Friday, March 11, 2011

"NEW INITIATIVES FOR PROFESSIONAL ORGANISATIONS IN ARCHITECTURE" by Christopher Charles Benninger, Architect.

Our professional organizations are the backbone of each practitioner. As our profession becomes more complex, the importance of the Indian Institute of Architects and the Council of Architecture increases. Professional organizations can make new initiatives that will enhance the profession. Many of these areas can be addressed immediately, and others must be seen as long term goals. The gamut of areas that can be enhanced is vast. In the following note I have expanded on some of these.
Employed Architects

As more architects are produced, the potential for every practitioner to open their own proprietorship firm, or start-up company, will diminish. This means employed architects will seek longer term relations with employers. But the present scenario offers few long term rewards to long term employees. To start with the salaries being paid to senior employees have been low: It is only in the past two years that they have reached parity. There are no PERKS. Long term advancement opportunities are unclear. Professional organizations should suggest minimum monthly salaries right from “trainees,” to freshers, to more experienced employed architects. These should be related to “city types” as per the cost of living in different towns and cities. Annual holidays and leaves should be standardized. Annual increments and cost of living considerations should be laid out. A system of “positions” starting from Trainee, Junior Architect, Architect, Senior Architect/Project Manager, Associate, and finally firm Director should be proposed. The skills, knowledge and sensitivities of each position must be laid out. At the same seniority level there should be different skill profiles, recognizing the many important roles and paths required to reach team excellence. The normal years of employment associated with career advancements should be standardized. The work of our profession is shared amongst our employees through our considered guidance.


Many senior architects opine that they cannot find middle level professionals to enhance their firm’s technical and management capabilities. The reason is that the prospects do not keep pace with increasing experience levels of employed architects. Expectations grow faster than employment conditions. The professional organizations could outline a model of “profit sharing,” after a salary ceiling is reached. The annual inflation of the cost-of-living should be built into salary increments. Salaries should be based on relevant experience related to expected roles and this should correlate with years of experience. The kinds of PERKS seniors may expect and the kinds of proactive and significant contributions Senior Architects, Project Managers, Associates and Directors must make to deserve the PERKS should be stated! Thus, a segmented salary structure must be evolved that promotes increased knowledge, enhanced skills and matured professional sensitivity. Honesty, loyalty, proactiveness, ingenuity and similar assets, are less easy to measure but are “felt” by principals of organizations.

Yeoman Architects

Fresh graduates enter the profession with low skills and knowledge levels. They need three years minimum to transform from mere graduates into a capable practitioners. Certificated Public Accountants, Doctors “in residence,” and entering lawyers all serve as novices for several years prior to registration. This “in job” training is essential. Practical training, or Office training, of three to six months does not suffice. We need to change our registration rules to ensure that we quality only persons who know their profession through work experience.

The Management of Professional Practice

There are no guidelines or norms regarding how an architectural practice should ideally be run! What percentage of fee harvested should go towards consultant’s fees, salaries, overheads and profits? What kinds of contract documents should a firm use? What kinds of taxes must be paid and when? Standard invoicing and billing procedures and formats should be available. Safety, hygiene, and office environmental standards should be suggested. Standard letters of appointment, trial periods, and termination letters, should be “on file.” A list of basic and essential office reference books should be recommended. A model office filling system must be proposed. Numbering systems for drawings, AutoCAD information layers and document archiving should be standardized. The “layering systems” for different consultants to work on must be established. Rules regarding office decorum, dress, acceptable behavior, honesty, client confidentiality and the intellectual property of the office can be common amongst all offices.

Most architects have little or no access to the basic information on the “practice of architecture.” Professional organizations can fill these group lacunae.

Eco-friendly Architecture

Green Architecture and environmental sustainability are key architectural concerns. The Chamber of Indian Industries set the ball rolling with their international Green Buildings Conference in August 2004 at Hyderabad. The Indian Institute of Architects, and many local associations, have highlighted sustainable architecture. With the WTO and ISO entering India there is a danger that the “building products” industries will reaping huge profits in the products certification process. An American organization called LEED is entering India and will certify “green architects” and “green buildings,” charging high fees for these services! A question arises as to the over-laps between traditional professional practice, and foreign certifying agencies. Should we not strengthen our own professional associations by introducing our own Green Ratings. There is an international trend toward putting old wine in a new bottle through “green washing” products to be seen as “eco-friendly!” Hype and publicity should not replace good professional practice.

The Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI) has an indigenous Indian green building rating system. The Green Building Council of India has spread to most cities.
Building Regulations

Building Codes is an area presently dominated by engineers through the Indian Bureau of Standards, where architects are also participants, along with the Indian Standards Institute. Professional organizations must be more proactive in this area. While serving on the Bureau of Indian Standards Committee for Architecture, Town Planning and Building Materials, and I felt architects are under represented. The engineers working in this area are excellent and we have much to learn from them. But our profession must be more involved!

Intellectual Property

The presentation drawings, statutory drawings, working drawings, and contractual documents are all the intellectual property of the Architects who create them. Clients cannot recycle them. Even the “concept” belongs to the architect. Where a builder may take an architects’ intellectual property to a cheaper architect, and make modifications to the original design, the architect may still charge the corrupt practitioner for malpractice and for plagiarism! Architects, who ‘hustle’ other architects’ clients, must know that they need a No Objection Certificate from the original contracted architect. This would generally be given after the originator has been paid by the client for their intellectual property.

Urban Planning

Town Planning Standards have largely been negotiated between the builders’ lobby and corrupt politicians, with town planners as the mid-wife. Architects must lend a voice to the town planners who fight a lonely battle against vociferous, wealthy and crude builders whose only aim is to leverage their profits. Unfortunately, only a few architects with vested interests, who are regular visitors to municipal corporations, are the ones to actively participate in the debate on building bye-laws. The example of the “second” Transfer of Development Rights, bringing effective floor space indexes up to 2.0 from 1.2, is an example where our cities are being sacrificed to generate more “chargeable constructed area,” without the necessary supporting infrastructure and parking! Presently, the miss-use of basements, and the under provision of “parking” should be a major concern. Perhaps FSI should be even higher than 2.0? But the concomitance facilities must be part of the package.

Town Planning is too important a subject to be left to town planners! Architects must support them by playing a constructive role.

Safety

Safety is another area of concern to the architectural profession. Architects are becoming more active in the seismically safe built environment, with a number of workshops and seminars being held yearly. Areas like fire safety, potable water management, hygienic waste disposal, worker safety, and electrical safety need to be promoted aggressively.

Conservation

Historic Buildings and Architectural Assets Preservation is an important role of professional organizations. Architects have already played a leading role in conserving heritage sites and structures, primarily through INTAC. While many professional organizations are active in this area we can do much more. At the under-graduate level a course in heritage conservation needs to be introduced. There should be more post graduate degrees in historic building preservation, and awards to “showcase” the profession’s role. We also need to conserve some of our Post-Independence modern classics! Heritage bodies will not even recognize these. As a profession we have our own heritage and it is our duty to protect it for future generations.

Materials and Fittings

A vast array of new materials has arrived on the Indian market. Many are untested in our climate and with our labor force. We are applying slick looking ACP onto mild steel supports that are quietly rusting, hidden behind the glamour. We are specifying tiles that cannot be replaced as none are kept in stock. We are specifying toilets that our plumbers cannot repair and the seats cost Rupees 3,000 each to replace. Many are ‘seconds’ quality and others are poorly engineered copies of originals. Few have a performance record in India. Common bricks are of poor quality having no shape, standard color or compressive strength. We need an information exchange on materials to share our experiences.

Project Management

Construction Management has been in the hands of engineers. It is a positive sign that a few schools of architecture have initiated professional, post graduate courses in Construction Management as this is a professional area which is lagging. It is a logical extension of our profession that can be enhanced at all levels. This is an area where our graduates can be absorbed and they can play an important professional role. Architectural graduates with post graduate qualifications in Construction Management will be better qualified and sensitized to manage architectural sites, than engineers drawn from irrigation, hydral, roads and similar project exposures.

