Symposium on New Directions in Architectural Education

April 1999
Presented by: 
Greha, Shashikala Ananth, H.D Chhaya, Akhtar Chauhan, Nicholas Weaver, Shireesh Deshpande, Rohit Gulati & Mansi Jasuja, Charanjit Shah
Human Settlement Management Institute, New Delhi

Architecture has always been concerned with civilisational values. Can we outline an educational strategy which places these values at the centre?

Today, with almost a hundred architectural schools in this country training a new generation of professionals to direct the future of our built environment, it is surprising to note the pedagogic content and course material in these schools. The architectural programme is derived in a large measure from experience of the industrial enterprise of the 19th and early 20th century. What has been neglected is the essential relationship between materials and energy, which gives raise to life-sustaining configurations realised through technologies appropriate to the amelioration of the human condition. this is resulting in an unfortunate poverty of ideas and inspiration which is reflected in the ugliness of contemporary architecture and the chaos of our cities. The promise of a better life in the next century is therefore in danger of being denied.

The first note on this subject put forward in a general way the background leading to the concern about architectural education.

We are to discuss the issue in two days, with the hope that we can arrive at a statement of intent which can be presented to the professional community as well as lay public. In order to focus the discussions and to keep within the time frame available, some of us have been meeting and thinking together regarding the essential issues which describe our concerns. It is proposed that the subject be divided into three parts :-

1. The learning universe - which would help us define ourselves as teachers / students and describe the educational consciousness
2. Instruments - dealing with teaching methods and materials
3. Certification - to understand standards, forms of governance, and the objectives

1. The Learning Universe

There is an ancient belief that the phenomenal universe is duplicated within each human body. This may help us in locating the source of knowledge, and consequently mapping a route to reach this source. Going to the source may enable us to identify the subject or object of the educational enterprise and give us clues to its nature.

It has been said that the educational enterprise is grounded on faith – the teacher many not have the answer, but a teacher will never knowingly mislead a student. Thus the essential bond between student and teacher is sealed by this faith and raises to the values which create and sustain the educational enterprise.

In the recent past we have been subjected to an exponential increase in the quantity of information we deal with. Just as the printed word and the online image floods our senses, so as our capacity for tolerance and human judgement is put to test.
How can we evolve an architectural consciousness which allows us to learn from our experience of everyday world, transform this into knowledge and the ability to recognise wisdom?

Perhaps the essential characteristic which helps in this transformation is integrity – of mind and body as well as of material and spiritual aspects of our existence. At the end of the twentieth century we inhabit a world of materialist science and technology which seems to deny those abiding spiritual values which have been the foundation of all enduring civilisations.

Architecture has always been concerned with civilisational values. Can we outline an educational strategy which places these values at the centre?

2. Instruments

The architectural consciousness needs to be defined to give us an understanding of the methods and materials appropriate to educational strategy for the next millennium. In the last two centuries the industrial revolution which originated in Europe gave raise to social and economic systems which could not be shared by a majority of the world's population. The ancient societies and the indigenous people of the planet have been driven into an ecological cul-de-sac which threatens their survival. Industrial values increasingly replace vernacular values. Town and cities have attracted more and more people, and now for the first time in human history a majority of the world's population is living in urban areas. Yet a country like India, which contains one-fifth of the world's population, is still predominantly rural, with two-thirds of its population living in villages and rural settlements. Habitat design needs to address these imbalances in a decisive manner.

          1. What are the skills with which an architect today needs to be equipped?
          2. What is the nature of the architectural school?
          3. How does the overpowering reality of the information revolution and consequent global connectivity affect the form of the architectural classroom?
Surely the perception of the architects' role in society needs to evolve much further to fulfil the aspirations of a new generation. In India the professionally trained architect is being increasingly distanced from the variety of crafts and indigenous techniques which form the staple repertory of the majority of the artisans in the building trade.

How can architectural training create a bridge between specialised theoretical knowledge and essential building practice?

How can this training address the problems of the marginalised sections of society – the rural and urban poor – who constitute a significant majority in our country?

3. Certification

The setting of standards for architectural education is the task abstraction which forms the essential feedback for monitoring tour educational strategy, we wish to formulate.

Statutory authorities which have the authority mandate to regulate professional conduct are generally charged with certifying standards for educational proficiency. These bodies are finding their mandate becoming less relevant as the pace of technological and social change has been increasing.

  1. What is the basis of power and authority for a regulatory body in today's globalised context?
  2. Can professional expertise be equated with priestly ordinance as was done sometime in the past, or do we try and make the profession accountable to the general public in a more transparent and day-to-day manner?
  3. Who validates excellence and professional relevance?
  4. Is there a model of governance for the architectural profession which would encourage excellence?

In a country like India there is also the question of very large numbers wanting professional training. As the numbers of architectural schools increase – in the last 15 years almost over 50 architecture schools have started in India – the problems of funding, infrastructure requirements and availability of teachers becomes a crucial determinant of the quality of education that can be provided. In an uncertain economic situation it may be appropriate to find a system whereby the test of professional excellence is determined by the local community who is directly affected by the architects work on the ground.

Perhaps there is enough awareness among ordinary people today about global standards, and the best judge of architectural relevance may no longer be teachers but students.

