Architecture Law

Architecture at crossroads

Architecture is most often talked about in the context of design and space, arts and aesthetics or form and function; but it is becoming increasingly clear that time has come to discuss architecture in the context of rule and regulations, scope and services and “who” in the eye of the law an “architect” actually is.

Most architects must not have registered a small news item that appeared briefly in media that stated,

“Four groupings of professional engineers in the country have sought government intervention against an “erroneous” interpretation of law by the Council of Architecture (COA), which seeks to prohibit those not registered with it from providing architectural or related consultancy services.

Led by Consulting Engineers Association of India (CEAI), these groups have accused the COA and its members of trying to create a monopoly by illegally barring qualified professionals from providing architectural services.”

(The Economic Times: August 11, 2013)

Architects may or may not care; a period of transition has arrived. Modern construction industry and its demands are throwing up questions that are needed to be answers; and if architects are not willing to get into the discussion, their silence will be interpreted by others in a manner that will hurt the profession of architecture as envisaged by architects. It is about time a collective effort is made by architectural community to help the profession of architecture evolve in a manner that matches with reality of modern “business” environment. If this is not done proactively by architects, market realities will convert the “profession” of architecture into a consultancy “business”. The day it happens, the end result would not only a huge financial loss for the future architects, the society will also lose the only statutorily-empowered “professional” stake-holder guarding the collective interest in the cut-throat construction industry.

To comprehend the issue raised by engineers better, there is a need to understand the existing statutory frame work that governs the profession of architecture and evaluate it against the market realities.

Architects rarely appreciate the fact that their “profession” is one of the only four such expert domains (others being Medicine, Law and Chartered Accountancy) that has been recognized through an act enacted by the parliament of India. Architects Act, 1972 is a rare blessing from our lawmakers that is (ambitiously) created to protect the sanctity of the profession. This apathy of architects towards existence of this act is actually a reflection of the reality that the title “architect” is most abused of all professional titles. Even after having an act in place, the situation on the ground is so bad that it would not be a matter of great surprise if the number of non-qualified individuals is “practicing” architecture is found to be more than those who are qualified.

If architects review this situation very candidly, this rampant abuse of their hard-earned title is more due to their acceptance of this situation than lack of remedial mechanism. Their negligence towards protecting the interest of their profession has actually resulted in a practical situation that has put exclusivity of their professional know-how in doubt. The claim of engineers’ association is actually an extension of their existing role in the construction industry. What engineers are demanding is just legal ratification of a well recognized market reality. It is extremely important to understand that no profession can escape the test of the market reality. The profession of architecture is at a junction in time where it must reflect upon the ground realities and evolve to respond to the reality.

The most important question in front of the grand old profession of architecture is how to define the role of an “architect” as a professional service provider that is different than an “engineer”.

To look for a reply to this highly complex and often debated (world over) question, we must try to see the root cause of this problem which has two dimensions, i.e. legal and practical. The legal dimension to this issue is provided by existence of the Architects act, 1972 (and non-existence of equivalent Engineers act) and the rules and regulations formed by the Council of Architecture (CoA); while the practical dimension is provided by interwoven-ness of architecture and engineering services in making a building. Though it may appear impossible to extricate architecture from engineering, the very fact that both professions exist separately world over, it is important that we make an effort to understand and resolve the issue between two extremely complementary players of construction industry.

It is important that a discussion regarding the issue of defining and dividing architecture and engineering results in actual applicable outcome, so we are forced to look at what is the stated understanding regarding this subject by both sides. When one looks at various legally recognized sources, it becomes clear that it is a hidden war with trespassing done on both sides.

Architects, armed with Architects act and CoA’s authority to form rules and regulations have been confronted by engineers using their majority-holding in drafting the latest National Building Code (NBC 2005 Revision). A closer review of documents reveals that both sides have tried to usurp ground from other and have ended with a situation that has not served the construction industry well. This makes it critical that stands of both sides are evaluated with an open mind to find a no-conflict division of services that provides the warring factions with their own sovereign domains of functioning.

If we start the process by evaluating the view point of architects on the matter, we must understand the Architects act and CoA’s actions reacted to the subject.

Those unfamiliar with laws and legal language may feel that Architects act could and should contain the definition and scope of architecture, but a quick study of the Architects act of India would reveal that it contains no such definition. It is focused on creation of an regulatory institution (CoA) and its operative mechanisms. Thus, the act has left the onus of defining the role and scope of “architect” as a professional on the CoA by empowering it to makes necessary rules and regulations.

