Day 1, Monday, April 3, 1999

After an initial round of introduction, the members discussed the programme for the meeting. M.N. Ashish Ganju[MNAG] drew the attention of the group to the problem statement circulated to the group prior to the symposium. The problem statement discussed the issue of architectural education in three parts: firstly, ‘the learning universe’, attempting to help professionals define themselves as teachers and students and describe the educational consciousness; secondly, ‘instruments’ which dealt with teaching methods and materials; and finally, ‘certification’ which raised the issues of standards, forms of governance and the objectives of validation.

MNAG stressed that the problem statement represented a collective view of GREHA and was born out of several meetings held on the subject.

Paul Simpson [PS], who was the moderator of the first session, expressed the opinion that the base paper had raised some very valid issues for discussion and drew the attention of the group to Akhtar Chauhan’s [AC] paper, which dealt comprehensively with many of the issues.

Nicholas Weaver [NW] opined that what the significant issues were should be arrived at from the first session of ‘the learning universe’.

Shireesh Deshpande [SD], in his opening remarks accorded a special welcome to the two participants from the United Kingdom, Paul Simpson and Nicholas Weaver. Describing architecture as a mirror of the aspirations of our society, he referred to the tendency to talk of grassroots and not of ground realities. He expressed the hope that the deliberations of the symposium would contribute effectively towards addressing some of these issues.

With a general consensus on the structure of the programme to be followed, PS concluded the first session of the symposium.

The post-tea session was chaired by SD. Two theme presentations were made – one by Sashikala Ananth [SA] and the other by HD Chhaya [HDC]. [SA] made a very powerful presentation. She began by explaining that she had spent the better part of her life studying the traditional building sciences and invited every one to become a part of this effort to demystify the understanding of tradition. She referred to yoga and ayurveda and vaastu as the anchors of Indian logic. She presented a description of the vaastu purushamandala and stressed that here work was based on three major premises, namely the integration of traditional and contemporary selves, reassessing traditional wisdom and applying it in new context, and commitment to human processes. She illustrated the presence of a strung rhythm in traditional architecture both with the use of temple plans as well as domestic architecture. She also illustrated the modular nature of planing, both for buildings as well as sculpture. Mentioning that the Shastras had ascribed several qualities to good professionals, she presented a triad of pre-requisite for a professional – a philosophy/belief system, integrity of self and accountability to systems/people.

She raised the soul-searching question – ‘Can we as designers hold a belief in the living nature of an environment?’ Finally, she presented a listing of subjects in the architecture curriculum and suggested areas where changes could be introduced.

[HDC] made detailed presentation describing a means of incorporating vedic wisdom in architectural design. He described consciousness as a three-way relationship between mind, space and time and talked of the importance of the process. He presented a graphic representation of various forces, which work on the ‘I’. He presented a very detailed chart of how these subjects could be included in the architectural syllabi.

In the post-lunch session [AC] made a comprehensive presentation. He raised the issue of a proper identity for architects and the need for understanding the society we live in as well as the society we desire. He pointed out that human and social issues are neglected in the present curriculum which is restricted to manipulating functions in physical dimensions, resulting in inhuman buildings and settlements. He pointed out that rural settlements and related issues are dealt with only in a very peripheral manner. Describing the present framework of architectural curriculum as extremely loose, he called for the development of an academic programme which would develop the students ability to learn and experience architecture in a variety of ways. He talked of the need for an enlightened educational policy with an enlarged perspective. He stressed the need to encourage new institutions, promote research, and made a call for a ‘humane’ architecture – appropriate to context, environment-friendly, culturally relevant, and giving priority to the poor/underprivileged sector. He concluded with an appeal to ‘humanize the process of architectural education’.

[SD] intervened to draw the attention of the group to similar recommendations prepared during the workshop on architectural education at Nagpur and the series of workshops initiated by the Council of Architecture and Indian Institute of Architects. He also called for a revision of criteria for admission in order to open architecture to students of home science, commerce and humanities as well. He also made the point that the entire community of teachers needed to be ‘overhauled’ with more stress on quality rather than qualification.

A.G.K. Menon [AGKM] intervened to support the idea of doing away with physics, chemistry and mathematics as a criterion for admission to architecture courses. [HDC] emphasized the need for criteria to evaluate teachers, and raised the issue of adequate support – moral and financial, to be provided to the academic community.

A debate on the duration of the course was raised and several alternatives were given, such as, four years plus one-year training, three-year diploma and five-year degree, etc.

The second presentation after-lunch was by Rohit Gulati and Mansi Jasuja, recent graduates from the TVB School of Habitat Studies. They described in brief the curriculum followed in their school and illustrated it by means of student projects. The curriculum is organised to focus on habitat/settlement issues – organically evolved settlements in the first year, planned settlements in the second year and spontaneous settlements in the third year. They described the first year exercise of students building full-scale enclosures as extremely rewarding. They also described the explorations through various forms of arts, paintings, sculptures, etc., as very exciting. In the second year, they described the process by which the class worked together to re-model a part of the planned settlement of daryaganj, and the learning experience derived from the same. They described it as very informative and rewarding the study trip to Arunachal Pradesh undertaken as part of the related studies programme. In conclusion they described the struggle in trying to translate too much of ideology and thought into practice, and expressed the opinion that theory should not suppress ideals.

[AGKM] raised the question of whether architecture should be student centred or teacher centred.

[MNAG] clarified that at the TVB School education after third year is yet to be formalised. It is expected that after third year students are sufficiently skilled to know how they want to deal with architecture, and expect the freedom to explore their own thoughts, fears and intentions while developing the confidence to build their own philosophy.

