Foundations for the Future
Architecture schools are not merely about teaching the theory of architecture, but about fostering a sense of aesthetics through the environment experienced – so that a student is more than just another brick in the wall, says Apurva Bose Dutta, an architect who did her undergraduate thesis on the subject.
The five years I spent in the Chandigarh College of Architecture (CCA) helped me realize that an architectural college is not just about design studios. More than that, it’s about the candidness in the physical design of the college, amongst the students and between the faculty and the students.
The function of an institute is to evaluate ideas and to grow outwards. Physically, a school of architecture needs to have a very strong architectural expression that could give the students an atmosphere for their creativity to thrive. Teaching should promote healthy dialogue rather than reflect a process of dogmatic assertion.
Spaces shouldn’t be regimentally planned or arranged; they should seem to flow. Transition, interactive spaces or open galleries are what form the backbone of such institutes.
Change is an inevitable part of life, and this is evident in the concept on which architectural schools are based today.
Besides simply meeting the operational needs of the profession, an architectural school needs to look beyond and impart a culture of criticism which is absent in our country.
A thorough knowledge of the society and the world we live in must be imparted. Also, efforts should be made to apprise the students about India’s vernacular architecture and traditional construction systems.
The mushrooming of architectural schools has led to a drop in educational standards. It seems that the real learning commences after graduation, on joining the professional field – as there is an immense disparity between the taught subject and reality.
Today, extensive multimedia studios with electronic drawing-boards or workstations need to be incorporated, and the emphasis should ideally be on practical work.
Communication emerges as an important part of the profession at a later stage – when ideas have to be communicated to clients, but it needs to be practised during the undergraduate years.
A strong faculty with an open mind is a prerequisite that is sadly missing in most Indian institutes. There are so many instances where the required number of faculty is not met either. Also lacking in India are institutes that have raised the bar high enough to rope in foreign students.
The Council of Architecture (COA) has been given the responsibility of regulating architectural education at an undergraduate level.
Since it is bonded to get professionals and administrators only from an available lot to define the minimum standards and periodic inspection, it hasn’t been able to do much towards motivating these schools to perform beyond the minimum level of performance.
A premier educational institute created in 1962 in the country, CEPT offers three fulltime undergraduate and 16 post-graduate courses in the field of Built Form and Environment.
The campus takes one’s breath away with the first impression it gives of permeability. Raised on pilotis (stilts), this creation of architect B V Doshi boasts of an informal and flexible atmosphere which has been garnered through the flow of space and use of workstations, replicating an organic growth.
My visit to the campus instilled in me a different approach towards architecture. It is all about the attitude conveyed by the building, which gets absorbed by the students too.
A talk with them reflects their genuine passion for architecture and the respect they have for their faculty. For them, this 24-hour campus is an addiction, their second home where they spend hours on deliberations and exchange of ideas.
Since the college has student exchange programmes with many international institutions like the University of Calgary, Canada; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland; Renesselear Polytechnic Institute of Technology, New York; and the University of Cincinnati, USA, the students are provided with an opportunity to spend one academic semester in these institutions.
Thoughts shared by other great institutes like Bauhaus, lectures and seminars by the best in the field are just some of the advantages on offer. Self-study is given prime importance.
Laptops are allowed in the studio and the students can choose their mode of designing. The students have also been given the option of arranging their studios themselves. Studios are shared by students of two batches, resulting in a better interface.
The philosophy of the school is to increase a student’s sensitivity to emotional, spiritual, cultural and aesthetic dimensions. It combines instruction with experimentation, information with enquiry, discussion with research, so as to develop learning and deepen understanding.
To raise the pedestal of the school, each year end the student’s feedback is sought through an anonymous format which is collated and discussed in the concerned committees. With an updated website through which the submissions schedule can also be accessed, this college qualifies as one of India’s star attractions.
Built in 1961, this campus was set up as a part of the great ‘Chandigarh Experiment’ to impart education in architecture. The college, designed by Le Corbusier, is special as it was the only institution which began with a unique philosophy called the ‘Le Corbusier’s School of Thought’.
The homage to the modular system of proportions on the front facade, flowing corridors doubling up as art spaces, extensive studios with enough light filtering in, the courtyard, an imposing skyline, exclusive landscaping features created by the students, places to hang out, one of the best libraries in the country are some highlights of the college.
The college boasts of a unique material museum which houses samples of building materials, architectural products, structural system models, various kinds of trusses, joinery details, metal doors and windows, etc., for ready reference and for use in the college as teaching aids.
Academically, the college conducts a five-year undergraduate degree in architecture. A number of consultancy projects, site visits, educational trips to different cities, presentations by eminent people in the field are the USP of CCA.
The students feel that the amount of freedom in the curriculum helps them grow. An upcoming field, architectural journalism was also offered here as an elective, something exclusive to this college.
The recent placements have given a positive spirit to the college. The popular annual fest of the college, Archo, with its numerous competitions in the fields of art, architecture, culture and sports, give the right impetus to students.
But the final year students feel that with the senior faculty gone, there is a dearth of good faculty who are ready to interact. What the students miss is an education system that allows students to display the process of design and not concentrate on the final product alone.
They also seem quite miffed by the ‘test series’ every month, which reminds them of a school, and feel that the vivas of any semester should be open to all.
Sushant School of Architecture, Gurgaon (http://www.sushantschool.org/)
Established in 1989, this new campus in Gurgaon has fostered a place for creative growth and development, an institute which encourages freedom of thought and expression.
The school finds its faith in the agenda of change, which inspires students to experiment, create and refine their ideas. At present, Sushant imparts a five-year undergraduate degree programme in Architecture.
Designed by architect Sanjay Kanvinde, the campus is a colourful play of sculptures and murals. The plan of the courtyard gives an open feel to the building, simultaneously drawing it together. It’s said that the walls of architectural colleges should remain blank so that the students can fill it with their creativity.
The students in this college have excelled in doing this, giving it a dynamic and vibrant environment.
The school has been exposed to a number of international dignitaries who have contributed to the broadening of horizons of the students, and there are opportunities for exchange programmes with foreign institutes.
An interaction with the students brings forth their balance. They have just the right attitude towards the field – neither overtly passive nor too aggressive. The USP of the school, as one of the senior professors discloses, is the fact that there is no single ideology of the college.
That helps it to work diligently in all areas. As one ex-student fondly recalls, “Sushant has the perfect blend of traditional and contemporary thinking and approach to academics.
There is an amalgamation of practical/theoretical perspective doubled by the use of contemporary technology/materials/workshops, etc. Students are encouraged to do things out of the ordinary with a clear focus on perfection and individuality.”
An architectural school is a manifestation of values and attitudes, an institution that makes a student think, create and apply. The physical aspect of the school should be taken into consideration, which would include the development of infrastructure aided by a studio, a well-equipped library and workshops.
The faculty is of utmost importance, since architectural education as compared to others institutions lays more stress on learning by doing and discussing, other than by studying books.
There is a need for passionate teachers who can instill a feeling of love for the subjects in the students. Finally, the syllabus calls for a revamp.
Master architect Louis Kahn said: “Schools began with a man under a tree who didn’t know he was a teacher, discussions with few others who didn’t know they were students.” Today, with all the amenities available, stringent efforts should be made to upgrade the institutes and provide a better future for the next generation of architects.
What do students want?
During my thesis I gained views from the students of CCA, CEPT (Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology), Sushant School of Architecture and JJ College of Architecture about what they thought needed to be done in architectural education.
Here are some of the responses I assimilated:
- You can’t teach architecture.
- One needs a strong and energetic faculty who can inculcate zeal and enthusiasm in students.
- COA has prescribed certain norms for a faculty. Hence, in the process of upgrading their own knowledge, sometimes the faculty’s focus deviates from the knowledge they impart to the students.
- The interaction between the faculty and students is missing.
- Team work should be encouraged.
- Though a target may be fixed for submissions, the working times should not be specified.
- Casual and creative spaces are required, rather than formal spaces.
Schools that top the ranks
The COA is in the process of putting into practice the NAAC grading of colleges. Till date only three or four colleges have been put through it, and the Council is trying to evolve a system by which they can grade colleges – though they feel that since it has a subjective element, the grading is not as easy as it may be in engineering colleges.
The admission procedure for all colleges in one state is now the same and taken care of by the state. For instance, for all the colleges in Maharashra, the procedure is taken care of by the Maharashtra Association of Schools of Architecture.
However, looking at the current status one could say that the architectural colleges that rank in the top 20 in India are the following (in alphabetical order):
- Aayojan School of Architecture, Jaipur
- Academy of Architecture, Mumbai
- Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad
- Chandigarh College of Architecture, Chandigarh
- Chitkara School of Planning & Architecture, Patiala
- College of Architecture, Vastu Kala Academy, New Delhi
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee
- Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture & Environmental Studies, Mumbai
- L S Raheja School of Architecture, Mumbai
- M S University of Baroda, Vadodara
- Padmashree Dr.D.Y.Patil College of Architecture, Mumbai
- Rizvi College of Architecture, Mumbai
- Sathyabama University, Chennai
- School of Architecture and Planning, Chennai
- School of Architecture, CSI Institute of Technology, Secunderabad
- School of Architecture , R.V.College of Engineering , Bangalore
- School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi
- Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai
- Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Gurgaon
Note: Bangalore-based Apurva Bose Dutta, is an architect pursuing architectural journalism.