A lot is being talked about architectural education these days. I must admit that I have been there, done that, written about it quite a while ago. Since, the discussion is becoming serious each day, I thought I would bring some humor to the discourse.
I graduated as an architect last year and decided not to take up a job. I ventured out on my own, which basically means a state of absolute joblessness. Well with the passage of time, I started to get a project or two, or at least dealt with a few prospective clients in the duration of approximately eleven months. What I realized in this short stint as a professional is, that the format of our design studios was way off the mark from the reality of the field. Though, I know I am stepping into the wrong turf with this post, since there is no “student” tag to protect me anymore yet I would dare to write, and, criticism (read serious bashing) is welcome.
Now coming to the original theme of the post, where our design studios failed us as professionals. In a design studio there are only two parties involved: the student and the mentor (guide/ professor) whereas in reality there are three (at least) parties involved: the architect, the client and the people responsible for the execution. While the definition of the architect is fairly simple and comprehensive, the definition of the other two may vary greatly. The client may include a distant uncle of the client, fifth cousin twice removed, or a random co-worker at the client’s office, or even a pet dog as well. People responsible for the execution may include consultants, contractors, labour contractors, vendors, labourers themselves, and relatives of the labourers who are on the site as a replacement. Though contractor is someone who would generate certain hatred and loath from the people of my generation but trust me it’s a smooth journey if there is a contractor on board a project. A contractor is the perfect embodiment of what governments across the world dream about, a single window system.
While we are taught and made to believe that drawings speak volumes about the architect/ designer but truth be told nothing works like on-site instructions do, more than half (a conservative estimate) the workforce involved in the Indian construction industry know nothing about reading the drawings. In one of the experience with a friend’s project, the worker was holding the drawing upside down while discussing a serious error in execution, after hours of discussions just turning the drawing around changed things. Experienced professionals may disagree, but with my limited exposure, I can say that drawings make sense only because of the presence of dimensioning on them. On the other hand in design studios, jurors, mentors, more often than not point out that they can read the drawings. This is exactly where the studios disconnect from the reality. People cannot read the drawings, and it is not because the drawings are bad, or fonts are small to read, it is simply because they just don’t know how to. I hope the VR and 3D renderings and the holographic projections strike the indian construction industry sooner, otherwise it is going to be a nightmare dealing with all those people involved.
Everything that I have mentioned so far is insignificant, welcome the breed of super-humans called clients. To be honest, I don’t know why they are called clients and not customers, though my guess is that person who buys a product is a customer and a person who buys a service is a client. Clients are the people who provide us with the bread and butter, they pay for our services. Clients are great teachers; they teach you life lessons like no other person on earth. I call them super humans for a reason, they are clueless about everything and yet so sure of everything in every single meeting, they just know what they want, and usually it’s the thing that you haven’t done. Architecture is something that we experience every day, be it a house, a school, a hospital, an office, a hotel, covering most typologies of buildings that exist. In that sense the profession of an architect is very different from that of an advocate or a doctor. Usually it complicates things. All this leads to non-existence of a well framed project brief, unlike design studios. Also arriving at a brief is a process that goes on till the actual completion of the project which makes the job miserably difficult. This is just one aspect of the problem. The real difficulty in dealing with a client is the arbitrary nature of discussions, sometimes a couple of images downloaded via Google search can change things and the extent of change is unimaginable, sometimes it may simply end with a whimsical “no” to your design solution. I would hate myself for actually admitting, and writing it here that, teachers at college are logical and the debate is rational to quite an extent. What we found whimsical in a design studio is nothing compared to what a client might do to you. To top it all client may physically or mentally be accompanied by random people who have nothing to do with the project at hand, but they wield tremendous power to change the course of the design and the execution of the project. It is bearable to go through this process once or twice, but this happens with every single discussion during the course of the project. Design studios almost seem utopian at times like these. I would skip the clichéd topic of client expectation vs. client budget, since I had accepted the budgetary reality long ago. Howard Roark is good in books like the Fountainhead only, he would have no project to do in real life with that attitude.
I guess, by now, I have made a fairly detailed comparison of a design studio at college and an actual project execution in real time and space.
Summing it up, I would like to make a few recommendations towards building a realistic design studio education system:
- Jurors should arbitrarily skip “reading” the drawings and ask for demonstration of how the thing is going to be made or a detail works.
- Personality development courses such as Temperament 101, advanced course in deep breathing should be made a part of the curriculum. Trust me this is better than courses in functional English, India can happily do without English in the construction industry for another 5-10 years.
- Every student in the studio should be assigned another student as a client, whose job is just to say no to a design solution or sometimes pull up images from Google search and demand similar solutions.
- Once in a while juries could be taken by people on the other side, contractors, labourers, I know this might hurt the ego badly, but it would provide great reality check for the students as well as bring the other people closer to the eco-system of an architect. “Kuch tum chalo, kuch hum chalein, kam ho yeh fanslein” which roughly translates to you take a few steps, I take a few and let us marginalize the distances.
PS: This post is purely satirical; none of the above mentioned measures need to be implemented.