When I started applying for internships in my final year, I took advice from some of my seniors, to know what exactly I was going into. I was told to forget about money, that I could either gain experience, or money, not both. While applying for jobs titled “Fresher/Junior Architect” I was dismayed to see the pay packages offered by most firms. As a single woman moving into a new city, the amount I would get paid would barely cover my monthly expenses, so I could forget about saving up. I would have to live a frugal hand-to-mouth existence. The more I thought about this, the more I wanted to find out what exactly was wrong with this scenario.
The Council of Architecture (CoA) has established guidelines for educational institutes to follow, but nowhere has it put in place any kind of rules regarding the placement of the students. There are AICTE guidelines for a placement cell, but those are more stringent in Universities where architecture is taught along with engineering. Only some institutes (IIT Kharagpur, IIT Roorkee, SPA Delhi, and CEPT Ahmedabad) offer placements to its students. The rest of us studying from even the top ranking colleges, have to struggle to get placed. One of the main reasons cited to us is that with a maximum strength of 40/80 per batch, recruiters are hesitant to come to a remote town for taking away just one or two people. And especially in a joint university, the placement cell focuses more on the engineering graduates more than those of architecture. If there were some more regulations in place by the governing bodies, better job offers could be negotiated for the students.
The harsh reality is that in the current scenario, where there are around 90,000 registered architects in India, and around 24,000 graduate every year. In comparison, there are 4 lakh  civil engineers passing out each year, which makes it much more likely for them to grab jobs that are actually meant to be done by architects. One of the main reasons for this is that the civil engineers are much more specialised in their jobs as compared to architects. There is also a stereotype on the architects “design-based” thought approach, which is considered frivolous and sometimes a liability. Land is a valuable commodity in today’s world, and every owner deserves to get the maximum value for his money, but that cannot happen if they think a civil engineer can get an architect’s job ‘done’, or expect an architect to be an expert of mechanical systems.
It is important to understand that this is a misguided notion. Civil engineers and architects make for a great team, where the former takes care of the technical details- the body of the building, the latter creates its ‘soul’ –the building of space. A civil engineer can make a house designed strictly according to the building norms prescribed by the national/regional bylaws. While this building may be functional, it is no different from any other building seen on any other street of a town, a copy/paste stack of concrete blocks. Then the client will hire an architect/interior designer to somehow make this space a little more personal. Meanwhile, an architect will listen to the requirements of a client, his personality, his family life. From this they will design a solution which will not only be functional but also a warm and comfortable space, suiting the client requirement, as well as being the most efficient use of land and resources available. This building might not fulfil the safety norms, or might develop structural issues ten years down the line. Then the client will have to hire a civil engineer to renovate, and therefore ruining some elements of the design of the architect. Now imagine how simple this whole exercise would be if the two could work as a team, one taking care of the design and the other its structure and safety. It is a more cost-efficient measure and ensures that both kinds of experts get the credit and remuneration they deserve.
Now, my parents were financially stable and didn’t need to depend on me. But thinking about someone in my place, who would have to support his/her family, or repay the loan he/she took on to finish undergraduate studies, such a job would only make matters worse for them. Another very frustrating aspect of this was the obvious comparison to the engineers, who graduated a year earlier, with pay packages twice the value of ours, and with added benefits. So where do we come off as winners? In terms of job satisfaction, or in terms of better growth? The Council of Architecture (CoA) has established guidelines for educational institutes to follow, but nowhere has it put in place any kind of rules regarding the placement of the students. There is a scale for the standard remuneration rates for an architect according to the work they do on a site. Then why can’t be a similar code in place for architects working under a principal? Shouldn’t there be more requirements for hiring young architects than just the principal’s CoA registration number? Most mid-to-low-size firms tend to take advantage of this situation by paying less and not offering enough benefits; or worse, offering them on paper but using them as leverage to hinder growth.
In jobs offered to new graduates by other architecture firms often have a standard probation period of 3-6 months, after which there are a performance review and an expected salary hike. While this sounds promising, the untold truth is that there is a 12-hour work culture prevalent in most offices, where the working hours might be 9-6 or 10-7 on paper, but anyone who leaves at 7 is viewed as “lazy” or “unprofessional”. In order to make a good impression, you stay past the usual office hours for a couple of days every week, and soon enough, it becomes a norm. It might seem alright for the first few weeks, but a month later, the burn-out starts setting in. There is no life outside of work. If you do manage to stay on for more than three months, the increased pay makes no real difference, for you already traded all your free time for it.
Architecture is known to be one of the noblest professions. It carries promise and responsibility of being able to build a better community and a better world. Fresher architects are ambitious but rather starry-eyed in their approach to the real world. They may be free of the doubts they had as students and they are yet to be ragged and worn from the rat race of the world. Their imaginative spirit brims with ingenious ideas, and a zeal to make a change. The rose-colored glasses come off very soon, for the practical world functions differently. They have been so inclined towards the “artsy and conceptual” thinking that the line between their design principles and their personal moral philosophy is blurred. They get caught up in solving building problems instead of resolving the more pertinent user problems. The newbie architects must try to change the age-old societal perception of their peers so that their work can get the respect it deserves. At the same time, an exit exam can be put in place before obtaining registration (now that NATA has become a compulsory pre-admission test) for ensuring that there is a standard to be maintained for all architects entering the field. This will also lead to a significant recognition for better remuneration for not just graduates, but architects at all levels.
Ankita Sharma is an architect by training, and a writer by choice. Her love for books has given her a vivid imagination, and an eye for detail. A little impatient, a little lost, Ankita is trying to find her own voice amidst the world’s chaos.