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In-Depth Jobs

Issue no 13, 24-30 June 2023

Designing the Future Emerging Multidisciplinary Innovations in Architecture


Virendra Kumar Paul

India's rich ancient architecture is based on the knowledge system of Vastu Shastra, the full interpretation of which is yet to be unfolded. However, the contemporary practice of architecture in India has its roots in pre-independence times when the first school of architecture came into existence on 2nd March 1857 in Bombay, named after Sir Jamsetjee Jeejebhoy. The British education model of architecture in India continued to prevail for a long time since then. This was formally recognised by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in the 1930s. Although, construction of most of the colonial buildings was led by English architects, it is presumed that their teams mostly consisted of Indian architects. Lutyens Delhi, Fort Mumbai, Summer Capital Simla, and many other places, became iconic identities of the times associated with the ruling dispensation. In the early post-independence period, prominent buildings belonged to public institutions and reflected a "modern" language of aesthetics in public space consistent with global preferences. Typically, bold and eclectic Western Art-Deco proliferation in India was seen in the buildings of classical "posh" Bombay, as it was known at that time. Singlescreen movie halls in the 1950s invariably embraced the architecture of Art-Deco. Leading Indian architects, like Kanvinde and Habib Rehman, who were educated in the US, introduced another style, mostly strong on geometrical straight lines, referred to as the Bauhaus Movement and adapted it in India. This was also contemporary with the time of Le Corbusier, of Chandigarh fame, and the two proliferated and created competing identities. At the same time, Balkrishna Doshi and Charles Correa established themselves and contributed to the "modern" buildings of the 20th century. At the time of Indian Independence, there were possibly around 300 architects, but the profession expanded significantly by emulating, adapting, and further interpreting what some of the prominent buildings reflected. Currently, there are about 469 institutions engaged in Architecture Education in India, imparting education with minimum standards as laid out by the Council of Architecture (CoA), constituted under the Architects Act, 1972, by the Government of India. After the 5- year Bachelor's degree, architects are registered by the CoA to engage themselves in the practice of Architecture in accordance with the standards prescribed by the Architects Act, 1972. Science, technology, and fine arts inputs intertwine to form the structure of a typical architecture curriculum, and it is this uniqueness that no other profession can claim. Over time, several specialisations have emerged at the Master's degree and Ph.D. degree levels, including Urban Design, Architectural Conservation, Urban and Regional Planning, Transport Planning, Building Engineering/ Technology and Construction Management, and Landscape Architecture, to name a few.

Diversity of Architecture in India: Against the backdrop of colonial influence in the preindependence period, there was a resurgence of Indian identity in architecture by institutions that had committed themselves to rejecting colonial influence even in the built form. DAV institutions of the 1890s, Banaras Hindu University, R. K. Mission Belur Math, and Shanti Niketan were emphatic statements of their philosophical conviction through the buildings as they pursued their respective endeavours. In that sense, the contribution of architecture to the Indian Freedom Movement, in elevating the motivational spirit in the discharge of activities undertaken by these institutions, is noteworthy. And rightly so, these institutions continue to uphold India-centric thinking through institutional interventions in society. In the discourse on architecture in India, regional identities cannot be ignored. For instance, regions such as Ladakh, Kashmir, North-East, Rajasthan, Kerala, etc., maintained their distinctiveness despite the external national and global influences. While the regional diversity is also reflected in their cultural significance, the building typologies also demonstrate traditional wisdom to live in harmony with nature. Interestingly, traditional architecture is now being considered as a solution to most problems related to climate change. People from diverse regions connect and build societies around architectural identities. Indian Temple Architecture is the most profound example of design, construction technology, cultural significance, and national pride. Recently, on 1st March 2023, in a webinar on 'Urban Planning, Development, and Sanitation,' Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi talked about urban planning reforms and the need for new cities with efficient infrastructure as well as the modernisation of old cities in the Amrit Kaal. The need for a new definition of climate resilience, innovative sustainable technologies leading to new parameters for architecture, was a strong message articulated in his speech. Indeed, if India is to leap forward as a leading democracy when it completes 100 years of Indian Independence, cities will have to be created with inspiring, energy-efficient, technologically advanced, and sustainable carbon-neutral buildings. While the post-budget webinar was primarily focused on urban planning and significant fiscal support, it will eventually open unprecedented opportunities for architects and the architecture profession. Buildings being at the core of urban planning for new cities, and architecture being one of the major input streams for specialised professional training of urban planners, the architecture profession offers opportunities for the occasion of nationbuilding.