CoA has developed and evolved rule and regulations for both, education and profession of architecture, after its inception. One of the most important contributions of CoA to Indian architecture is its efforts in ensuring that qualification of “architect” is provided through educational institutes with sound infrastructure, skilled faculty and appropriate curriculum. The result is admirable, as India has world class architectural collages that produce architects of finest quality and skill-set.

Unfortunately, while the educational needs of the profession of architecture are well-addressed by CoA, it is its role as a regulator guardian of the profession that has not been well-served. Efforts have been made to provide the profession with guidelines for professional practice including a very sound code of professional conduct; but CoA has not been able to enforce the same on the professional community. The binding of CoA with practicing architects appears to be weak to the extent of being non-existent. An average architect interacts with CoA once in lifetime, only to enter his/her name in the council register. Compared with the other three professions, CoA is a small body with no regional presence beyond the central office in Delhi. There is no real interface with the profession on the ground and actions taken by CoA to address the needs of the profession.

It is this lack of realistic feedback that is one of the issues that have contributed to the discomfort of engineers, leading them to strike out at the actions of CoA. To understand this better, it is important to look at the point of view depicted in the professional practice document of CoA on this matter.

If we look at the “conditions of engagement and scale of charges preamble” provided by CoA for architectural professionals to follow, we discover that, while defining the scope of architecture, the preamble states,

“…Architecture has generated specializations such as Structural Design…”

And it continues,

“Structure is so fundamental to architecture that it actually determines its two-pronged functions; the utilitarian appropriateness and the expressive power of aesthetics. Structural design as a creative discipline assumes an indispensable position as a natural extension of Architectural Design. Endowed with an extraordinary power of conceptualization and creativity, an architect can conjure up unprecedented structural systems leading to the genesis of design-ideas introducing new concepts of Space and Form. In other words, the architect’s contribution to structural design can effectively bring about qualitative change in the built-environment to stimulate the advancement of society towards a higher order of civilization.”

It continues to state,

“The practice of the architectural profession is regulated by the Architects Act, 1972, and the regulations framed thereunder. The Council of Architecture has prescribed the Conditions of Engagement and Scale of Charges under the Architects (Professional Conduct) Regulations, 1989. The documents stipulate the parameters within which the Architect is required to function. These define the responsibilities, the scope of work and services, and prescribe the mandatory minimum scale of professional charges with a view to making the Client fully aware of the duties and services which he may expect from the Architect. The professional services required by the Client may not be comprehensive in scope in all cases and accordingly a clear understanding between the two must be arrived at. The Council of Architecture has prescribed the Conditions of Engagement based on general practice of the profession in India. These documents are applicable to all registered architects and such architects who have specialized in areas such as Structural Design, Urban Design, City Planning, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture and Architectural Conservation.“

Thus, as per CoA’s opinion on the matter, the scope of “structural designing” is one of the primary scopes rendered by architects. And, it also accepts that architects can claim specialization in “Structural design”. If the above lines appear to have a philosophical touch preferred by architects, the confusion is dispelled by CoA, as it subsequently states it in black and white in its “comprehensive architectural services” (to be rendered by “architect”) as follows:

“ Section 1. SCOPE OF WORK Part I: ARCHITECTURE

The Architect is required to provide services in respect of the following:

1.4 Structural design.

1.5 Sanitary, plumbing, drainage, water supply and sewerage design.

1.6 Electrical, electronic, communication systems and design.

1.7 Heating, ventilation and air conditioning design (HVAC) and other mechanical systems.

1.8 Elevators, escalators, etc.

1.9 Fire detection, Fire protection and Security systems etc.”

It is clear from the above that, as per the learned opinion of Council of Architecture expressed in its guiding document expected to be followed by all architects (if not in letter, at least in the spirit), architects are expected to provide services that fall in the knowledge domain of specialist engineers. It is also interesting to note that curriculum of architecture, as prescribed in the CoA rules and regulations governing architectural institutes, fail to show adequate evidences regarding how an architect will acquire such specialized engineering know-how to render these services.

Thus, it is clear that Council of Architecture has trespassed into a domain that would require specialized engineering qualification and would be more suitable to be provided by qualified engineers of the related area.

