Changing Demographics of the Architectural Profession in India

The architectural profession in India is represented by two organisations: The Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) and The Council of Architecture (CoA).  Each has a different role, and therefore a different constituency to which it must focus.

IIA is the forum where members of the profession can gather and exchange ideas and represent the profession to the public.  Therefore, the organisation exists to promote the profession of architecture, and the constituency it focuses toward is the fraternity of architects.  IIA is the older of the two organisations, and celebrated its centenary last year.

CoA, on the other hand, is a statutory regulator.  It is the more recent organisation, brought into being by The Architects Act of 1972.  It defines and protects the qualifying standard by which one is legally entitled to call oneself an architect, so that the public knows what is claimed by those who represent themselves as holders of this professional qualification.  It also regulates architectural education as the primary pathway that leads to the professional qualification of being an architect.  Regulatory standards are established to serve the public, and therefore, CoA’s constituency is the public rather than the fraternity of architects.

The purpose of this analysis is to look at some changes in the demographics of the architectural profession, and the impact it would have upon both these organisations.  I focus here on two demographic factors that are changing the composition of how the profession is constituted in India: age and gender.

AGE:

At the time when the Architects Act 1972 came into being, there were less than 20 colleges of architecture across the country.  Most of the architects who registered were those who had already received their qualification in the profession, and many had been practicing for several years.  Therefore, the age demographic of that time constituted the profession as one made up of mature adults rather than young adults.

This is changing very rapidly.  The total number of registered architects is believed to be in the region of between 70,000 to 80,000 (this is from anecdotal evidence from those who are likely to know; CoA does not display current totals on its website, but we could use this as a working assumption).  There are currently 462 recognised colleges of architecture in India, as per the CoA website.  Colleges typically start with a sanctioned input admission of 30-40 students per year, but many go on to receive approval for higher figures, with some receiving sanction for up to 120 students per year.  If one assumes that on average there are 35-40 students graduating from each college, that means that about 16,000 to 18,000 young architects are entering the workforce every year.  Even if many of those do not continue to practice architecture, the age demographic will rapidly transform the profession into one dominated by young architects.

Some of this has already happened.  The CoA website does give some statistics on age-wise breakup.  These statistics are older (last updated in October 2015), for they list the total number of registered architects as 56,013, whereas the current total is higher.  But even at this lower total, 82.1% of the registered architects are below the age of 45.  This percentage is poised to rise rapidly in the years to come.

The major impact of this change will be felt by IIA.  IIA membership is voluntary, and currently constitutes roughly one-third of the total number of registered architects – so it is already in a minority where its claim of representing the profession could be challenged.  Further, peruse the attendees at any IIA event restricted to IIA members, and you would be hard pressed to find architects below the age of 45.  When I have asked younger architects why they do not join IIA, they respond that they do not see any benefit from doing so.  They perceive IIA as an old boys’ club that has little relevance to their concerns.  At one time IIA could afford to function as an old boy’s club, as that was the demographic of the profession.  But as demographics of age rapidly and inevitably change, unless it reforms to attract young members, IIA’s minority status will take on alarming proportions.

To win younger members, IIA must first earn their trust.  To do this, it must undertake radical measures such as transforming into a dynamic learning organisation looking to the future, rather than one that preserves the status quo; creating a library of quality learning resources, including publications; providing an opportunity, particularly on social media, where young (and old) architects can express their concerns and interact with each other; and creating a website with contemporary design, with a structure that will provide an online location for the forums and exchanges that will energise the profession.

If IIA moves further into minority status, this could have an impact on CoA as well.  Currently, as stipulated by the Architects Act 1972, the constitution of the Council incorporates representation from the profession by admitting “Five architects possessing recognized qualifications elected by the Indian Institute of Architects from among its members”.  This legal framing made sense in 1972, as at that time it was inconceivable that there could be any other professional forum for architects other than IIA.  However, there is no legal foundation that allows IIA to claim monopoly status as the only forum that can represent the profession.  All it needs is a few energetic leaders from the young to create a new forum that appeals to young architects, and the membership of the new forum can overnight exceed IIA membership by two to three times or more.  The new forum could then legally challenge this language from the Architects Act cited above, and through court orders force a reconstitution of how CoA draws representation from the profession.

GENDER:

CoA displays on its website a breakup by gender of registered architects.  Here too, the statistics are old: although they claim to be updated on the same date as the statistics on age-wise breakup (October 2015), the total of registered architects is different, indicating a number of 64,642, whereas the age-wise analysis yields a total of 56,013.  Leaving this discrepancy aside, the statistics show that in 2015 about 55% were male and 45% female.  While this still shows a male domination, it is likely that if this was measured in 1972, it would have shown a close to 80% male domination.  Representation of women in the profession is clearly on the rise.  This is likely to rise further, for most colleges report a majority female enrolment, with women constituting about 55% to 60% of total enrolment.  Many of these women do not continue to practice architecture, so there is likely to be a mismatch between the percentage of women architects graduating from college versus those in practice five to ten years after graduation.  While a female-dominated demographic is still some time away, it can no longer be dismissed as an unlikely prospect.  The fact is that the changing demographic is going to pose a challenge to the status quo where the profession is viewed only from a male perspective.

This is part of the challenge IIA faces in claiming continued relevance: it must not only represent the concerns of young architects; it should respond to those of young female architects.  This means taking on a set of difficult challenges such as the glass ceiling that prevents women rising to senior positions in architectural firms; social biases where clients do not place female partners in architectural firms at the same level as their male counterparts; support networks that help women achieve work-life balance, recognising that the challenges women face are far more imposing than those that men face; outreach programmes that educate the public on the need to place women professionals at the same level as their male counterparts; and gender biases in design, where urban design and architecture propose typologies with an ingrained male bias.

The gender issue also has legal implications, and CoA as the statutory regulator must take these implications into mind.  A primary issue is that of sexual harassment, an issue that the profession has been silent on, and silence from senior members of the profession makes them complicit in the problem.  Here there is established law that must be followed: The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act) 2013.  This act does not just stipulate measures that redress problems of sexual harassment: it also stipulates proactive measures that firms must take to create a conducive climate that facilitate recognition and redressal of problems of sexual harassment.  This includes setting up of an Internal Complaints Committee that will sensitively tackle these problems, sensitisation of partners and employees on the issue, and legal demands of conformance the firm must enforce with clients and all other persons and entities the firm deals with.  To conform to this act, it is not sufficient that the partners of architectural firms refrain from sexual harassment: the failure to implement these proactive measures is also a crime.

CoA, as a statutory regulator determining who is entitled to call themselves an architect, is entitled to enforce a code of ethics.  Gross violation of this code constitutes grounds for disbarment.  This code requires reform so that it specifically addresses gender issues: recognition of the law on sexual harassment, as well as prohibition of discrimination based on gender.

In conclusion, the demographics of the architectural profession in India is exhibiting structural changes that will demand jettisoning the habitual lenses with which we have viewed the situation thus far.  Both IIA and CoA will fail in their mandate if they do not urgently and seriously take these changes into account.

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