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Seeking good Architecture for Public Buildings in India

Seeking good Architecture for Public Buildings in India

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This petition has been created by Muni G. and may not represent the views of the Avaaz community.
Muni G.
started this petition to
Government bodies and Public Institutions, Council of Architecture, Thought leaders of the country
For several decades the pace and scale of provision of building infrastructure in our country has been increasing. The McKinsey report on India's urbanisation, published recently, asserts that in the next 17 years (that is upto 2030) we need to invest 1.2 trillion US dollars on urban infrastructure provision if the economic growth story of India is to continue.

This monumental enterprise of infrastructure provision for 1.25 billion people is regulated by rules and practices which need close scrutiny, because if we examine the public buildings coming up in contemporary India, there seems to be a marked deficit of good architecture. In fact in recent years architectural firms from outside the country are beginning to dominate the field for providing quality architectural services.

This situation has arisen because the mainstream understanding of the architectural profession in our country has been flawed. Architecture is seen as a sub-set of civil engineering, which acquired dominant status during British rule in India. When we became independent politically, the historical inversion could not be easily corrected, and till today we struggle with an alien superstructure of professional ideology and practices. This results in the majority of our public buildings being culturally alien in their design, uncomfortable to use, difficult to maintain, and expensive to build.

Most people even today find it difficult to distinguish between the work of civil engineers and architects. Both are central to the task of making buildings; but whereas engineers are expert in ensuring the strength and stability of the building fabric, architects are expert in putting people within the building and negotiating the interface between human artefact and nature. The performance of a building as appropriate human habitat is the central concern of architects.

If we look at the way building projects are managed, from the initial commissioning of the professional consultants to the monitoring of the process on site, we find that the prime movers are civil engineers. The practices which they are comfortable with are those of large engineering projects, preferably of international scope, and having little or no reference to the dynamics of life-processes which are central to human habitat. As a consequence the entire process of production of public building projects has become alienated from the architectural world-view, which is centred around the human being and the requirements of civic life.

It is noteworthy that the building infrastructure sector is also one where leakage of public funds is commonplace. Even a cursory record of public building projects will reveal a high level of bad practices resulting in delays in completion and escalation of costs, sometimes to the extent of doubling of original estimates. The building trade, especially in the organised sector, has become mired in a culture alien to its roots, which is leading to a colossal loss of national resources.

A serious effort is needed to reorient this sector to create conditions for the emergence of architectural merit. The effort has to start in both domains - of education and practice. In the case of practice, where results will be discernible quicker, a beginning can be made with the procedure of commissioning architects for public projects. Several methods are in use presently but all of these are managed by civil engineers and are producing results which, at best, may be described as mediocre. It is necessary to bring the autonomous discipline of architecture into decision-making primacy. This can be the start of the process of correction of the currently flawed model we are lumbered with.

Although corrective thinking requires serious analysis, there are 2 specific practices which can be looked at immediately to begin the transformation of this sector. These are, first changing the criteria for selecting architects for projects, which are circumscribed by numbers - of costs of projects executed earlier as the defining feature; and second by eliminating the practice of bidding for the fees to be charged. Both practices are taken from the process of selecting building contractors for projects, and these are devised by civil engineers. The services provided by architects are completely different from the work of building contractors. The selection of architects, therefore requires completely different criteria and process. We can begin right here to effect meaningful change.

Greha is a not for profit society which has concentrated on the growth of knowledge in the field of environmental development, habitat design and architecture since 1986. We would like to appeal to the President, Council of Architecture, as well as other thought leaders in the country to initiate a process of restructuring the ideals and practices of this significant sector of our economy and our polity.

Posted (Updated )