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Architects need a fair selection process

March 2019
In India, speaking of architecture, more value is attached to the quantity of experience than quality of work. 

It is typical of architectural firms to get debarred and come back. “One does not get debarred owing to failure of quality of deliverables in a particular project,” says Kalhan Mattoo, Principal & Co- founder, Office of Kalhan. “It is usually about relationship management and not being able to fulfill some professional, and more importantly, personal commitments.”

 “As the system of allotting projects is not design-based, I doubt the quality, efficiency and aesthetics in overall design,” Architect Gurunath Dalvi adds.
Indrajit S Kembhavi, Partner, Kembhavi Architecture Foundation (KAF), also suggests that excellence and quality should be the criteria, and the scale of fees should be standard. “An architect has to be selected on merit rather than lower fees.” Calling most competitions and tenders unfair with a bias towards a few firms, he says the very concept of tendering is wrong and leads to substandard work as some architects quote low fees just to pick up projects and are eventually unable to deliver. It is impossible for quality firms to render services at such low prices. 

Selection by competition
 “If we want international standards of projects,” says Kembhavi, “it is mandatory to evaluate architects on benchmarks of design delivery capacities rather than the tendering process, which is often awarded to bad designs owing to a lower bid.” Dalvi suggest that the selection of architects for large-scale projects should be on the basis of an open design competition on the fee scale recommended by Council of Architecture (CoA), New Delhi.

Debmalya Guha, Principal Architect and Planner, Pace Consultants, considers himself fortunate to have experienced the benefit of a design competition. “In 2001, when I had just graduated, Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) decided to rebuild a century-old theatre hall, the Star Theatre, which was gutted in a fire in 1990,” he recalls. Possibly for the first time in the history of KMC, a design competition was held with the only eligibility criterion being the architectural licence of CoA, in which almost all the senior architects and quite a few junior ones in the city participated—Guha, along with a couple of friends, was among them. With a jury comprising the two senior-most architects in Kolkata, the entire process was coordinated by then chief architect of KMC, Debasish Kar. “The judgement took place without disclosing the names of the participants to the jurors,” Guha shares. “They shortlisted four design schemes without any idea who the architects were. And we were among the four, the youngest team.” The jury then called in the four teams. “We were asked to clarify some structural aspects of our design and give a more detailed elevation in the second round of the competition. And, then, we were unanimously selected as winners! We received support from KMC and guidance from senior architects, and successfully completed the project within the stipulated time in 2004.”

It has been 15 years since the inauguration of Star Theatre—and we can only wait for more such success stories!

SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN