beautifully encapsulated as a tradition. The home is responding to needs and not the other way around. It is a skin that perfectly responds to life inside and outside.
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