As the field of Construction Management has emerged over the last decade, it has eaten into traditional roles of architects. Often construction managers are MBA holders, without even a civil engineering, or an architectural undergraduate degree. They attempt to become the ‘arch’ in the ‘tecture’ by gaining the role of clearing the architect’s payments. This must be stopped!

Legal Agreements

The Contractual Roles of our profession need to be deepened more than expanded. We are adding more specialization without strengthening our core areas of professional delivery. We must develop standard contracts between:

*. Architects and their Clients;
*. Architects and their Structural Designers;
*. Architects and their Services Designers;
*. Clients and their Contractors;
*. Clients and their Service Equipment Suppliers;
*. Clients and various Sub-Contractors;
*. Clients and Landscape Designers;
*. Clients and Interiors Designers;
*. Clients and their Construction Managers; and
*. Clients and their Vendors.

In a system where we are all operating the same framework of standards and contractual understandings, the quality of our products can only improve. We must develop standard commercial conditions for employing contractors so that item-rate bids are viewed on an even playing field. We need standard methods for calculating extra and additional items.

We need standard documents like Letters of Intent; patterns for issuing and guaranteeing Mobilization Payments; formats for Rectification Lists and Compliance; Certificates of Virtual and Actual Completion; certificates releasing retention amounts and standard forms of guarantees to protect clients in areas related to water proofing, color fastness, materials performance and the like. Contractors’ Water Proofing Liabilities must be underwritten through indemnities and Legal Documents. We must design the contracts under which clients engage Construction Management and Project Management firms to protect the sanctity and the role of architects as masters of the construction process. It is not unusual to find Construction Management firms “clearing the fees of architects,” while their major job is to follow and implement the architect’s plans and specifications.

We also need to protect the rights and genuine interests of contractors and vendors whom greedy clients try to cheat. Corporate clients often try to harvest undue profits by systematically delaying payments to earn interest on retained payments!

Liabilities of Architects

Liabilities of Architects will emerge and grow with the advent of GATS and the WTO. Professional Liability Insurance costs are very exorbitant even in the west. This requirement benefits the insurance industry at the direct cost to the architects, adding legal liability to the architects. Architects may have to bear this additional cost and the clients may refuse to raise fees accordingly. Added to this are the lawyers fees and effort expended involved in settling claims. This practice leads clients to bring legal cases against architects, because they know architects are insured! In America even a conceptual sketch is no longer a creative artifact. As one of my American colleagues pointed out, “every sketch, every working drawing and every signed shop drawing is a potential court document as evidence in a case against an architect.” We as a profession will be remiss if we do not understand the implications of the WTO, and how it will profoundly change our profession.

Design and Build

Design and Build is the model for the practice of architecture in Latin America. In our present set-up, architects do all the work for other people who amass all of the wealth. I am not advocating Design and Build as a model, but I would like to provoke a professional debate on this topic. Even uneducated and uncertified “Real Estate Agents,” who provide nominal professional services to clients, demand and get fees of four percent (2% each from seller and buyer) on the land and on the civil works, while architects are paid their fees only on the civil works cost! While the architect’s involvement on projects lasts for several years, an agent may reap benefits in a matter of hours. Such agents have no overheads, no deliverables, no liability for the product they sell, and no investment on professional education. Most do not even have offices! They have no commitment to the civil society in terms of town planning, hygiene, safety, parking requirements and environment. If we analyze the developer’s inputs into small residential projects, on say a one thousand square meter plot, the architect is assuming responsibility for most of them! Architects are even involved in preparing investment plans, cash flows and project return estimates for financial institutions. We are often asked to sign expenditure statements which the clients submit to financial institutions when going for loans and payments. In the years to come, whether directly, or through “benamis,” more and more architects are bound to become designer-builders, with family members taking up the less technical tasks of marketing, land matters and accounting. It makes more sense for professional organizations to organize this trend rather than leaving it to drift into an “informal sector activity.”

In the over-all scenario of the construction industry, architects are assuming the role of “sweat shops” in a system where those who make the least efforts yield the highest returns! Our young employees bear the immediate costs of this inequitable system, and our profession bears the long term costs. We need to interact with our fellow professionals in Latin America to learn how this system works as a professional model.

