WITH THE entry of multi-nationals into India contracting methods and architectural consultancy practices which had remained unchanged for several decades faced major upheavals. Many companies preferred the European 'Design and Build' contracting method as they were exposed to less risk in such a system, though at a higher cost. The role of the architect underwent a major reorientation as he was now hired by the contractor and not the owners of the project. At the same time, owners were troubled by the lack of transparency in such a system which led to the creation of a new player in the process known as the Design Controllers. His role would be to validate all designs, specifications and costing and report on the health of the project to the owners. Though this moved us one step away from being hands on designers, our knowledge of planning, design and managerial skills were essential to fulfill this new found niche in a new world.
It was in this capacity that we were inducted into the project team of Michelin for their tyre plant near Chennai and Renault Nissan for their machine shop at Oragadam, also near Chennai. Since the basic designs and specifications for these plants were generated in France our first responsibility was to ensure that all the designs submitted by the builder conformed to the mandatory construction and design codes. 'Indianising' these designs to suit local specification and construction practices would yield substantial cost savings as bidders familiar with this would bid in a competitive environment. It was the responsibility of the design controllers to evaluate the specifications and suggest local equivalents without affecting the performance of the item in question.
Architects traditionally like to claim ownership of their projects having been the ones who conceptualized the designs, controlled the process at every stage and guided it into reality. This mindset needs to adapt to new organizational structures where one becomes a player in a multi-disciplinary team which has a momentum and decision making process far removed from its component partners. This flexibility to detach oneself from performing only the traditional role but willing to accept new associations where your skills are equally important to the process as a whole will open new avenues and room for self improvement.