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Adept to Adapt

Adept to Adapt

The article debates over the issue whether curriculum of architecture in Indian universities needs changes or not to be more effective and practical

They say it all starts at school, well may be it does or what if does not. Before we get into an argument with ourselves, we need to understand that the right is reserved with the right people. Hence to discuss whether the Architecture curriculum in Indian universities needs reform or not, we have three most important and most affected segments of the field—the universities, the students and the practicing architects.

Indian curriculum has always been text book centric, however, off late changes are being made and students have exposure to the real market too. While colleges seem content with the change, practicing architects feel otherwise. Architectural Practice in today’s date has become more globalized than ever and there is a healthy exchange of knowledge and data due to the openness of internet, mass share of data and architectural journalism being at its peak. Students are well exposed to what is happening across the globe but not truly equipped with the appropriate knowledge-base or toolset.

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Curriculum v/s Market

All the representatives of the industry (teaching or practicing) believe that market is an example of herd mentality and the professions, be it teaching or practicing, is not and should not be ruled by what is in trend. Ar. Cristopher Benninger of Christopher Charles Benninger Architects, says, “Architectural curriculum is not to be market driven, rather it should be driven by the requirement to make simple middle class children into sophisticated and mature professionals. We need to create within them a new value system based on service to the community.”

When asked about the curriculum of architecture in Indian colleges, Ar Alfaz Miller of ABM Architects does not mince words and says, “No, it does not. The current curriculum in India needs to be developed further to bring it more on lines of global standards of design, construction and sensibilities.”

Professor Vishwanath Kashikar of CEPT University believes, “Education leading to a professional degree should not dictated by market needs. This does not imply that we live in a cocoon and are oblivious to needs of society.  We believe in shaping strong individuals who can respond to uncertain future challenges. We live in a time where a diverse set of skills is required to practice architecture and hence the curriculum focuses on creating individuals with a diverse set of skills by allowing them to chart their own learning path at CEPT University.”

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Professor M M Dalvi of J J College of Architecture makes it clear that curriculum are not designed to make employees, it is designed to make architects who can think and work independently. “The curriculum is not for the market, it is for students who are taught and trained to be architects. Architecture is a broad subject and five year tenure is well justified by including various facets of the course like practical implementation and market exposure.”

Head of research organisation, rat[LAB], Ar. Sushant Verma who also holds seminars and programmes for young architects, says, “Architectural Design curriculum in India is deeply embedded with core principles of design and architecture and their relevant history. However our curriculum misses out on some fundamentals like professional conduct and practice and adequate use of tools (digital) that are shaping up designers of the future.”

Ar. Gaurav Jhunjhunwala, alumnus of Balwant Seth School of Architecture and Salford University, Manchester, says, “Education in India experiences a few systemic insufficiencies. The framework for education has low scope and no outcomes in relation to the industry requirements, it still functions on age old practices driven by populism decades ago failing to incorporate new and advanced technology within the core syllabus. There is minimal educated open verbal confrontation on education in India as a result of which the industry as well as newly graduated professionals is facing great difficulty.”

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Creative Liberty Metre

Being an amalgamation of science and art, architecture requires both liberty and constraint in just right measure. Hence, the question whether students get enough creative liberty or not garnered varied and interesting response. “A place of learning dealing with creativity cannot exist if there are rulebooks on design. The same holds true for CEPT University. Further, students are free to choose 25 per cent of their courses throughout their five years from a vast pool of 100 plus subjects available at the University. All mandatory courses of other disciplines like planning, design, technology, and habitat management are open for students to enroll. They also have multiple choices in design studios from second year onwards,” says Kashikar about CEPT University.

Prof. Dalvi says, “Our students have complete creative liberty. The course is individual centric, so creative liberty is of immense importance. Our students have all the freedom to experiment on their creative ideas. Each students is expected to put an idea in their own way.”

Benninger, on the other hand feel that there is too much liberty given to the students, which is eventually resulting in chaos and mediocrity. “Liberty and creation are not necessarily mutually conducive.  Creation of built environments must follow a path and students need to learn the discipline of that path, not be misled that we have a mandate to be individualistic artists. Because our education is a system of the blind leading the blind, by default our students have far too much unnecessary liberty; call it chaos. Liberty has to be well tempered to generate meaningfully creative outcomes. Chaos generates Jugaad.”

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However, Miller thinks that the students are getting enough design and creative liberty to experiment with all their ideas today. “I for one always look to persuade younger architects to experiment and push the envelope,” he adds.

Verma opines, “Our students go through a rigid and non-versatile education system where the pace of its change is much slower than the pace of change in design technology and methods. On one end, students have a good access to global trends and on the other they are restricted by their design methods, techniques and tools. This leads to an unsophisticated practice of mimicking of global trends. Unfortunately most of these trends, techniques and practices do not exist in the professional setup in India as well, leaving behind a very low percentage of students who are able to pursue what they desire.”

Jhunjhunwala says that as a student they were given a lot of freedom to design, think and do what they wanted to but he sees that thing missing in many institutes. “Most of the newly opened institutes have faculties that do not have international experience and have studied in India and have been working in India. They are unaware of the kind of work others are doing which creates a gap within the system. They go by the rulebook and follow it as a bible. The creative freedom thus takes a backseat in such institutes and the students minds are framed to work in a particular way,” he adds.

