Are we producing great architects?

As home to the great Indus Valley Civilisation, Pakistan could have excelled in architecture education

Are we producing great architects?

We live in the age of digitalisation where most of the work involves technology in various forms. The most important consequence of this digitisation process is the enhanced focus on inter-disciplinary teaching and research.

Terms like artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), big data (BD), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) are known to everyone. Most of these technologies have altered our understanding of the world and, more importantly, how we think about education.

Peter Gray says that early on people learned what they needed for their survival. The culture provided children the freedom to acquire required knowledge and skills to become effective in their job pursuits (hunting and gathering). He says that the beginning of agriculture and later industrial revolutions changed the core focus of learning through play. Instead, it created a workforce to follow orders.

Structured procedures were installed then to increase productivity rather than focusing on creating value; education, in this, provided a way to produce successful followers in the form of workers, supervisors and managers.

Even though the industrial revolution has shaped the world today, as a result of it, the concept of improving efficiency through specialisation has frequently been adopted in the education. This has led educational institutions to focus on very structured and specialised degree programmes to suit market needs. However, they have failed to recognise the true spirit of education in its inter-disciplinary nature and holistic development of students.

The concept of inter-disciplinary and holistic development is not new to the education; we have seen this in early scientific development where famous scientists were trained and involved in inter-disciplinary activities and multiple fields.

Architecture has evolved from historical ages. Ancient architects/ painters/ sculptures/ masons created great wonders of the world some of which are hard to replicate even in the age of technology.

Today, in the 21st Century, architecture has become a profession to produce operators to obey the commands.The true spirit of education for a holistic development has been lost from the profession in Pakistan. As home to the great Indus Valley Civilisation, Pakistan could have excelled in architecture education, designing prominent buildings and producing world-renowned architects. But there are hardly any examples of this.

We even forgot about our architecture and cultural heritage in our design. Today, the higher education institutes are too concerned about producing graduates aligned to operator mentality, i.e, copy/ edit designs to replicate or create eye-catching views of buildings/ structures that cannot even be constructed.

Architecture education around the globe is moving towards digital technologies to improve quality and produce architects who may enhance the residents’ livelihoods. We, on the other hand, are focused on creating operators.

The critical thinking, problem solving, innovativeness, and collaboration, which should be at the core of an architecture education, are not to be found in Pakistan’s architecture curriculum. The bachelor of architecture programme (available on the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan website) hardly considers them essential knowledge areas.

One might say architecture design studios are meant to stimulate creative thinking, problem solving, and innovativeness. But in reality, it comes down to the individual lecturer, his/ her knowledge, and the student’s ability to absorb these in studio work.

As an architect or, let us say, student of architecture, I have completed these studios, experienced the process and acknowledge its flaws.

There is an urgent need to incorporate modules that may stimulate creative thinking, problem solving and innovativeness among students that can later be practiced in design studios. It is the responsibility of educational institutions to ensure the quality of architectural education in Pakistan.

Architecture education around the globe is going towards digital technologies to improve quality and produce architects that may enhance residents’ livelihoods. We, on the other hand, are focused on creating operators to follow commands.

We need to remember that architecture is not about creating artists/ AutoCAD operators but the shapers of the built environment. Kausar Bashir Ahmad has exquisitely presented Arif Hasan’s view of the function of an architect:

“The most important function of an architect is to create a comfortable architecture, comfortable in the widest sense of the word, and related to the economic constraints and technological limitations of the society in which he lives... We have failed to relate the technological revolution to our real needs, and failed to fully grasp the fact that our societies have changed overnight. As such, we have failed to relate our work and thinking of growing urban needs.” (c.f. Ahmad, 1986)

The statement is valid even today; we have failed to respond to the rapidly changing environment. There is a need to revamp architecture education to practically focus on architecture as an inter-disciplinary field, incorporating three core areas as required to restore respect and value to the profession. These focus on a broader built environment that may introduce:s

Economics, sustainability, project life-cycle management, delivery, and restoration issues,

Adopting digital technologies, such as AI, IoT, BD, VR, and AR, besides building information modeling and management, and

Improved focus on competencies, such as critical thinking, problem solving, innovativeness, communication, and collaboration in the current curriculum.

The writer is an architect with a PhD in construction management from the   Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong. He can be reached at

Are we producing great architects?