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Open letter to MHRD to look at Council of Architecture functions

Dear MHRD,

Though architects dress a bit weirdly and talk almost incomprehensibly, it is my firm belief that they are human, often extremely. Hence I request you to cognise them as part of human resource of India and take this letter for reading.

I am instigated to write this letter by a pained parent of a student of architecture who met me last week and told me a story that is actually repeated across India in various forms.

As architectural education is a bit of a mysterious process (as, very often, marrying an actor is so educating that it can also turn you into an architect), I will need to give you some grounding.

Like all other professions, internship (ie office training done under a senior professional from your own field) is a crucial part of architectural education. In fact, it is probably the most important period of the academic curriculum for turning a student into a professional. For some unfathomable reason, this internship has not yet managed to attract the attention of CoA to consider regulating it with formal rules.

It would surprise non-architects (as architects are now rendered un-surprisable by absurdity of CoA) that CoA, who is in charge of academic education of architecture has not even bothered to decide clearly about the tenure of this critical academic component and hence its duration varies from academy to academy. If this looks bad, worse is the randomness of people who provide this office training and the method employed. (See the footnote with appendix for details of CoA stand on internship).

As architectural internship is a lawless land un-policed by CoA, it has now become a breeding ground of interesting practices. The case I am about to narrate and one more that I will take up later are a great indicator of creativity available to Indians in exploiting systemic weakness.

The female student whose parents approached me had joined an architect appearing to be doing a project second only to bullet train in terms of strategic importance in our relationship with a foreign nation. Attracted by the exposure-opportunity, she joined his office for her internship.

As CoA has not found the need to have a mandatory rule about honorarium payable to interns, she was told that she would not be paid a penny for the work.

As she joined the office, rather thirteen other interns, she discovered that this architect ran his entire office only on interns without even having a peon to make tea or a man to deliver drawings to site!

For the old-fashioned me, architectural trainees substituting for peon-courier boys is actually not too diabolical, but there is something lot worse at play here that struck me really hard.

Few may be aware that architects use Computer Aided Drawing softwares, licenced commercial versions of which cost in lakhs. As CAD companies want their software to become popular, they also release educational versions that are free for students to use.

As the trainees being students, each of them were asked to come with their own laptops to work with student version of the software installed on it. The entire practice of this architect ran exclusively from laptops of trainees!

So, by using creative thinking, this architect was doing a massive project using completely free bonded labour that can’t leave, and without any investment in office infrastructure.

While the father of the girl was complaining about the blatant exploitation of his child that she can not escape from, I see a deeper and even more serious connection that we need to ponder about.

As Indian state is going big way in building the national infrastructure using consultants competing mainly on commercial bases, where L1 (lowest) bidder is awarded the work, architects are forced to engage in price war to get assignments.

As all and sundry, regardless of educational qualification are allowed to practice architecture (now made official by Delhi HC), architects are forced to stoop so low against competition that we have architectural and engineering design tenders going at rates as low as 0.35% of project cost (please note that an average trader just buying and selling material without any value addition would take at least 3% profit).

This has forced architects to find ways and means to survive, ranging from taking cuts from suppliers/contractors to cutting operational costs. While former is criminal and hence appears more dangerous, it is the latter that is even more damaging.

As in this case, where cost cutting is done using employment of free labour in terms of interns, it is not just exploitation of interns like bonded slaves, it is a risk for the nation. An intern is only a student apprentice working under an architect to learn and is not skilled enough to do real work, so using a trainee as a replacement of a qualified person will seriously compromise the quality of design, and in turn national infrastructure constructed based on it.

If this is a case of crooked misuse of mandatory training as bonded labour because of apathy of CoA for regulating training, next case is even worse.

Last year an out-of-town architectural trainee student approached me for help claiming that the person he was training with had imprisoned him as a servant at home with no architectural work to do. This man had confiscated kid’s original ID proofs to ensure that he can’t escape. When I asked the name of the architect he was training with, he gave me the name of a trustee of an NGO who had nothing to do with architecture.

After recovering his ID papers using police, when I investigated the matter, this NGO was blatantly advertising on its website that it offered training to architects. The kids lured by it entered in a bond that forced them to stay at home with the trustee and could not leave without his consent.

While I narrate these strange looking cases, I also assure you that they are not exceptions but are norms. As number of architectural colleges go up, as design fees dip further and as CoA continue to be an ostrich with its head buried under the sand, the situation will just get worse.

CoA has no ability, competence, resources, machinery or will to regulate the profession or education with required vigour and depth, and hence it is up to MHRD to rise to clean up the mess.

As a ministry in-charge of Human Resource Development, it is about time MHRD takes suo motu cognisance of the lack of cognisance regarding internship in architectural education from CoA and step up and act, for the sake of students who are the future architects of our nation.

MHRD needs to force CoA to firm up a clear set of rules about:

  • Time duration of internship in an office
  • Minimum qualification of architect for taking up trainees
  • Maximum Number of trainees an architect can train at one go
  • Remuneration/honorarium format
  • A clear method of evaluation of training

As number of students of architecture go up, there will be a massive influx of students looking for internships.

This can lead to a situation where such malpractices can go up exponentially. Hence MHRD must act as soon as possible and regulate this critical aspect of professional training.

Looking forward to your timely intervention.

Someone hoping for resurrection of honourable profession of architecture.

Footnote

For those interested in knowing technicalities about CoA’s regulation of internship, following appendix contains some rules/regulations with reference to internship that can be found on CoA website.

Appendix

A.  “Architects Professional Guidelines” are silent about how an architect must treat an intern.

B. “ARCHITECTS (PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT) REGULATIONS, 1989” is silent about internship.

C. “MINIMUM STANDARDS OF ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATION REGULATIONS, 1983” is silent about internship.

D. “COA Minimum Standards of Architectural Education, 2017 submitted to MHRD” states in point 44 that:

INTERNSHIP/ PRACTICAL TRAINING

Orientation under an architect that would include the process of development of conceptual ideas, presentation skills, involvement in office discussions, client meetings, development of the concepts into working drawings, tendering procedure, site supervision during execution and coordination with the agencies involved in the construction process and to facilitate the understanding of the evolution of an architectural project from design to execution.

And, in “Guidelines for conduct of practical training and architectural design thesis” it states,

1.1. Practical Training shall be undergone during 8th/ 9th semester of the Architecture Degree program for a period of one semester in the office of an architect or an organization operating in an allied field of practice or research, duly approved by the institution, under mentorship of an architect having experience of at least 5 years.

1.2. The practical training shall be supervised and evaluated through periodic assessment by the mentoring architect and end semester examination (viva voce) as part of curricular studies.

1.3. Training in Foreign Country shall be done under the Registered Architect of that Country and to be approved and monitored by the Head of the Institution.

E. “Minimum Standards of Architectural Education, 2008 Appendix-A2 GUIDELINES FOR CONDUCT OF ARCHITECTURAL THESIS/PROJECT AND PRACTICAL TRAINING 1.0 PRACTICAL TRAINING” states that:

  •  The practical training of one year duration shall be carried out in the office of an experienced architect registered with the Council of Architecture or trained professional of the relevant field in stage II.
  • The practical training shall be supervised and evaluated by the institution.

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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