End of a Regime, In conversation with Habeeb Khan over his tenure
as COA President
"We sat down with the President COA to discuss his tenure as it approaches its. His period as President has resulted in a complete overhaul of COA's systems and practices and has modernized it with new energy and much needed hope and confidence. We also discussed the launch of The Manual of Architectural Practice, new reforms of women in architecture and the path ahead for COA. " - Editor
1) Your tenure as the COA Pres. has resulted in a complete overhaul of rather outdated COA systems and policies, modernizing it with new energy and much needed hope and confidence. Was this your agenda from the start of your tenure?
I am happy that you are acknowledging that the COA administrative system has been overhauled. I am not sure if I would say that the system was outdated because the systems and the policies which the Council has been following for all these years have been better than, in fact, much better than other regulatory authorities. But yes, We have been able to bring in more transparency and more efficiency in the administrative working of the Council. This of course was a part of my agenda before I got elected because the change that one wants to bring in has to be holistic. It cannot be piecemeal. We have also worked on many new policies and verticals which were non-existent in the Council earlier. But it definitely needs sustained effort and collective collaboration to continue the same.
2) A less talked about initiative is the formation of a committee to tackle issues faced by women in architecture. What is the thought process behind this and how can this help the fraternity of women architects?
We realised that a majority of women registered architects were not practicing architecture or working in the field of architecture. Apart from this our young women, architects and girls, students in our institution were facing a multitude of issues, which most of them were unable to cope with or had no form or platform to channelize them. We at the Council, under the leadership of our Vice President, decided to form a Committee to look into these issues pertaining to women architects. The Women’s Committee will not only help sort out the concerns, but will also extend the moral support to help sort out the issues faced by women architects.
3) Architecture journalism and the role of an architectural journalist is still very understated in India. While it should be considered as the main source of news, opinion and stories about the built environment pertaining to the Indian subcontinent, it is currently not recognised as much as it should by the COA. Do you think the COA can do more? The launch of COA social was definitely a step in this direction however out of its four threads of Dialogues, Readings, Women in Architecture, and People, 'Journalism' seems to be missing. Do you think a separate forum for this can help the profession?
Architectural journalism is, unfortunately, not as popular or considered critical in our profession in our country. For any architectural process to flourish and grow, architectural journalism plays a critical role. Vibrant journalism which questions and challenges. Apart from appreciation, it enhances the quality of architecture, improves inner country. It is in its nascent stages. In the June 2020 regulations, the Council of Architecture has introduced a separate course on architectural journalism in its curriculum. The role of the Council is not necessarily to promote a particular subject or a vertical. However, we have tried to promote this through the Council’s CoA Social. Verticals that you are talking of concerns architectural journalism. They are an integral part of this new question of introducing a new vertical specifically for journalism. Apart from this we have resumed the Council’s journal, architecture, time, space and people which is very well received by the fraternity. We have also resumed the newsletter to reach out to the people in our profession. Through the TRCs we regularly publish and republish many important books and also publish a refereed journal. All, the past publications are now being put on a portal called SAMARTHYA. It is going to host not only past publications, but all future publications, significant works post independence, digitalised Library, architectural competitions, training on demand, modules etc. In the near future architectural journalism will come of age and will be recognised as a critical element by our profession.
4) The launch of The Manual of Architectural Practice was a need of the hour. It is surprising how this was not thought of before and how well it has been received in the fraternity. Can this be considered as the first step of the COA to create and adhere to a framework of professional standards after the Architects Act of 1972?
Well, I can’t answer as to why this was not done earlier, but what I can say is better late than never. The Manual of Architectural Practice will set a new benchmark for architects. In totality it will propel architects to reach international standards. The quality of services will improve as well. It’s a comprehensive and holistic document which helps to achieve this. Sure, we have studied architecture, practice and professional conduct regulations in countries across the world and have adopted the best practises from amongst them and contextualised the same to India. Although a huge contribution, this is the first small step in the right direction. We need to also look at the morals and ethics around our profession and encourage professionals to improve the quality of our profession.
5) Talking about standard, there is also a divided opinion between linking or delinking architectural registration with architectural education. Currently, education is followed by automatic registration. The COA has already stated it's intent towards delinking this process. When can we see it happening?
If I leave out a handful of countries including India, registration is not done after graduation or in other words, a successful graduation does not lead to registration. Yes we are working on this and I’m sure it will be implemented very soon. The modalities the framework and the roadmap is being worked out and will subsequently be implement. Since this involves amendment to the Architects Act, 1972, it will take little more time than expected.
6) This body of work that you have been able to accomplish during your tenure has set a benchmark. However, this was tarnished by the recent outburst on social media where the COA, its leadership and interest was questioned, especially after the 2020 Supreme Court Judgement. This has further created confusion between the function of the COA between being a regulatory body and serving professional interests of architects. In addition, your comments on social media agonized the community further. What would you like to say about this?
I am distressed to know that something which transpires on social media can actually undo a body of work which has happened in reality. Social media platforms these days have become a platform for venting out issues and concerns with out fully knowing the reality and connotations. Unfortunately, most of the comments and opinions which I have read are due to confusion and misunderstanding of the role of the Council and the act. As far as the outburst that you are talking of is concerned, it was lifted from an online talk that I had given and was posted out of context. It was during a security breach of the social media handles of the Council and was not posted by me or the Council. The second issue that you have mentioned is the Supreme Court judgement of 2020 about clause 37 of the act. Let me tell you, since the Act was enacted, this profession has grown by leaps and bounds. The warehouse of what architecture is and what architects do has increased manyfold and what the Supreme Court interpreted existed since 1972. Our fraternity felt that the sky has fallen over their head. Instead of wondering and worrying we should have a positive outlook to this issue and concentrate on excellence in our profession and services that we provide. It is vital to make Society of what architecture has, what architects do and what value addition brings to the project. We at the Council are working towards amending the Act by providing vital and critical interjections to improve our profession. We shall revert and let you all know the updated status soon.
7) Finally, what is your advice for the new committee and its leadership?
Well, I’m not sure if I am in a position to give advice but what I can definitely say that they should continue the policies that we have started in my tenure and work with commitment, dedication and with complete passion and transparency. We have made the job of the new committee quite tough.
A: Habeeb Khan