Complexities in Contemporary Buildings: Up until the turn of the century, architecture was still a generic profession, but there has been an immense expansion of specialisations in recent times, such as hospital or healthcare architecture, airport architecture, the hospitality sector, the education sector, the real estate residential and commercial sector, and so on. The tourism industry, like many others, relies on good architecture. For instance, the National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual and Heritage Augmentation Drive (PRASHAD), launched in 2014, and the Swadesh Darshan Scheme in 2014-15 focused on architectural heritage in the larger domain of 'Spiritual Tourism'. It is, therefore, undeniable that architecture drives economic activity and constantly evolves. The quality, preferences, comfort, productivity, and aesthetics have added another dimension of opportunities in interior design and technology-dependent 'building envelope' design, such as specialised glass facades, etc. Architecture in today's age and time is becoming increasingly technology-driven. Fire safety engineering, structural design, environmental control (air conditioning, heating, indoor air quality), IT-enabled building automation are some of the engineering systems defining the inherent complexity of today's buildings.

Opportunities for MultiDisciplinary Innovation: Emerging innovation opportunities in architecture require multi-disciplinary synergy from ideation to prototyping and commercialisation. What may appear to be a student project pursued diligently in the academic laboratory (or the studio, as it is called in an architecture setting) is a prospective breakthrough idea that would be further matured in a collaborative environment. Design Innovation Centres and Incubators are now encouraging young minds to nurture ideas into prototyping, often involving early industry partners who are willing to invest. Typically, innovation opportunities are categorised as: a) design stage process-oriented, and b) construction process-specific. During the design stage processes, the focus is on sustainable buildings, climateresponsive solutions, decarbonising the built environment, energy efficiency, lean construction, etc. In a world grappling with the climate change crisis and where resilience of urban infrastructure is the new normal, research on new technologies and innovating novel solutions is a priority. The research and process support tools for architecture designs are already employing cutting-edge technologies, including AI, VR, Machine Learning, Digital Twins, and Metaverse. Such multidisciplinary academic cohorts may soon fall under the broad school of thought as the 'Revival of Indian Architecture Science Thinking'. In the category of construction-specific integration, a large range of emerging technology solutions caters to a variety of priorities such as waste control, error-free execution, quality control, enhanced productivity, precision, and low-carbon construction. 3-D Laser Scanners and Drones are already commercially available technologies for terrain modelling, aerial documentation, volumetric measurements, and project monitoring. Similarly, mechanical and, to some extent, robotic finishing technologies are evolving as potential solutions on projects. For subsurface investigations, Ground Penetrating Radar Survey (GPRS) is already a viable option. 3-D printing is at a field testing stage and may change the face of construction in the very near future. Masonry-laying using mechanical and robotic applications shows promise in their development stages. Microtunnelling has already begun to change the face of typical construction sites due to extensive excavations. Realtime pollution monitoring of construction sites is already a reality. 21st-century architecture is poised for a change, and designs are expected to be technology-driven. Similar to the analogy of 'Assistive Devices' for medical care, it is appropriate to consider these technological advances as 'Assistive Technologies for Architecture and Construction'. This would open the floodgates of multidisciplinary education, training, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The Way Forward: The role of architects has now extended to other domains in infrastructure planning, management, project delivery processes, and conservation of built and other Indian heritage forms. They collaborate with stakeholders such as developers, construction agencies, project management agencies, and facilities management agencies during the operational phase. In this realm, there is abundant scope for entrepreneurial excellence. In fact, this paradigm shift is a natural consequence of the agenda set out by the Hon'ble Prime Minister, and architecture will be a catalyst for job creation. The natural question is whether we are prepared for such an unprecedented unfolding. While a direct answer may be elusive at this stage, it is evident that competencies have to be redefined, and educational institutions must embrace excellence as the new normal, consistent with outcome expectations. Multidisciplinarity is the reality of professional practice, and education needs to redefine and recalibrate skill sets. Fortunately, the National Education Policy 2020 provides for such multidimensional professional training, and this is the time to harness its benefits. Training and capacity building of the existing pool of professionals pose a challenge that must be overcome to provide a fresh ground for 'new-age' professions to perform and transition into renewed thinking. As it emerges, the role of academics, teaching, and research will be pivotal in creating professional competencies. The research capacity in India is still inadequate to meet the challenges ahead. Established institutions are creating Centres of Excellence in architecture, and it is expected that their proliferation will have to multiply to enrich teaching Pedagogy as well as professional quality. While the number of new institutions imparting architecture education may stagnate at the moment, it is the opportune moment to consolidate academic programs, primarily in collaborative mode and with an entrepreneurial mindset. The architecture profession is an important element in establishing and upholding the pride of the nation through inspiring buildings with an Indian identity as physical entities for posterity. Physical symbols are the easiest and most lasting way for the masses to connect with national esteem. Spatial configurations that organize spaces as part of functional planning in architectural design are the sole determinants of the lifestyle practiced by the occupants. The mantra of Life Style for Environment (LiFE) was propounded during the World Environment Day last year. Who else can fulfill this aspiration other than the architects? It is time to recognise the role of the architecture profession and the need for radical changes in its competencies to rise to the expectations of the agenda set out for the 2047 timeline. The growth story of India is, in fact, the growth story of architecture, presenting avenues for multitalented aspirants to serve our great nation.

(The author is Professor, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. He can be reached at vk.paul@spa.ac.in)

Views expressed are personal.