Can we design a strategy whereby the object of architectural education would become the transformation of each student into a teacher?


The place of tradition in design sensibility

Shashikala Anananth

Many years ago when I was invited to deliver my first talk on architecture of the Indian traditions, I went with great enthusiasm and spoke about the wonders of the texts and of the monuments. I went into raptures about the building techniques and explained the myths and misconceptions regarding the sculptor and the architect of the traditions. But today, about 15 years down the line, when I am faced with the task of having to speak about our 'great legacy' to yet another generation of Indians who have either lost touch or who have given up the task of keeping the continuity going, I am aware of a strange feeling of weariness and an enormous futility. To counter this feeling, I am placing the universe of the traditional thought into a slightly different framework which may provoke the 'sleeping Indian consciousness' to examine its own dilemma and perhaps move to a different crossroad of design and aesthetics.

Architectural Education in a Holistic Framework

H.D. Chayya

This paper was discussed in the first session of the symposium named “The Learning Universe”. The organisers had suggested to focus on the issues towards “... evolving architectural consciousness which allows us to learn from our experiences of the everyday world, transform this into knowledge and ability to recognise wisdom... integrity of mind and body, material and spiritual values with concerns for civilization (and cultural) values”

Humanize Architectural Education for the 21st cent

Akhtar Chauhan

Rizvi Education Society with its motto 'humanise, equalize and spritualise' is engaged actively with these issues and activities under the able guidance of its President Dr. Akhtar Hasan Rizvi. The academic programmes and related activities of the Rizvi College of Architecture are an ongoing experiment towards these goals and objectives, where faculty and students are creatively engaged with the issues, which is able supported by an active national and international collaboration.

The Atelier Principle in Teaching

Nicholas Weaver

I remember when I first became a student of architecture the intense excitement of an education so completely unlike anything I had previously experienced. It was the project work, of course. Our teachers seemed to ask us questions to which they didn’t even pretend to know the answers. I was exhilarated by the range of factors which we were allowed to think about, and by the design project that had to resolve all these factors in a new proposition, which s then publicly tested. I was immediately convinced of the effectiveness of this way of teaching and learning, and was more and more surprised it didn’t seem o be better known in other disciplines.

 As knowledge and information increase exponentially, rote learning as an educational method becomes increasingly irrelevant. The educational task in the future will be to develop the ability to acquire, synthesise and apply knowledge appropriately as changing problems and possibilities present themselves; to draw new forms and patterns out of the raw material: the ability in other words to be creative.

 The method of teaching I shall describe in this paper is a particular way of organising project work of release and channel the creativity of students and also of teachers.

 This paper will uncover the underlying principles of this method, which I have called the Atelier Principle in Teaching, by describing the organisation of teaching in the School of Architecture at the University of East London. In the process I hope to demonstrate its relevance to other disciplines.

Teaching Design through a Learning Experience

Shireesh Deshpande

Many of us who sit on the other side of the table to select young teachers in Architecture, have an exasperating experience. Most applicants when asked to name the subject they would like to teach, come with the answer without batting an eye lid, ‘architectural design’! If this is generally so, then it raises a number of questions. Is Design teaching considered easier than other subjects say. Specification or Construction? Being generally a part of a group of Design Teachers does he/she feel that individual responsibility is reduced? Is the image of a Design Teacher more ‘prestigious’? These and many such questions may come to our mind. Don’t we know the answers? Atlesat, when many of us were such candidates, we did know the answer. Only now some of us feel that the answers were not correct.

The New School of Greha

Rohan Gulati and Mansi Jasuja

Educational systems have to keep up with the rapid pace of socio-economic change. Constant re-interpretation and definition of goals becomes essential especially in regions that have evolved on a traditional knowledge.

Architectural Education in the Next Millenium

Chiranjit Shah

We define Architecture – as Mother of all Arts. Art cannot really be separated from the most practical consideration. Architecture is the process of thought, to visualise, to conceptualize and to learn the flow of thought process in evolution of designs. In today’s technological advancements, information technological growth and scientific innovations, Art and Architecture has become very complex and sensitive.

The symposium was the result of the coordinated efforts of various individuals and institutions who are concerned about the education being imparted to the students of architecture and its effects on the future of architecture in India.

  • Smt Sushma Bahl, Mangger Arts & Culture of the British Council, sponsored the travel of Paul Simpson fro the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow.
  • Shri Himachal Som, DG ICCR, ensured gracious hospitality for Paul Simpson's stay in India
  • The Department for International Development of the British Government, on the initiative of HSMI made possible the travel of Nicholas Weaver from the University of East London. DTUDP also co-sponsored the symposium.
  • Shri Himachal Som, DG ICCR, ensured gracious hospitality for Paul Simpson's stay in India
  • Dr Kulwant Singh, ED HSMI of HUDCO was the untiring driving force who hosted the symposium in the HSMI premises with logistical support provided by his team led by Gayatri Rajesh.

The GREHA team comprised of M.N.Ashish Ganju, Jogi Panghaal, Taniya Amiraj, Mansi Jasuja, Rohit Gulati, Vidya Tikku, Seema Aggarwal, and several other members who participated in the discussions which led to the formulation of the problem statement