School of Environment and Architecture

SEA Conversations

monsoon 2021

On 16th March 2020, the Supreme Court of India made an interpretation of the Architects Act of 1972 that shook the legislative identity of architects in the country. The Act had prohibited anyone who is not registered by the Council of Architecture (and not qualified as an architect) to use the title of the ‘architect’. For years, this prohibition was interpreted as a prohibition on participating in the building making industry as a designer, supervisor, etc. The Supreme Court’s interpretation severed the two aspects - while it recognised that use of the title of an ‘architect’ is connected to qualification, registration, etc; it ruled that the Act does not provide any prohibition on anyone for participating in the building making activity in any capacity. Even though architects contribute to a miniscule proportion of the built environment, the architectural community felt threatened for its identity and agency.

In response to the fresh economic flows of post liberalization, architecture in India almost willingly took a service-oriented tone, moulding private capital into bold, unapologetic delivery of absolutely new building types. The architectural portfolios in the last three decades have been largely about second homes, private townships, corporate complexes or commercial enclaves. To a large extent, these must also be read as the exigent and inevitable responses to the restructuring of the national economy itself. This has been a clear departure from architects who grew up in the socialist state in providing solutions for large scale affordable housing, city expansions or public institutions.

The new millennium has only brought to fore the difficult realities of the built environment we come to inhabit today – those that have created social and spatial polarizations that are sharper and evident than ever before. This is particularly evident in the increasing number of protests across the world that are deeply related to access to resources, spatial inequality and social differences. Through a sustained disengagement, the figure of the architect is now associated with provision of luxury amenities and servitude to capital, rather than addressing the issues of space within the public domain. Architecture thus seems to have lost its umbilical cord as well as its intellectual ground within contemporary society and must call for a deeper inquiry.

‘Building Agency’ aims to address the question of how architecture becomes relevant for / in society today. There are two main dimensions to this question - how does spatial design shape societal relationships; and how could a spatial practitioner contribute responsibly and potently to the emerging complexities of spatial operation today? The series invites spatial practitioners who have been formulating visions, trajectories, questions, methods and processes through which the environmental apparatus may be configured afresh. These discussions, we expect, will offer useful directions for contemporary spatial pedagogy and practice.

speakers 2021
25/6 CHAAL CHAAL AGENCY \ Ahmedabad-Bogotá
09/7 MATTER \ Goa
06/8 COMMUNITY DESIGN AGENCY \ Mumbai-Ahmednagar
20/8 Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society \ Shanghai
24/9 COOPIA \ Bogotá-Mexico City
01/10 DHARMENDRA PRASAD \ Guwahati
15/10 SAROSH ANKLESARIA \ Pittsburgh

Visit for event details and Zoom links.

This online event series is supported by Urban Centre Mumbai, and is free and open to everyone across the world.



by Swati Janu of Social Design Collaborative

Zoom Link

The talk will cover the interdisciplinary practice at Social Design Collaborative which engages with under-represented communities typically left out of urban planning processes and the purview of architectural services. Presenting the team's work with farmers, street vendors, home based workers, waste pickers and construction workers, the discussion aims to reinterpret and expand the role of the architect through three subversions - the architect as an activist, the architect as an archivist and the architect as a facilitator.



Swati Janu is an architect, artist and writer based in Delhi. Her work engages with housing rights, migration and urban informality - combining community engagement and activism with policy advocacy. She is the Founder of the interdisciplinary design practice Social Design Collaborative which was recently awarded the Beazley Design of the Year 2020 in Architecture. A graduate from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, Swati also holds an MSc in Sustainable Urban Development from University of Oxford, UK


1730 hrs IST

Zoom Link

This online event series is supported by Urban Centre Mumbai, and is free and open to everyone across the world.

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