Confessions of an Architect
The role of structural engineers in architecture isn’t over. Even today 90-95 per cent of buildings are designed by structural engineers, not architects. I heard this from the president of the Council of Architecture.
The state of architecture education in India scares me. A friend who teaches a class asked students to guess how much space there was in the World Trade Center. In all seriousness, one student’s reply was 700 square feet. Mind you, she’s a year away from graduating. There are only a handful of schools that turn out good students.
I charge clients Rs 20 for a square foot of construction. But this is no match for architects who undercut me ruthlessly and charge Rs 4 or Rs 5 for a square foot. When you get a quote that low, watch out. There’s a project I’m working on right now. In New York, I would have 15 people on it. Here, due to what I charge clients, I make two people do the job of 15.
The big real estate players only care about numbers. The new guys take a different view. They might not be professionals, but they have exposure to good design and architecture, which counts for a lot.
A lot of foreign architecture firms came to India in the last boom. And they brought in a new sense of design. But after the recession, clients are evaluating the value-addition of hiring a foreign company. That’s where people like me, who bring the same experience and design sense at a lower cost, step in.
The president of the Council of Architecture says we need more architecture colleges. My simple question is, great idea, but where will we find the teachers?
When I first began working in India, I knew what lay ahead of me. But still, the lack of public policy surprised me. Policy is not driven by common sense but by the assumption that everyone is corrupt. So authorities create a policy to preempt us from breaking the law. It’s strange. No feasibility studies are done, few debates happen, and they don’t consider what residents think.
Here’s how we break rules. You submit one plan for approval. Then you make your building according to another plan. If the changes are reasonable and an inspector comes calling, you bribe him.
(As told to Rahul Bhatia)