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Architects are doing a lot more nowadays, expanding their horizon... plumbing!

By Aakash K Srivastav*
Having spent nearly five weeks working from home, I learned that one of my friends was stuck in Delhi this Covid-19 season. Akriti Kacker, who rather chose (much like me, I guess) with high hopes to not go back to her hometown, was also facing the privileged burnt of professional edicts (ahem) while working from home (much like myself). Who had imagined that situations would lead to a complete halt of a freely flowing excited Indian population?
Here we were talking to each other over phone, about our lives.
“What else, tell me how’s your life?”
Run out of spice I exclaimed, “You know what? I came across this really cool firm, headed by an architect, who does communication design and social media strategy. They don’t make plans or plots.”
“Did you mean business development?” She responded improving upon my less decomposed vocabulary, and further added, “Yes, architects are doing a lot more these days, expanding their horizon, plumbing…”
“What! Plumbing? Like literally plumbing? Fixing pipes?”
And that was when I realized that this conversation needed to be drafted and blogged. What Akriti explained to me was a ‘mind blown’ experience. A practice which could also revolutionize the Indian education system for architects. A simple change of perspective, perhaps adaptation for survival in dire situations, but change which could promise not only better architects in future, but better professionals mending the lifestyle of the Indians on the go. To me, this was the solution!
A business model which can mass produce a product, multiplies and adds to the money earned after a certain threshold. It benefits the inventor and the stake holders. Architecture, however, is custom, it is tailor made, mass production (though happening) isn’t a healthy concept if not done carefully; and that may be a reason why certain firms do not grow in terms of wealth beyond a point, without hiring and investing more (which could potentially become a liability in an unforeseen future).
Architectural practices usually earn on project basis. It is sometimes hard to find clients with a big budget. After all not everyone wants to make a new bungalow, a resort, or an airport.
However, in Akriti’s experience, today’s competitive times have brought about a creative shift; and some architects (perhaps young) have found a way to tap the potentials of numbers. “How are they exactly earning handsomely through plumbing? And do they replace plumbers?”
No, they don’t replace plumbers, they hire them as help. They tell plumbers what they need to be doing in place of just hitting a butterfly valve (because there is water pressure issue in piping). In the country we certainly are short of many things, but these architects thought to look at what we have. Making use of the established. They still are architects, still offering consultancy, but catering to the people already with house. In a way offering post-purchase services.
There are many households in the country. Many of these have issues on daily basis, and they do not know who they should contact! Who should these owners call if water pressure in taps keeps on dropping now and again? Again, and again? A plumber? Well, a firsthand experience tells me that not all the plumbers know why a problem may arise, and consequences of the issue.
For example, if you keep hitting a butterfly valve, it will break. The area will be flooded with water when the municipality supplies it at 6:30 pm in the evening. A simple solution is to open all the taps connected to the municipality water connection at full, for five-ten minutes. The air blockage will be eased. Of course, do not try this advice at home, context matters!
This is one of my experiences with a plumbing problem. I can give another for plumbing, and one for electrical also, all firsthand, where the local technician’s solutions resulted in a bigger issue. The more experienced an architect is, the more examples they can give. It is safe to say that architects are doctors for the built.
Can you name ten architects from your local region who have been actively working towards improving what is built?
“We have websites where you can hire hairdressers, cleaners, electricians. A good concept, but I think soon we will have specialized platforms by these architectural consultancy”, well of course unless the big conglomerate understand what I am talking about before others, and start rolling it out first (I am totally impressed with the idea you see).
Akriti is talking about tapping on the houses in distress in your local colony, locality, zonal district of a city. If you charge Rs 2,000 per solution and find 5-6 house per week and… BOOM! You are now eligible to pay taxes as per second slab! No drawings, just analysis, a helper and you are good to go. Certainly, the numbers are tempting, and one may not find 5-6 houses every week with a leaking pipe, soggy floor, or burnt wiring. Also, the cost of the helper needs to be accounted for!
The gap here is of a service which is dedicated in solving these small-scale problems, on daily basis. I feel this is an untapped market, full of potential! What is needed is an architect with enough hands-on experience. This is where things take a turn towards the education.
Many people feel that architects do not keep with them the experience and knowledge a mason in the country holds. Well okay this is just my roommate who is almost the President of a big insurance company in India. He recently got his interiors renovated by an architectural consultancy in Pune, and God! Was he not disappointed?
He was so frustrated that once he let the carpenter go ahead with his ideas. He did not trust the architect who had appointed this carpenter. Here the creativity and knowledge of execution of a carpenter outweighed the architect’s.
I am sure, if you are an architect, you must have come across this concern in the society. To some degree society lacks trust in the fraternity. Well where I come from, they do, a lot! So much so that I will find it difficult if you tell me that it is a misplaced notion.
“We could have two years of training in place of six months-one year, what hands-on practical experience will one get in so little time? Theory alone cannot help you grow!” said Akriti.
“That is actually correct, but I feel in place of two years, have one month every semester for training. Send students in their locality, ask them to help the various house owners in solving their problems.” Well you know going with the flow, speaking as if it does not matter. But, hey I am typing this down too! I have studied recently and have been working in the industry for three years. And I stand by it. What use making that BMCT sheet if the standards in Mumbai construction are different from my college’s?
No, I am not complaining about difference in studied basics vs complexity of a practical project. I should have known, that hitting a butterfly valve will flood my house in the evening. I should have stopped the plumber from doing it when he was doing it. These are some examples which stick with you.
The earlier you learn them, the better you are. Sending students for hands on for one month every semester may be a solution. Send them to solve people’s problem; and mark their solutions based on the feedback you receive, from the society, at the end of the year or course.
Make them realize that they need to communicate with the clients, and the masons. Make them learn the basics from the start. At least they will not make certain rookie mistakes. And if by then there is magically a network of architects trying to solve people’s problem, and providing the traditional architectural services, then these freshers can start from the bottom in such firms. By practically fixing issues on site, in place of just drafting toilet details in office.
Architects are known as jack of all trades. Master of none. But frankly I have mostly seen architects who design, who plan and plot, who at times manage projects. It has a lot to do with the company I keep, but can you name 10 architects from your local region who have been actively working towards improving what is built? How many of the architects have gone back to the end users asking for their problems?
If they are using the kitchen balcony as shown in your drawing, or as a storage? People want storage, how do you help them have extra storage and the balcony too? There lies a big market here. An opportunity which can be capitalized by the service sector as well as the educational front.
After all we should strive towards bridging the gaps. A concept many successful startups deploy. Their ideas solve problems which have not been addressed!
Why must not we do the same?
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are based on personal experience. We are not attempting to disregard or belittle any profession, but we share our thoughts to improve synchrony in the various components of a functioning society. We make no representations or warranties of any kind and assume no liabilities of any kind with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents. We shall not be held liable or responsible to any person or entity with respect to any loss or incidental or consequential damages caused, or alleged to have been caused, directly or indirectly, by the information contained herein. Reader discretion advised.
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*With Akriti Kacker

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