If it is appears that CoA has trespassed, it is also important to see the actions of engineering organizations in this context to see if their stand is also appropriate or not. So, we must shift our attention to the statutory mechanisms used by engineers to consolidate and counter-attack to claim some ground on the other side.

Considering the fact that engineers are on a bit of a back-foot due to not having a (much-needed) parliament-enacted Engineers act, we have to look at another law-recognized document to find their stand on the subject. It is highly interesting to note that, even without a empowering act such as Architects act, engineers have managed to find a more practical avenue to break into architects’ domain through the medium of National Building Code (2005 Revision).

NBC 2005 is put forth by the Bureau of Indian Standards as a guiding code for the entire construction industry. It serves as a base document for both, public and private sector, and has a very important role to play in formation of Development Control Regulations put in force by the state to regulate construction. So, sans a professional act, it appears as if engineers have still been able to find better footing and greater amount of penetration in rendering architectural services by ensuring a sympathetic NBC revision in 2005. To understand this better, we must review the NBC 2005 in greater depth.

Before we review the NBC, it is extremely important to have a look at the revision process, as it is this process that leads one to question its intent and objectives. NBC has been revised by a large committee of experts from various fields, predominantly engineering. Amongst the crowd of engineers, architects have very little representation in a committee-driven process. It appears from a very basic study that the total representation from architects was that of six members, two from CoA, two from Indian Institute of Architects and two from academic institutions. There was no committee that had architects on equal footing in terms of number. Considering this, it is difficult to see if there was any remedial tool available to representing architects to prevent engineers from suggesting revisions suitable to their cause.

The NBC 2005 FORWARD states,

“The changes incorporated in the present Code, which is second revision of the Code, have been specified in the Foreword to each Part/Section of the Code. Some of the important changes are:

a) A new Part O Integrated Approach — Prerequisite for Applying the Provisions of the Code’ emphasizing on multi-disciplinary team approach for successfully accomplishing building/development project, has been incorporated.

c) Number of provisions relating to reform in administration of the Code as to assigning duties and responsibilities to all concerned professionals, have been incorporated/modified.”

This statement clearly indicates that the revision has one primary purpose, i.e. of reconstituting the services required for construction as “integrated services” rendered by a “team” and not by individual professionals. It is, in a way, dilutes the traditional status of an architect (as thought of by most architects) as the principal designer of a building, whose lead is followed by engineering experts after the finalization of functional planning and aesthetics.

It is important to note that the stand taken by NBC is substantially relevant in the modern context where integration of technologies in a building is far more crucial that it was in past. But the intent consolidated further in the revision makes it start appearing lopsided. If we look at the FORWARD of,

PART O INTEGRATED APPROACH — PREREQUISITE FOR APPLYING PROVISIONS OF THE CODE

“This Part of the Code dealing with ‘integrated approach’ is being included for the first time.”

And continues,

“It gives an overall direction for practical applications of the provisions of different specialized aspects of spatial planning, designing and construction of buildings, creation of services, and proposes an integrated approach for utilizing appropriate knowledge and experience of qualified professionals right from the conceptualization through construction and completion stages of a building project and indeed during the entire life cycle.”

It becomes increasingly clear that the orientation of NBC is to shift the onus of designing from the Architect to a team of professional that must be in place from the inception of the project.

It continues further and states,

“The ‘integrated approach’ should not only take care of functional, aesthetic and safety aspects, but also the operational and maintenance requirements.

The aim of the ‘integrated approach’ is to get the maximum benefit from the building and its services in terms of quality, timely completion and cost-effectiveness. In the team approach which is an essential pre-requisite for integrated approach, the aim clearly is to maximize the efficiency of the total system through appropriate optimization of each of its sub-systems. In other words, in the team, the inputs from each of the professional disciplines have to be so optimized that the total system’s efficiency becomes the maximum. It may be reemphasized that maximizing the efficiencies of each sub-system may not necessarily assure the maximization of the efficiency of the total system. It needs hardly to be stated that specified or implied safety will always get precedence over functional efficiency and economy. Further, progressive approach such as that relating to the concept of intelligent buildings would be best taken care of by the ‘integrated approach’ as laid down in this Part.”

The above statement made by NBC 2005 has a huge amount of importance in terms of deciding the objective or direction of the future of “building-making” in India. It reflects upon the age old debate in architecture about form vs. function that has enriched the profession of architecture by making it an interesting (and often unfathomable) mix of art and science.

