Design, as the word suggests, is about DE - SIGNING. To detach, dissect, distil, Discern, analyse, interpret and articulate the eventual outcome. It is an intense and involved process. Design is not about finding one answer to one question. It is about asking manifold questions, finding many answers to each of these questions and picking one answer that answers most to all questions. Thus Design is a holistic phenomenon. Utilitas (function), Firmitas (strength) and Venustas (beauty) being the three dictums of any design, as spelt out by Vitruvius, the space design remains holistic and balanced resolution of Culture, Climate and Construction. As an ancient Indian treatise, Samrangan sutradhar, articulates, the Architect as Sthapati should have right knowledge, should be well versed with the traditional sciences, should be skilful, as well as should develop an ingrained and intuitive sense of the value judgement to discern the appropriate. Design is about discretion. It is about values. About abilities to discern between appropriate and in appropriate. It is about appropriateness to the given milieu of the place as well as its people.
What has then design education ought to be?
One story perhaps says it all. A pupil went to a Master to learn architecture. The master said to pupil that he needs first to learn Sculpting (Shilp Shastra) before he learns architecture because architecture is all about dynamic form, composition, visual balance, mass and materiality. So the pupil goes to another master to learn sculpting. The sculptor asks pupil to learn dance before learning sculpting as sculpting requires understanding of body forms, gestures, emotions, as well as visual dynamics. The pupil approaches now the dance master. Even dance master refers him to the music teacher as music being the pre requisite to dance because it entails compositions, rhythm, pauses, moods, emotions as well as atonement of senses. When pupil approaches music teacher he asks him to learn poetry prior to learning music. One needs to know lyrics, rhyming, stanzas, syntax structure, grammar, semantics, communications and emotions. The pupil finally reaches out to the poetry master. The poetry master has philosophical reply. He says how can one teach poetry? For poetry one has to live life. Poetry emerges from life and the day to day encounters.
Thus space making is mother of all arts. More importantly it is an all encompassing phenomenon. It is about people, ways of life and the environment we live in.
We have had various models of ideal learning from Indian mythology, which refers to attributes of and approaches to healthy education.
Abhimanyu: The Garbh Samskar
The belief that learning begins right in the womb essentially refers to the clues within the environment around us. How our surrounding environment influences us and that we pick up things from the same, even subconsciously. So learning environment has to be healthy, informative and most importantly inspiring.
Sandipani Ashram: Holistic Learning by Living
Even Lord Krishna had to undertake full apprenticeship at Master's ashram, in the Gurukul mode, and had to learn traits of life. So education was holistic learning and learning was by living- by self doing.
Eklavya: Learning by Doing
This model of "Do it yourself" lays emphasis on learning rather than teaching. It demonstrates the need for self-explorations and indulgence and values practicality of 'hands on' experience rather than distant drawing board theories.
Nachiketa: Dialogue and Interactive Discourse
As an ideal pupil, Nachiketa poses number of questions and as accomplished master Yama offers insight into complex issues. This refers to rapport and interactive dialogue between student and the teacher.
Bhagwad Gita: Information Vs Wisdom and Teacher as a Guide
Lord Krishna's sermon as Guide, on the battlefield to his worthy pupil Arjun, is an epitome of the philosophical doctrine on life, the meaning and consequences of being; the duties and discretion for right and wrong. Teacher rather than being the master remains to be the navigator to mould pupil's mind and instead of the information base inculcates wisdom in the pupil to discern between the appropriate and inappropriate. This call for the depth and breadth of knowledge that a teacher needs to possess and the rapport he needs to build with the pupil as role model by becoming in true sense the friend, philosopher and guide.
Thus, education is to morph Information into ingrained samskar. Information when understood becomes knowledge. Knowledge, when overlaid with ability to discern between the appropriate and inappropriate, becomes wisdom and when wisdom is ingrained in the ways of life, it becomes Samskar.
What then is the reality of design education in India currently?
There are signs of worry from multiple angles.
Lack of Apex Body Envisioning Design Education
For interior design as well as other allied design disciplines (other than architecture), there is no Governing body to envision, set direction and regulate design norms. As a result, there is vast discrepancy in curriculum, content, time frame, conduct as well as even in definition of the courses being conducted. For example, there are courses on interior design being conducted from Three months to three years. Only in a single place, it runs as five-year course. This leaves quite ambiguous image of professionals and in turn builds distrust for the competence in society.
Issue of Numbers: Quality Vs Quantity
While architecture profession has established regulatory body and education is monitored, the sheer number is out beating the intentions and systems. Just to ponder on the fact; Forty year hence, in 2012, since establishment of council of architecture in 1972, the total accumulated registered architects over entire period of four decades, were about forty thousand, while today with over four hundred schools and eighty to two hundred students intake per year in each, every year we are producing forty thousand architects. This challenges the fundamental tenets of creative learning, demanding one to one rapport between teacher and student.
The issue of sudden influx of number also affects the dearth of quality teachers. As it is a professional course, finding expert professionals willing to teach is as it is difficult. But, with sudden demand out of desperation to meet number of faculty as per the council norm, it has only worsened that practically any graduate gets hired for the job with no true fulfilment of competence let alone human qualities.
The number game casts its unhealthy shadow even in profession. With large outflow of professionals and limited job opportunities there is steep competition compromising on professional ethics as well as healthy practices. This boomerangs in eventually lowering the image of professionals in society, with doubts raised for their professional competence as well as integrity.
Patron's Changing Perception: Indifference to Design Contribution
The rut of mediocre and below average designs has left patrons unimpressed with professional inputs or worthiness of hiring a professional. This is gradually but alarmingly building up sense of indifference for the architectural design services in the perception of the development patrons, who are increasingly seeking help of Project Management Consultancy (who in turn appoints architect for largely legality's sake) rather than the design professional for his assumed worth and design contribution.
Myopic Vision of Education
There have hardly been any fundamental debates and discussions that evolve the vision of design education, which in turn shapes the content as well as conduct. Most countries, contrary to India, have appointed (rather than elected) body of professionals and educationist to define and refine the state of affairs of education periodically. The norms and guidelines evolve from such fundamental visions. Lack of such structure leave it to the wisdom (or lack of it) of group of individuals for immediate consumptions and temporal mindsets. For value based education there needs to be multi layered engagement in education not only about subject competence but inculcation of values for societal concerns, environmental obligations as well as ethical practices. We need to give value the currency rather than currency the value.
Timeless aesthetics, Socio-cultural appropriateness, Environmental sustainability, Economic affordability and Sufficiency of strength and performance have to be the holistic demands of design and design education has to prepare professional that can comprehensively contextualise the same for the given milieu of the place, people and the programme. To positively influence the quality of life and rendering the world, humane, plural and sustainable.
Yatin Pandya born on 6th July, 1960, is an author, activist, academician, researcher as well as the practising architect, with his firm FOOTPRINTS E.A.R.T.H. (Environment Architecture Research Technology Housing). Graduate of CEPT university, Ahmedabad he has availed Master of Architecture degree from McGill University, Montreal. Yatin has been involved with city planning, urban design, mass housing, architecture, interior design, product design as well as conservation projects. He has written over two hundred articles in National and International Journals. Several books authored by him on architecture, especially "Concepts of space in traditional Indian architecture", and "Elements of space making" have been published internationally.