After tea the session was moderated by Charanjit Shah [CSH]. He gave a general introduction and listed some subjects which ought to find a rightful place in the architectural curriculum, as for instance building and planning for rural areas, management skills, disaster management, cost effective and environment friendly building materials, international standards of construction and project management, office management etc.

[SD] spoke of his long experience and his ideas about teaching design. He described the setting up of design problems and stressed the need for a creative exercise to precede every design studio in order to introduce a stimulus of exploration. He talked of a flexible design syllabus and described the process of design as having three parts:- a core of design practice, a body of technical skills, and an understanding of humanities. He stressed that the process of learning is more important than the end-product. He also gave a brief break-up of the curriculum, with subjects to be taught in each year as well as the skills required from the teacher for each. He ended with the maxim ‘make them think and they will learn, for nothing is taught unless it is learnt’.

[AGKM] opined that the present system dehumanizes the problem and this called for a new aesthetics. He also expressed the opinion that a pragmatic end to a design was not necessary.

[SA] questioned the need for any layout procedure and described design as a “simplifying procedure”.

Ramu Katakam [RK] expressed the opinion that the present five-year course in architecture has not succeeded in its objectives over the past 70-80 years, and therefore a new process was required. Quoting the example of designing a living room in a house, he elaborated the form of a living room does not exist in India and therefore whatever is designed is living specific.

Raoul Rewal [RR] described architecture as a fantastic programme.

The meeting broke for the day with Ashok B Lall [ABL] making a request for all to reflect over the day’s discussion.

Day 2, Sunday, April 4, 1999

The first session was moderated by [CSH] and continues with the theme of ‘Instruments’ – teaching methods and materials. [NW] made the theme presentation focussing on the ‘Atelier Principle in teaching’. He began with the screening of a video film describing the experience of teachers and students with the method. The Atelier way, also called the unit system, is characterized by studio work where the students work on open-ended questions. It was born out of a recognition of situations which arose as a consequence of teachers now knowing exactly what to do. This method could be applied to any subject. The Atelier Principle is based on an interpretation of education as having two parts: knowledge and application. In this system, the educational aim is to induce the student to ‘think like an architect’. He also presented a definition of architecture:

Architecture is approached as a complex problem-solving activity within a defined field. The ability of ‘thinking like an architect’ can only be learnt through experience; that is, learning to solve problems through the experience of solving problems. It is not for the teacher to tell the student everything, as if knowledge went from one head into another and was then tested. The essential task in teaching consists of organising the situation so that students will have necessary experiences. A good design project is one that asks fruitful questions to which each student offers their own answer, questions which develop this ‘thinking like an architect’.

The presentation generated a lot of interested and several questions were raised. [ABL] wanted a clarification on inter-staff arrangement as well as staff interaction. He also wanted clarifications on how the two parts of the diagram namely, application and knowledge dynamically relate to each other. [SD] sought clarification on the use of computers.

There followed a detailed discussion on the system of ‘tutors’, their relationship with each other and the students, as well as a brief comparison of the system presented with the American system. [MNAG] intervened to opine that education is about learning and not about exercising authority. He spoke about finding the truth, which is available to all.

In the second presentation [PS] described the method of teaching followed at the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow. The school follows a more conventional system but the basic principle is still:- posing a problem, explaining its parameters and arriving at solutions through exclusion of options. Each year of study has a clearly defined syllabus. Most of the time is spent in the studio. He described some special features, such as the vertical project conducted once or twice a year, ranging from one day to one week, where the same subject/design problem is setup for he whole school. He briefly outlined the subjects conversed every year. He illustrated the presentation with slides showing students work, especially of the first year, which he coordinates. A special feature of learning in the first year was the study of indigenous building types from across the world. The idea being to build on existing knowledge to develop a new way of thinking. Students are required to begin with making models, followed by making drawings of these and then an analysis. To reinforce intuitive understanding of structures, special exercises have been developed which use the human body (of the students themselves) to demonstrate fundamental structural principles. In the vacations [PS] organised building projects for students to work with their hands, on the ground and build full scale. These are rapid exercises starting with design and completed by creating space.

[AGKM] observed that the interesting thing about both methods presented was the space for self-reflexive exchange, which was not happening in India.

[PS] also clarified that a high value was attached to drawing skills, but thinking skills were given equal weight.

[SA] observed that there was a very subtle shift from teaching to evoking experience and exploring architecture, a method that needs to be explored in India. She observed that Indian academics make excellent theoreticians but tend to stifle the evocation of experience.

[NW] moderated the post-tea session on certification with a theme presentation by [CSH]. [CSH] listed several areas where interventions were needed to improve the organizational setup and the award of professional degrees. He put forward the concept of architectural studies which could control quality by monitoring, research and development (training of trainers), education programmes and study material.

After lunch the discussion centred on formulating the recommendations of the symposium to be put forward to the larger group in the special session of Monday, April 5. The members present decided to constitute a small drafting committee to sum-up the deliberations of two days and prepare a note highlighting the conclusions. All interested members were invited to assist and join the group. The drafting committee was anchored by [AC] and [MNAG], with the active participation of [SD, PS, NW and SA].

Day 3, Monday, April 5, 1999

The final session of the symposium was started with the tabling of the summing up statement prepared by the participants at the end of the two days of working sessions. The statement was read out and a discussion followed. There was an endorsement of the collective vision contained in the summing up statement and a series of recommendations emerged, highlighting the concerns already stated.