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Indian architects speak on SC ruling that allows unqualified practice of architecture

Arjun Malik, Sameep Padora, Sanjay Puri and Soumitro Ghosh share views on the Supreme Court judgment not prohibiting unregistered individuals from practising architecture.

by Meghna MehtaPublished on : Mar 23, 2020

An important civic appeal for the profession of architecture was addressed in the Supreme Court of India on March 17, 2020. It addressed the question – ‘Does the Architects Act 1972 (Section 37) merely prohibit the use of the title ‘Architect’ by individuals unregistered with the Council of Architecture, or does it actually prohibit them from carrying out the practice of architecture and its cognate activities?' This question and the ruling has raised many concerns in the fraternity about the current state and future of the profession of architecture in India. The Architects (Amendment) Bill, 2018, has previously suggested many reforms in the title, firm, practice and education of the architectural profession.  

Architect at work | Supreme Court ruling | STIRworld
A panoramic view of Delhi’s urban fabric Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The recent 42-page judgment concluded by saying, “we affirm the decision of the High Court of Allahabad and hold that Section 37 of the Architects Act does not prohibit individuals not registered under the Architects Act from undertaking the practice of architecture and its cognate activities,” and “we disapprove of the view of the High Court of Allahabad and hold that NOIDA cannot promote or recruit individuals who do not hold a degree in architecture recognised by the Architects Act to a post that uses the title or style of architect".

We urge you to read the entire judgment here. The President of the Council of Architecture, Mr. Habeeb Khan, issued this letter in response to the ruling.

STIR reached out to leading professionals who have been working as practising architects in India in order to know their views on the ruling, and how they believe this would affect the architectural fraternity.

Arjun Malik, Malik Architecture, Mumbai

Arjun Malik, Malik Architecture | Supreme Court ruling | STIRworld
Arjun Malik, Malik Architecture Image Credit: Courtesy of Malik Architecture

Our system is already producing mediocre professionals due to various reasons including middling education, moderately skilled faculty, lack of exposure to quality built environments and entry exams consolidated with other loosely related professions.

There is an inadequacy of stage-wise certification and further testing to analyse qualifications before certification. Such a ruling will further vitiate the overall quality and ability of people who oversee the design and execution of built environments.

Is there a precedent for this anywhere else? Does it work?

I see very few positives of this change, and mostly negatives that pose dangerous circumstances. It will not only be a major diminishing factor for our profession as we know it, but also damaging to our built environments and cities.

The order of the day is to reduce institutes and improve the quality of education, with more stringent measures and liberalisation of funding towards more private institutions. Loosening the reins is the opposite of what is needed.

While we are aware that there may be a lot more to this and that in an economy such as India, there are a lot of ‘cognate’ activities that do not technically require an architecture degree and registration, it would be preferable if the roles were defined more clearly.

As a case in point, can anyone without an engineering degree issue structural drawing and get away with it by simply not calling themselves ‘structural engineers’?

Sameep Padora, sP+A, Mumbai

Sameep Padora, sP+A | Supreme Court ruling | STIRworld
Sameep Padora, sP+A Image Credit: Courtesy of sP+A

As a licensed practitioner, one is aggrieved by this ruling, but it is also important to put this in context. In a city like Mumbai, 60 per cent of the population that lives in slums finds shelter and works in housing built beyond the jurisdiction of architects. If you take rural parts of country, extant systems of building operate beyond the scope of the country’s architectural purview.

While we collectively argue against this ruling as we should, we also need to reimagine the role of the architect and our capacities to address the above points.

Also, we need our institutional frameworks to allow self-taught practitioners such as Didi Contractor, Kiran Vaghela (Hunnarshala) amongst others, who practise a model of architectural production that is sensitive and invaluable despite the absence of a degree.  

While we continue to petition against the ruling, it is perhaps time for us to reconsider the role and nature of the professional bodies that both represent as well as institute the discipline of architecture in the country.

Sanjay Puri, Sanjay Puri Architects, Mumbai

Sanjay Puri, Sanjay Puri Architects | Supreme Court ruling | STIRworld
Sanjay Puri, Sanjay Puri Architects Image Credit: Courtesy of Sanjay Puri Architects

Everyone lives in some typology of the built form. When buildings are created, these are to be looked at holistically from a functional point of view. Building design needs to be contextual to the climate and location as well as the sociological needs of the eventual inhabitants. There is a dire need of reducing the carbon footprint and creating sustainable design solutions. Functionally, the building design involves an integrated approach to not only these factors but also to the complex functions a building requires. It involves design discussions and integration with structural design, water supply and drainage systems, rain water harvesting and recycling water, landscape, fire fighting, electrical services and much more.

The architects study all these aspects and are therefore qualified to design a building with these numerous parameters woven together holistically. Not everyone can be allowed to practice architecture. Yes, it is important to have the 'Architect' prefix because it defines a person qualified to know the innumerable aspects of designing a building. Just like any other prefix of a doctor or a lawyer, an architect is one who is qualified.

Soumitro Ghosh, Mathew and Ghosh Associates, Bengaluru

 Soumitro Ghosh, Mathew and Ghosh Associates | Supreme Court ruling | STIRworld
Soumitro Ghosh, Mathew and Ghosh Associates Image Credit: Courtesy of Mathew and Ghosh Associates

There are systems that accept talent that qualifies as good to practice as an architect, and these should be used as thresholds that need to be met for maintaining the standard of knowledge and meeting related technical norms of safety of the works that architects do and professionally deliver.

This has to be challenged by the Council of Architects as they control standards of education, learning and acceptability of an individual to be allowed to practice. It’s a professional title for proficiency in recognition of knowledge and capability – it must be a necessity to legally practice.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinion expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of STIR or its Editors.)

What do you think about the ruling? Share your comments in the section below.

Read an opinion by Anupam Bansal on the SC ruling in this article here.

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