Continuing Education

Architects need to keep learning all of the time. “Continuing education” is a responsibility of professional organizations which is neglected. In every town there should be “half-day,” to one week, courses to up-date mid-career and senior architects on services systems, new structural systems, water proofing methods, energy conservation, cladding, paints and finishes, new sanitary fittings and public health systems, integrating utilities into building systems, energy conservation, etc. These refresher courses should be taught by professionals, and not by the marketing representatives of manufactures. This is a need which professional organizations can fill and the profession will be better equipped to serve the public as a result. The American Institute of Architects has accredited various colleges, institutes and universities to teach a wide variety of “refresher courses.” Some are available ‘on line” via the Internet. In order to maintain one’s membership, an architect must clear a minimum number of “continuing education credits” each year. All of these courses are advertised on the institute’s web site and in Architectural Record, its official journal.

Teaching Architecture

Like medicine, law and business accounts knowledge cannot be imparted by fresh graduates and housewives. A Masters Degree is a necessary, but not adequate qualification to teach. Most teachers in architectural colleges do not have a clue as to how a building is put together. Running short courses is not the answer. It is just better than nothing! Without ‘practitioner teachers’ we are running a system where the blind are leading the blind. This must change!

The Architectural Curriculum

We try to teach what cannot be taught, which is “creativity,” and we neglect what can be taught: technical knowledge, skills and professionalism. Like medical students who study Grey’s Anatomy, architectural students must know completely all the technical systems of a building at the end of the first year. Then they must be on construction sites and only later in design studios. They need to know that the practice of architecture is a step by step process laid out in a contract and based on a schedule of deliverables. Planning the creation these deliverables, integrated with the deliverables of consultants, is the key! The roles of sub-consultants must be understood. It is essential that a ‘common course’ in architectural history is constructed, using common graphics, simple texts and lecture structures. Most young architects do not have a clue of the linage of our history, or where our present work stands with regard to the past and the future.

Networking and Communicating

Professional organizations have a prime responsibility to communicate to their members the essential legal, technical and aesthetic information related to the practice of architecture. New books relevant to India should be reviewed. Seminars and competitions should be communicated well in advance. In India we have a number of excellent professional newsletters, magazines and journals, including The Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects, Architecture+ Design, The Indian Architect and Builder and the COA’s official journal Architecture: Time, Space and People.

What is missing is a high quality web page with windows into Members’ Interests (including payments of fees by credit card on-line, and renewing registration on-line); a window on “Resources and Sources” (including books, journals, technical reports, new materials, building products, regulatory codes, standards and bye-laws).

A good web page with separate “windows” for curious Potential Clients (including the fee scales and a model contract); a page for students and intending Applicants to Colleges of Architecture, for Employees in the architectural firms (explaining minimum wages in different city types and the types of positions and related duties), for Building Materials vendors, for Legal Documents, for building precedents and case studies, for “continuing education,” for employment and “Architects Wanted” will serve a critical role. The relevant standards for specialized building types and the Building Control Regulations and Building Bye-Laws of various cities should be “on-line.”

Professional organizations must also consider employing professional public relations and policy analysts who “lobby” government, state legislatures, parliament, the Bureau of Indian Standards, private and public sector client groups, educating them and advocating the causes and laws which will strengthen our profession’s ability to serve the public better.

Fees for Services

The present fee scales are not realistic. They do not recognize the higher taxes architects now pay; the number and variety of consultants which must be engaged; the increased co-ordination efforts; the higher cost of living of employees; and the expanded design considerations architects must address. All of these efforts cost money, and the practicing architects need the backing of their professional organizations to be able to obtain adequate fees through contracts, which cover the real costs of providing high quality services. The present minimum fees of five percent for institutional buildings must increase to seven percent, and the other fee scales accordingly must increase. Minimum specified fees, after all, become the maximum! It is interesting that a statutory body like COA specifies five percent for institutional buildings while the University Grants Commission only budgets four percent in its grants. The National Building Corporation tries to pay three percent and less.

