Theory of Architecture


The main aim of this Seminar is to “clear doubts and to establish ideals about the form of expression in contemporary architecture in India”. The important things to be considered here are ‘ideals’ and the ‘form of expression’. Ideals refer to the ideas of the people. They differ from person to person, country to country, and generation to generation. The form of expression refer to the process of architectural thought and technique. The relationship of the ‘thought and technique’ to the ‘ideals’ of architecture is the essence of the problem we are facing today.

Confusion in Education and Practice

Confusion occurs where there is a conflict of ideas—ideas of various people, as well as ideas of various architects, authors and teachers. As Frank Lloyd Wright says: Confusion arises because there is ‘doubt in some minds’ and ‘fear in some minds’ and ‘hope in some minds’. According to my opinion, there are doubts in the public mind because there is no line of demarcation between the architectural profession and the allied professions. There is fear in the minds of the architects themselves because they are afraid of not getting any jobs if they stick to the high ideals of architecture. There is, however, hope in the minds of the teachers of architecture because they look to the future generation, and hope that architecture may serve its own purpose if it is rightly taught to the present generation.

There is need for more architects in this country, but there is more demand for ‘trained technicians’ to carry out our Five-Year Plans. Architectural education comes under ‘technical education’ and architects are taken as ‘technicians’. With the increasing influence of science and technology, they are termed as ‘scientists with a background of art’ rather than ‘artists with a background of science’. Even the word ‘beauty’ as a trademark of the work of an architect has been more ‘abused’ than ‘aptly used’. To the average laymen as well as educationists, the work of an architect is understood as ‘preparing beautiful drawings and models’, and the work of a school of architecture is ‘to produce technicians’ who will do the same for others. The lack of understanding and appreciation of architecture has made architectural education a very difficult problem in this country.

Need for Fundamental Thinking

If our discussions on the ‘form of policy’ have to have any meaning, we must be able to outline the basic and universal principles of architecture which will serve as a guide to all concerned with the profession of architecture. The ideals based on these principles will also have meaning in the ‘form of expression’, i.e. in the translation of an ‘ideal’ into an ‘expressive pattern’, which could be understood by others.

The work of an architect has to be clearly defined in terms of the ‘specialised field’  of endeavour of an architect. There is also need for fundamental thinking in organizing the profession of architecture towards the objective of practising architecture in the real sense of the term.

Importance of Theory

The importance of theory in clarifying the confusion of ideas cannot be over-emphasized. Practice always implies theory. Good practice depends on the correct understanding of theory. If the theory of architecture is properly studied and followed in practice, the present confusion will greatly be reduced.

The theory of architecture does not mean the whole body of scientific and technical knowledge that concerns the profession of architecture, but it means the basic principles which distinguish the work of an architect from the work of any other professional men loosely allied with the field of architecture. It mainly deals with the fundamental nature of architecture and includes the analytical study of the evolution of architectural forms. The theory of architecture may also include the theories and ideas of various architects and authors starting from Viruvius and Manasara to Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. The various ideas do not however change the basic concepts of an architectural activity. For instance, as Frank Lloyd Wright puts it, “the circumference of architecture is shifting but the centre remains unchanged”. The theory of architecture is the centre of the architectural activity, and the circumference refers to the scope of practice, and the range of ideals aimed at.

Some architects do not believe in the existence of a consistent theory. They rely on their intuitions to solve their own problems. But the genius can only arrive at successful solutions that way. For the average practitioners, the basis has to be clearly defined, otherwise they are inclined to theorise their own practice and indicate what they practise is architecture. This creates further confusion in the minds of the public. It is, therefore imperative for the good of the architectural profession to emphasize the theoretic base of architecture and advocate its importance in practice.

