Can engineers act as architects?

Can engineers act as architects?

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Harish Rao, Founder, sawdust

Can engineers act as architects-min

Can engineers act as architects-min
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Whether engineers can act as architects is not a new issue and the debate is going on since the day Architects Act was passed in the Parliament. However, recent judgment by the Delhi High Court in a related issue has revived debate once again.

Perhaps the seed for the current debate or controversy was sown long back – when the Architects Act  was passed in the Parliament in 1972. While discussing the Architects Bill in the Parliament in 1972, Professor S. Nurul Hasan, the then Minister of Education, had said “…any engineer or other qualified professional person can continue to engage himself in design, supervision and construction of buildings as long as he does not style himself as an architect.” Further, the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act state that “The legislation protects the title “architects” but does not make the design, supervision and construction of buildings as an exclusive responsibility of architects. Other professions like engineers will be free to engage themselves in their normal vocation in respect of building construction work provided that they do not style themselves as architects.” This has given legal sanctity to those who are carrying on the profession of architecture without being qualified to do so. If architects’ job can be done by engineers also, then why we should have seperate Archietcts Act?

In the case of Indian Institute of Architects Vs Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, while dealing with the issue as to whether qualified engineers and surveyors could discharge the functions that are discharged by architects, a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court held that there was no substantial difference in the technical qualifications of architects and engineers and both such professionals have the necessary expertise to engage themselves in building construction and development activities. The Court went on to hold that the Act does not restrict the practice of architect to persons registered under the said Act.

The intent of legislature in bringing out a separate Act for the profession of architecture is described in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act “Since Independence and more particularly with the implementation of Five-Year Plans, the building construction activity in our country has expanded almost on a phenomenal scale. A large variety of buildings, many of extreme complexity and magnitude, like multi-storeyed office buildings, factory buildings, residential houses, are being constructed each year. With this increase in building activity, many unqualified persons calling themselves as architects are undertaking the construction of buildings which are uneconomical and quite frequently unsafe, thus bringing into disrepute the profession of architects…With the passing of [the Act], it will be unlawful for any person to designate himself as “architect‟ unless he has the requisite qualifications and experience and is registered under the Act.” Two Statement of Objects and Reasons mentioned here and in the earlier paragraphs appear to be at cross purposes and it appears that even the government was not clear about the objective of passing the Architects Act. Several judgments have been pronounced based on the interpretation that Section 37 of the Act prohibits the use of title and style of ‘architect’ by unregistered persons and nothing more. It doesn’t prohibit others, that is, engineers, from carrying on the work which normally done by an architect.

In determining whether the Architects Act makes the practice of architecture an exclusive privilege of registered architects, it may be useful to undertake a comparative analysis of the same with the Advocates Act, 1961 and Chartered Accountants Act, 1949. Interestingly, Sections 29, 30 and 33 of the Advocates Act specifically prohibit persons, other than advocates whose names are enrolled with a State Bar, from practicing the profession of law. Similarly, a cumulative reading of Sections 2(1)(g), 2(2), 4 & 6 of the CA Act shows that no person can engage himself in the practice of accountancy unless his/her name is entered into the register maintained by the Institute of Charter Accountants of India. Unlike Advocates Act and CA Act, the Architects Act does not contain any prohibitory provisions similar to the ones in the former two. The Architects Act doesn’t prescribe that only registered architects can provide architectural services nor does it define as to who can provide architectural services nor puts any fetters on persons who wish to provide architectural services. Perhaps this is the greatest lacuna of the Architects Act which need to be taken up at the highest level for rectification.

But time is changing and with that the scope of the architecture profession too is expanding. Just as in 1970s it was felt that rapid increase in construction of building activities necessitated the enactment of Architects Act, now a new situation is being developed where the responsibility of the architects has increased manifold which in turn has necessitated a re-look into the Act. Today we are living in a digital era where most of the work is being done by a click of a button on computer. This is true even for building plan approvals too.  Most of the cities have opted for online application for building plan approval where the certification by a qualified architect is a pre-requisite. Compulsory certification of building plan and self-certification of adherence of various building norms by a practicing architect have put immense responsibilities on the shoulders of those who are practicing the profession. It is always in the interest of the profession and the society to encourage only those ones to certify who actually do the work on the ground. Therefore, the government need to bring in an amendment to the Act to allow only those who have the qualification to carry on the profession. By doing so the architecture profession can be brought at par with other professions like Law and Chartered Accountancy.

What makes the architects case weaker is neither the Act nor its content but the lack of representation of the profession in the Parliament. For example, in the present Lok Sabha there are six engineer MPs whereas not even a single architect in the House! I think, the profession needs another Mody, like Piloo Mody, to fight their case in the Parliament.