Software

Modern architectural practice runs on computer hard-and software. We have become “IT-based” enterprises. Even so, about eighty percent of our practices use illegal, pirated software. The reason for this is very simple: up-to-date software and the use regimes specified by vendors ‘price’ useful, legal software beyond the financial reach of honest, hard-working practitioners. It is simply beyond their “ability-to-pay.” The pricing of software is very much along the lines of colonial mercantile economic models. Buy the raw materials cheap; process them cheap; brand them and package them expensive and sell them back to the source of the raw materials at a huge “un-earned increment.” More than reaping huge profits this model serves as a mechanism to keep the economic colonies ‘outside the law’! This plays a role of sorting architectural practices into the formal sector and the squatters, just like the housing market. In so doing the IT industry has created classes of practitioners: the legal and illegal!

This matter is helped a great deal by the fact that architectural software would be a monopoly item as defined under the Monopolies Restriction and Control Act, if it were not cleverly exempted in the name of “opening our economy.” There should be a regulated maximum price as in essential medicine. It is high time Indian architects come out of the closet, explain their true identities as “illegals” and demand a fair deal. This must be done by our professional bodies as individuals will be victimized. The colonial IT industry and marketing groups have obtained draconian ‘police rights’ allowing them to raid architects’ offices and to seal their computers, denying them their “right to livelihood’ as guaranteed under the Constitution. In the same manner that medicines are sold in India at “affordable” and “fair” prices software should be regulated, and yes charged for. If drafting software were available at fifteen percent of the present legal price, the vendors would quadruple their profits through a mass market. This is in everyone’s interest!

Foreign Architectural Practices

There are many reasons we should all welcome more competition and enhanced professionalism on to our playing field. That can happen if senior foreign firms come and set-up offices in India. However, there are several trends that should concern our profession. International Project Management firms run by engineers are employing local personnel to carry on an architectural “practice,” which is actually owned and operated by non-professionals and by architects not registered with the Council of Architecture. Other firms are sending “marketing agents” into India who set-up a camp offices and then market their vast foreign portfolio, with no Indian experience or legal registration here. These are marketing wings, who then sub-contract the statutory, working drawings and tender documents to local commercial firms. They provide Concept Designs and Master Plans to ignorant Indian Clients. This does not enhance our profession or contribute to the nation’s intellectual wealth. These practices place Indian architects in a subservient position

The ‘arch’ in Architecture

Architects are paid to work in the studio and on the site. Managers are paid to talk, write letters, have meetings and to prepare MOM’s. I always say I’m from the “working class,” not the “talking class.” But the Project Managers, and Construction Managers, and Client’s Representatives are all paid to talk. Unless their day is full of meetings, talking and recording what they say, then they have not earned their day’s bread. What do they talk about: OUR WORK! And, the more we talk, the less work we do and the more they have to talk about! The foreign firms coming into Indian are large enough to keep aside ten percent of their staff as a professional ‘talking class.” This could be USP that will push aside the Indian Architect.

It is a sad fact that corporate India favors MBAs over M.Techs, where salaries and command lines are concerned. This is the greatest lacunae in India where real technologists are given the back seat to the “talking” class.

Often management is the act of doing the wrong thing, better and better. It is the politics of casting aside responsibility for failures and taking credit for someone else’s success.

It is no wonder that we have over one thousand institutes imparting management degrees today! We cannot allow ill-informed managers to steal the “arch” from architecture, and believe that the ‘tecture’ will survive. On the other hand we have to understand that good project management, which respects the architect, is essential and makes walking our path easier. But we have to aggressively make our powers, responsibilities position clear.

Essence of True Professionalism

inally, I would like for us all to remember the courage of the late architect Acyhut Kanvinde. Six months before he died, at that time a gentleman in his late eighties, he was engaged to sit on the jury for the selection of the design for a new capital city in Central India. Seeing the unethical procedures being followed by the senior most bureaucrats and technicians throughout the process, he walked out of the final selection meeting! Before catching his flight back to New Delhi he wrote a critical letter to the Chief Secretary, who was chairing the meeting, refusing to associate his name with the fraudulent process, and returning his Rupees One Lakh fee as a Senior Jury Member. This is the essence of professionalism: vision, courage, honesty, fair play, procedures and transparency.
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