Architectural Education In A Changing World

1.  The Purpose Of Architectural Education

In my opinion the purpose of architectural education is to produce professionals who can help create a physical environment and support structures that promote social harmony, economic betterment, improved health conditions and a sense of history. If these objectives can be achieved, not only will buildings become contextually appropriate and aesthetically pleasing, but environmental conditions will also improve and development related ecological damage will be contained to a considerable extent. To promote the creation of such professionals, understanding of the changes that are taking place in the world in general and the Third World in particular is required.

2. A Changing World

In the last two decades major social, economic and cultural changes have taken place throughout the world, including Pakistan. These changes are having an impact on the built-environment in general and architecture in particular. They have important policy implications and have introduced new players in the development drama. The causes of these changes are many but four of them are of a fundamental nature. These are globalisation, structural adjustment, the IT revolution and satellite and cable television. Their impact is summarised below.

  1. Globalisation: This has made the corporate sector (national and international) a major player in the economy, culture and sociology of Third World cities and is now attempting to transform rural economies as well. It is increasingly deciding on how urban space is used, services are delivered and on the nature of architecture in key locations in the city. There is a need to understand what this new culture means for the issue of identity and as such for architecture.
  2. Structural Adjustment: As a result of structural adjustment, government subsidies on health, education, infrastructure projects and land for housing have been curtailed. As a result, the private sector is becoming increasingly important for the provision of services. However, it cannot service the poor and alternatives to it (in a market economy) are being researched into by NGOs and concerned professionals. These changes not only require a change in bye-laws for amenities but also a shift from the design of large public sector health and education facilities to small private sector and/or NGO supported social sector facilities. In addition, land has at last unashamedly become a commodity and as such inaccessible to poor communities. Alternative solutions to conventional social housing in the present scenario are required if the rich-poor gap is to be contained and further fragmentation of society is to be prevented.
  3. Information Technology: The introduction of IT has produced a new culture. In addition to changing the manner in which architectural graphics and basic design is taught and projects presented, it has made a whole range of built-environment related information available. It has also made primary research unattractive and increased the distance between the drawing board and the field. Conceptualising has become a very different affair from what it was previously. It is necessary to understand both the negative and positive aspects of IT and to promote the positive and minimise the negative.
  4. Satellite Television: Cable and satellite TV are creating better informed citizens but at the same time adversely affecting their capacity for analysis, leisure and critical evaluation of the environment in which they live. They are also creating new consumption related demands and as such a growing gap between means and aspirations. What are the physical requirements of these new demands and given the aspirations means- gap, how can then be met?

Architectural education should aim at creating an understanding of these four issues and of their relationship to contemporary problems related to the built-environment. In my opinion, a discussion on these issues can establish principles (both ethical and pragmatic) on the basis of which the curriculum can be revised. An articulation of these principles in writing or graphics will also help students to conceptualise keeping these issues in view and/or debating them.    

3.  Recent Trends

In addition to the four points above, two other trends are important.

  1. Third World cities in the last decade have reached a situation where mega projects are required to solve their problems of transport, water, sewage, solid waste, and governance. Because of pressure from the international corporate sector and International Funding Institutions (IFIs), these mega projects are being handed out to international companies on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. As such, contractors are determining the form of the city and controlling its assets. It seems that projects are in and planning is out. The environmental impact of most of these projects has been disastrous and they have in many cases caused large scale evictions, mostly of poor communities, thus increasing homelessness and unemployment.
  2. The densification of inner cities (where most of their cultural heritage is located) in the last two decades has resulted in their social and environmental degradation. There is a movement throughout the Third World to conserve this rapidly disappearing history. Expertise and funds for this work are not easily available. Also, where this work is being done, it is not being seen as part of larger city planning exercise.
  3. Local government reform has been carried out in many Third World countries including Pakistan. In the case of Pakistan, this reform has devolved decision making and certain aspects of planning to smaller administrative units such as the district, tehsil and union councils. A critical understanding of these structures is necessary. Without such an understanding the professional cannot play an advocacy and lobbying role which is becoming increasingly necessary in our context. Also, these devolved structures, rather than federal and provincial line agencies, will be the clients of the professional. An important result of this change will be an end of nation-wide standardisation of designs for government provided facilities.

An understanding of the above issues is essential if an architect is to relate his work to the mega city project syndrome, inner city conservation and the new local government structures.

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