The systematic study of the Theory of Architecture has been recommended by the professional institutes of the most foreign countries, such as, Great Britain, and the U.S.A. According to the Special Committee of Architectural Education of the Royal Institute of British Architects which has published its Report recently, “The theory of architecture has come to mean in effect architectural aesthetic. As such it embraces both what may be called the philosophy of the art and its formal manifestations. It is concerned with the fundamental nature of architecture, with its aims and principles and with the standards of criticism that may be applied to it: and it includes within its province the analytical study of architectural form. In its fullest extension it covers the whole field of civic design”. The importance of architectural theory in a systematic course of training will, the Committee assumes, be generally accepted. It is essentially a liberal study capable of affording a valuable intellectual discipline. Intelligently directed, it can clarify the understanding of students, give them confidence and certainty of purpose and develop their critical judgment, whilst at the same time familiarising them with the elements of architectural form, simple and complex, and with the full range of architectural composition.

The American Institute of Architects has also recently published a detailed report of the Commission for the Survey of Education and Registration under the title ‘The Architect at Mid-Century”. The Report includes a strong plea for the study of the theory of architecture in the following words:

‘The theory of architecture may be defined as embracing the comprehensive and consistent organization of its facts and principles. In this sense any architectural activity whatever necessarily implies the use of theory. If the theory used is sound, thought and action will be more certain of success. Thus, every building design and every architectural curriculum presupposes an adequate theory and, in turn, inevitably reveals the quality of the theory on which it is based. Without command of theory, the practitioner and educator fall easy victims to dogmas and specious generalizations’…

Organization means clear perception of constituent facts, their orderly classifications, and their logical interrelations. With such understanding the processes by which they are manipulated can be more surely controlled and exploited. Theory, therefore becomes a most useful tool to the architect, liberating him for the freer exercise of his creative faculties.

According to the above Report, the theory of architecture deals with the elements and principles of function, structure, and aesthetic effect and their optimal integration. It is said that by improved instruction in theory not only the student, but also the profession should benefit. The development of consistent terminology would certainly reduce the present sematic confusion of tongues and make possible a more mature evolution of architecture itself. It could encourage research in hitherto neglected questions. And it might give surcease from frantic rushes to embrace each new ism and cliché. What is here envisaged is not an absolute and permanent formulation of final truth. It is the inescapable plight and pain of each new generation that it must answer for itself the fundamental questions. Today, however, after one of the most profound revolutions in the history of architecture, it is the duty of architects to form these questions once again and think them through within the limits and possibilities of our own time. This does not mean that logic and formulae can ever replace the creative act, but, unless all intellectual effort is futile, creativeness can surely profit by clear thinking.

The above quotations and explanations can adequately prove the importance of the theory of architecture in education and practice. If we want to ‘clear doubts’ we must probe deep into the ‘centre’ of architecture, rather than wandering aimlessly on the circumference and get mixed up with the ideas which travel round the whole world with terrific speed and tend to confuse our minds. If we want to solve our problems we must go to the ‘roots’ of the problem and seek a ‘solution in the nature of the problem. We must formulate our own questions, and seek our own answers to them. We must create new ideals in the light of new knowledge, but consistent with the theory of architecture as outlined above.

Responsibility of Schools

New schools have been started in different States to meet the demand for more architects. The crowded curricula of five years followed by most of the schools do not give due emphasis on the theory of architecture which should be the backbone of teaching architecture. The aim of architectural education and practice is ‘to produce good architecture’. Architectural education must, therefore, be lined with the evolution of architecture. The schools must have a philosophy and a direction. They must uphold a standard and give direction to the future architectural practice, but we must have a sound base for that direction. The theory of architecture can only provide that base. The proper function of schools is to teach theory and inspire in the students a craving for new ideals. New schools must realise this responsibility, if they have to play their part well in the future development of lndia.


I had placed some of these thoughts a few years ago before the practising architects of this country. But they have only become printed words in the Journals of the Indian Institute of Architects (April-June, 1952 and January-March, 1955). Even though the number of schools of architecture in India is gradually increasing, no serious thought has yet been given to the formulating a sound policy—if not philosophy—of architectural education in this country. The objectives of architectural education and practice are to be decided by the architects themselves. There is also an urgent need for public education as the realization of those objectives largely depends on the public acceptance of those objectives.

I believe an organization like the ‘Lalit Kala Akademi’ can certainly help us in this problem, if they believe that architecture is the ‘mother of all arts’ and include it as one of the primary activities of the organization

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