Architects should be free and experimental

Text by: Prof. SM Akhtar

Society exists in a constant and continuous state of transformation. Architecture reflects this ever-going evolution too. The rapid transformation of civilization can be seen in how architecture has been changing. Architecture primarily is to serve civilization and the humans of that civilization. Even though architecture can be seen as art as well as science, it is neither. Architecture is a composite discipline, which includes application that engages with and touches all aspects of human life and existence.

Often a point of doubt and deliberation is that architecture is a substitute of engineering. However, such an argument can only be false since engineering may create mechanism but architecture creates organism. Something that seems like a minute difference creates all the difference between the two and their position in human society.

Engineering is a study of structure and structure systems. Architecture, however, is a system to understand how to serve human beings and to materialize that understanding. Architecture, then, becomes a study of human life and the engagement between human existence and architecture. Hence, every building is tailored and designed to satisfy and fulfil human life, adjust to human psychology, help people realize their aspirations and thoughts. This is Architecture. In isolation, architecture can only be a mechanism. This slight difference is to be identified and understood for the teaching of architectural pedagogy.

Human society is ever evolving and ever growing. Thus, one cannot stick to past practices and precedents. Architecture and its understanding need to be mobile enough to travel with each passing day. The teachings that were ideal one or two decades ago have become irrelevant and arbitrary with time. With so much dependence on evolving and organic knowledge and understanding, one cannot rely on old books and traditions. Architecture needs to be understood, perceived and practiced in a way that serves contemporary human society.

If we view architecture analytically, there are two components of architecture – the first is skill dominated and the second is mindset dominated. For an architect, the mindset dominated understanding is more important than skill.

The skill can be provided by subordinates. The intellectual contribution can only come from an architect, an architect who understands the evolving demands of the profession. The emphasis needs to be developing a mindset and thought process that can produce a form of architecture, which serves the humans of an inherently transitional contemporary society. Thus, Liberty becomes paramount in teaching architecture.

Architecture demands architects to be free and experimental with their thoughts and expression. This is why building self confidence and personal security becomes essential. What seems to be a flaw in how most architecture institutions run is that teachers and guides instigate and support students in building fantasies. The reason why this becomes a major obstacle is because fantasies are unattainable and unreal. An architect needs to make a reality. This reality should be the basis of all the development in pedagogy.

Hence, one cannot be thinking and talking of something as virtual and intangible as a fantasy if one wants to create a reality. From the first day onwards, students of architecture need to be taught to visualise and dream of things that can be materialised into a reality since architecture is rooted in the tangible reality of human existence. This understanding has to be the undeniable point of emphasis always. So from the first day the student has to be taught to visualise the things which can be achieved in reality. That should be the first emphasis. And in teaching architecture the importance of humanity is as important as the invention and adoption of technology and contemporary technology.

So if we analyse the role of architects it can be expressed in 3 C’s. First ‘C’ is Conceptualisation. This is aspect of conceptualization is the mental state of the architect. How you conceive, conception of a design that comes from the mental state. It is the main core role of an architect.

Identifying the requirements and the visualisation of the proposed design needs to be conceptualised. The next is the part where whatever is in the mind of the architect that has to be communicated. Hence the second ‘C’ is Communication. Communication could be in
any form. It could be in the form of drawing, it could be in an expression, it could be oral, it could be written; it could be in any form. You can use any medium to express yourself. You can use a computer, you can use a pencil, and you can use nothing. The only thing important is to communicate your mind with the people who are going to patronise you and with people who are to execute the design. The lack of communication results in confusion and misinterpretation of the conceptualised work. This communication also is a two way street between the client and the architect as well as the architect and the contractor. The third aspect is whatever you think, whatever you communicate that has to be converted into a reality. This conversion can be called Concretization – to make it a real thing, the solid. This ‘C’ is the stage where all the application of technology is required, to put the vision in reality. So if we emphasize on these segments of architecture, we can deliver good architects.

Often we find that the people are more concerned with the development of the communication skills or with the technology and the primary aspect which is the conception that remains secondary. First thing for architects is conceptualisation. And for conception architects need to study human life, society and have a wider exposure. The more exposure you have more versatile you are in your conception and your conception will give you the strength to fit in the profession. The conception or the genesis of a philosophy for the visualised design often has roots in the sociological, emotional and cultural background of the concerned situation.

That is why these things are very important and that’s why architecture can be taught in limited format in class room. You can teach only the skills but to create your mindset, your presence outside the class room is equally important as the classroom. In some cases the presence outside the classroom is more valuable and enriching experience. At times you need a mentor; you can also be the mentor for yourself. Only thing is sensitivity. It is necessary to observe the things analyse them and store them and you apply them at the right time. That is the task for architects to study.

Another very important aspect in architecture is that often it conceived and presumed that architecture is only tangible. But this is not true. Architecture is tangible as well as intangible. And the intangibility in architecture gives it the vibration, life and soul. And no architecture can be without soul, without vibration, without life. Whatever is dead that cannot be architecture. Architecture is something living. Which shapes life of humanism and that is shaped by the people to suit their requirements and they complement each other.

So intangibility you cannot see apparently but that exists. In every architecture that exists, there are a lot of intangible aspects of architecture. So the thought has often been confined to the physical form, not on the intangibility of architecture and intangibility in architecture is equally important.

As discussed about the various aspects in architecture, there is also one which is generally forgotten but is very significant and i.e. intangible aspect as we generally are confined to the tangible aspects only. These intangible elements let us work and think progressive and for future as Whatever is living and vibrant is architecture and is for present and future and whatever is dead that may be archaeology but may not architecture. Archaeology has its own importance and some inspiration can be driven from archaeology but experimentation comes for the future and that has to be studied from contemporary society and has to be forcing for the future society than it will be Architecture and be given for future, not looking in the past.

Past is not the way for architecture but future is the path to travel for Architects and this has to be understood by the people who are in the field of teaching architecture i.e., Architectural Pedagogy. This understanding of working in the present and for future comes from the study of intangible aspects of Architecture like socio economics factors, dynamics of the society, personality of individual, psychology of occupant etc and all aspects are very important to be studied as they shape a society. These intangible factors are soul and life of architecture which makes it different from a mechanism as architecture as field and study is always evolving and is never replicated or duplicated. The understanding of fundamentals of the field, engaging with the spirit of the task is the crucial step in the pedagogical discourse. The current discourse is currently lacking and needs a revolution in its agenda.


The essay is an extract from the book ‘on architecture pedagogy’ by Prof. SM Akhtar

Architect SM Akhtar is Professor and Founder Dean Faculty of Architecture and Ekistics at Jamia Millia Isamia, New Delhi. He has also been author of many books in the field of architecture.


Book: on architecture pedagogy

By: SM Akhtar

Publisher: Wellworth Books International

Pages: 59

ISBN: 978-81-93774922