Technology Talk  

One of the most important subjects is that of technology. While colleges claim that students are exposed to the latest technologies in the market, the practising architects don’t seem to agree.

“Learning software is essential, but not sufficient. It is only a tool. A person who learned typing in the 1960’s will not write Noble Prize winning literature today and a person who learns CAD software will not produce architecture . Our students need to learn skills. But they need to learn knowledge and moreover sensitivities. Most of the people teaching architecture are unaware of what those sensitivities are, how can we expect students to know,” says Benninger.

Defining the difference Miller says, “They are aware of the drawing and presentation tools, but not with construction and engineering technologies.”

Commenting on the students exchange programmes which is practiced in many Indian architecture schools, Kashikar says that lagging behind in technological know-how is not an acceptable. “The CEPT has had exchange programmes with various Universities abroad from the 1980s. Needless to say, such exchange programmes are not possible if our foreign counterparts do not consider our University at par with theirs.”

Dalvi too says that the students of J J College of Architecture are exposed to the latest software and technologies used by the professionals in the market.

However, Verma presents a different picture. “The current state of average toolset in India is quite poor, to say the least. The problem lies in the pace of evolution of technology which is guiding the developments in software, tools and methods used for architectural design and articulation. This pace is quite fast and our curriculum fails to catch up on this end. Students are always keen to learn new software and miss out on learning the art of ‘problem-solving’. Learning a skillset is not the same as learning the software that aids in the skillset. The problem here lies in the system that still believes in exposing students to only basic CAD software. There are hardly any design labs in schools but every school has a CAD lab that will only focus on primitive CAD tools. The design world has now moved much beyond this computational design is at the core of any practice across the globe. There is an experimental and laboratory culture emerging in various parts of the world that drives the design discipline at its frontal. This needs to be developed in India by encouraging a laboratory culture in design practice, in profession as well as academia,” Verma sums up.

Jhunjhunwala mentions that earlier the educational framework needs to change and introduce advanced technologies within the core curriculum. “This is somewhat inter-related to the creative freedom. The students if given the creative freedom will think of new designs which would in-turn make them think about the new technologies and advancements which can happen in their structures as they are supposed to also justify ways in which their designed structures can be constructed,” he explains.

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Required Changes

Pointing out the missing factor in the curriculum, Benninger says, “We have a very limited view of professional practice. We think that we can dump students into this office and that willy-nilly and they will learn how to become architects by osmosis. There are no guidelines given to the participating studios. Colleges don’t even send a letter to the firms introducing the students and telling the mentor studios what they expect their students to get from the experience,” he adds, “Our students need to study like youngsters in the maritime field study—six months in the school and six months at sea on a ship. We need a hands-on curriculum where students are on construction sites, doing wood work in workshops, metal work and using their hands.”

Ar. Alfaz Miller states that the knowledge and savior-faire, that can convert students’ concepts into functional reality, is missing. So while the liberty to design is very much there, the ability to create a concrete, practical and functional reality from needs to be honed.
With guest lectures, seminars and symposiums and students exchange programmes, colleges feel that students get apt exposure While J J College of Architecture revised its curriculum recently, CEPT University did it in 2013 hence they don’t see the need of any change right now.

“The Bombay University curriculum has recently undergone a change. We done away with what was not required and added new subjects options, so I don’t see any need for change now. The internship period of one term also helps them know the market and get hands on knowledge.,” says Dalvi.

Coming from the field of computational design, Ar Sushant Verma feels that computation should be embedded in the curriculum right from the initial stages. “Computational thinking and problem solving should be inculcated to students in a systematic way with an incremental rise in complexity as they move closer towards professional practice. This will not only help students to cope up well with the current changing times, but also teach them how to solve life problems in a systematic manner,” he says. He also suggests that professionalism, code of conduct and practice guidelines should be focussed on right from the initial stages of development, not just as a theoretical subject, but also as a way of functioning in day to day life. Inter-disciplinary exchange capabilities should be encouraged by enforcing the same within academia itself.

“The institutional organization acts as a supplier on the demand of the industrial organization but there is nothing to bridge the gap between the two. As a result the quality of professionals and the quality of education has not improved as there has been no input from the industrial organisation to the educational organisations. It is very vital for the industry to have a body which represents the built environment of India including institutions and professional bodies so that they can work together for the benefit of the industry and the gap between the two organisations could be narrowed. Also, individuals learn more by seeing and doing the activities, hence having a mix of workshops, guest lectures, conferences and introducing interactive tools for learning would not only enhance the teaching standards,” concludes Jhunjhunwala.

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While the market and academics will be at loggerheads, it is important that both must focus on the future of budding architects. And this is possible when the academics institutes and practicing architects come together to shape the future of the students by providing the best education and training.

Box: Tip of the Iceberg

Benninger suggests that students must learn to be a student all their life, and Miller says that students would learn better from guru-shishya tradition and that the students must choose their teachers carefully.
Verma urges students to try to understand the logic behind works of celebrated design practices from around the globe. “There is a deeply embedded logic in most of the works that gain global recognition and it is important to understand the rationale behind it than just following the aesthetics of it. Focus on problem solving methods in design than just reaching out for a design conclusion. Professionalism towards work and a proper code of conduct is important to sustain yourself in any practice. Software will keep changing with time as technology progresses; problem solving and tools are more important than any software. Master the former and the latter shall follow,” he suggests.


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