It has escaped the notice of NBC that, for an architect, functionality (or “engineering” efficiency) is not the primary goal of building-making. He/she may consider visual aesthetics or artistic metaphor as a central idea for a building. It is the choosing of the right mix that is essence of architecture, and to make it happen, architect would need a role of a lead player, a first among the equals. The notion of “integrated approach” is an attack on this status of architect; making him part of a team that will chose between many agenda emerging from various domains. It may give us “buildings”, but the architectural soul many have been lost.

Philosophy apart, NBC 2005 shows a strong desire to develop this theme and bring it to a legal conclusion. If we read SECTION 4 TEAM APPROACH, it states,

“SUB-SECTION 4.1: Design Team

In building projects various aspects like form; space planning; aesthetics; fire and life safety; structural adequacy; plumbing services; lighting and natural ventilation; electrical and allied installations; air conditioning, heating and mechanical ventilation; acoustics, sound insulation and noise control; installation of lifts and escalators; building automation; data and voice communication; other utility services installations; landscape planning and design; urban planning; etc need to be kept in view right at the concept stage. The project requiring such multidisciplinary inputs need a co-ordinated approach among the professionals for proper integration of various design inputs, For this, and to take care of the complexities of multi-disciplinary requirements, a design team of professionals from required disciplines shall be constituted at the appropriate stage. Here, it is desirable that the multi-disciplinary integration is initiated right from the concept stage. The team shall finalize the plan. The composition of the team shall depend on the nature and magnitude of the project.”

If read carefully, it is clear that NBC brings all aspects from architectural aesthetics to drainage engineering in building designing on equal footing and insists on a “team” that “shall finalize the plan.” It is apparent that under the new NBC regime, status of the architect is deliberately diluted.

The above theme and intent can be seen in a number of places across the revised NBC. In the Forward of PART 2 (Administration), it staes,

“In this second revision, number of modifications have been incorporated based on the experience gained over the years especially in view of different techno-administrative and techno-legal regime encountered in various situations faced…..

Other significant modifications incorporated include:

a) Modifications in the definitions of certain terms;

b) Inclusion of the concept of team of building officials;….”

Across the NBC, there is a consistent stand of restructuring the construction service provider hierarchy by introduction of a “team” based formation with no special role assigned to an architect. This stand is provided legal base and ratification by introduction of terms such as “architectural engineer” (SECTION 1:- GENERAL, SUB-SECTION 2:-TERMINOLOGY, Point 2.17, NOTES: 1 Unless specified otherwise, the word ‘engineer’ shall mean “civil engineer’ or ‘architectural engineer’)that are not acceptable as per CoA norms.

The most important action of NBC in this context can be found in how it has decided to define the scope of services rendered by an “architect” and an “engineer”. In the ANNEX A, (Foreword and Clauses 2.17,6.5,6.6,9.1.3, 12.2.8, 12.3 and 12.9), GUIDE FOR THE QUALIFICATIONS AND COMPETENCE OF PROFESSIONALS, A-2 REQUIREMENTS FOR REGISTRATION AND COMPETENCE OF PROFESSIONALS, it defines under competence of architect and engineer as,

Architect’s competence as,

“A-2.1.1 Competence

The registered architect shall be competent to carryout the work related to the building/development permit as given below:

a) All plans and information connected with building permit except engineering services of multistoreyed/special buildings given in 12.2.5.1………”

And engineer’s competence as,

“A-2.2.1 Competence

The registered engineer shall be competent to carryout the work related to the building/development permit as given below:

a) All plans and information connected with building permit;……”

It is this definition that most clearly indicates that NBC has been revised in a manner that has, not just diluted the status of the architect and attacked the philosophical foundation of the profession, it has virtually allowed the term “engineer” to be used as an equivalent of the term “architect”. It is this act of NBC revision committee that can be seen reflected in all statutorily required submissions using the term architect/engineer.

If we return to the central idea of the discussion, it is clear from the above that both architects and engineers are equally guilty of trespassing in each other’s domains. CoA’s claim of architect providing engineering services is responded-to by NBC’s ratification of engineers’ right to provide architectural services. And yet, it is not hard to see that both experts acquire their qualifications by getting educated through curriculum that are completely unlike each other.

 (Architecture + Design: December 2013)

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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