2022 marks 50 years since the enactment of the 1972 Architect Act. The Act has helped the development of architecture as a modern profession, the sector still has many challenges impeding the realization of its full potential.
Mindmap Learning Programme (MLP)
- Architecture, as a distinct profession, emerged in 19th century UK. The country saw an influential architecture association being established in that period.
- It was only much later that India got its 1st national-level architects’ association in 1929. This association was formed, with 158 members.
- Post-Independence, professionalization increased, marked by the enactment of the 1948 Dentists Act and the 1956 Indian Medical Council Act.
- The architects too worked towards professionalization, for they wanted distinction from other professions like engineers and finally got their own dedicated legislation in 1972.
- The government was initially unwilling to accept their demands for a separate legislation as many building services were overlapping with engineering services. However, the state conceded to protect the ‘architect’ title for use only by qualified and registered professionals.
What is the Architects Act?
- The Architect Art provides for registration of architects. It also provides for recognition of standards and qualification for practice and also standards of education.
- It provides for the formation of the Council of Architecture. It is responsible for regulating the education and practice of architecture profession. Individuals need to be registered with the Council if they are to hold the title of ‘architect’.
- Violation of its provisions would attract disciplinary actions as given under the Act’s Section 30.
What are the challenges?
- The architecture field continues to face many of the same challenges it faced 50 years back:
- The profession is yet to be recognized in its own right
- Rivalry between architecture and engineering fields
- Low professional fee structure
- Low protection from market forces
- Uncertainty about the future
- The state support for professions is critical in legitimizing claims of service monopoly. The state support for architecture hasn’t been unconditional, neither has it been stable.
- The building industry and other large corporates pursue competition and lower fees. They often prefer handing their projects to consultancy firms offering the full range of services, including design and construction.
- The architecture field’s dependency on the market has split its professionals into 2 unequal factions:
- Elite group of architects, in the minority, who consider the market economy to be advantageous and back competitive demands. They benefit from high entry barriers, like the high turnover requirements from state and private firms that keep out the vast majority of the smaller architecture firms.
- A majority group, composed of independent architects from small and medium firms.
- Some of the architects have been calling for a legal solution, via amendment of the 1972 Act, and increased state protection for the profession. However, the disparity can’t be solved using legislation.
- Restrictive regulations tend to be counter-productive and market forces are strong enough to countervail barriers against competition. Hence, the using legal route to address the many challenged would be counter-productive.
What is the way ahead?
- Since the enactment of the 1972 Act, architecture has steadily progressed in India. The country now has 1,26,000 registered architects and sees some 10,000 new registrations each year.
- According to Eliot Freidson, in his work on professionalism, professionalization, as a monopoly of services given to those with specialized knowledge, is justified as an organizing principle of the division of labour. He argued that such a monopoly is needed as these professionals develop and govern a special knowledge that the society requires.
- The group that subscribes to this view overlook certain facts:
- It is the state-supported legislation that secures a profession. The profession itself has no intrinsic privileges.
- In India, the profession was formed amid contestations and the debates continue.
- Over the last 30 years, the ground conditions have changed and the market has emerged as the biggest patron, given its extensive consumption of services. It is capable of by-passing any barrier that may be erected against competition.
- Rather than depending on the legal route, architects would be better served if the sector were to eliminate the out-dated notions of ‘profession’ based on exclusive jurisdictional boundaries. They could focus on improving quality of service, professional ethics, internal cohesion and broad-basing their practice.
- To strengthen the architecture profession, 3 ways can be considered:
- Definition of ‘profession’:
- Abandoning the definition of ‘profession’, dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries, that is built on narrow jurisdictions.
- There is a need to reimagine the profession as a part of a system of practices that depend on related building services like building project management and construction science.
- Building professionals can form an alliance, thus increasing their collective relevance and bargaining power.
- Smaller players:
- Removing high entry barriers to allow small and medium firms to access project opportunities.
- Strengthening the ‘soul of the profession’:
- This requires focus on ‘practice and institutional ethics’, which would improve the service quality.
- Definition of ‘profession’:
- Even if the 1972 Act is amended, the exercise should be informed by the changed conditions on the ground and should aim to enable alliance between allied professions.
It has been half a century since the 1972 Act came into being, yet, the architecture profession suffers many obstacles and challenges. While a some call for a legal remedy for the situation, what is really needed in a rethink of what a ‘profession’ is and professional collective reform.
Practice Question for Mains:
In view of the Architects Act being in force for 50 years, comment on the challenges impeding the growth of architecture sector in India. Is amending the 1972 Act the only way to give the sector a leg-up? (250 words)