Quality Management Leading to a Political Discussion

September 23, 2010

- by Adarsha Kapoor

“Quality is never an accident. It is always a result of intelligent effort. There must be the will to produce superior things.” – John Ruskin 1

Quality management is a controlled process of attaining desired quality for a finished product. It is more than a process to achieve a desired end result, but is a conscious involvement of the creator, the executor and the client with the process itself while attaining a set standard for the finished good or service. While a series of events could generate goods or services, it is the idea of attaining satisfaction for all stake holders involved in the process that determines the quality of a product.

Since man started making tools, his creative self evolved and progressed with developments in technology. The precision with which Homo sapiens manufactured tools could be attributed to their psychological attachment with the process of creation. There were no written laws, rules, processes that he could follow to ensure sharpness of his knives or arrows. Such instances evoke the thought, ‘was there someone who overlooked the entire process of creation and ensured precision of tools.’ It might be assumed that either various settlements had their own standards based on available materials and skills, or it was set by the individuals concerned. It could also have been a part of their cultural practice that transcended generations.
In architecture and city planning, evidence of emphasis towards quality control and quality management could be dated back to ancient civilizations of the Indus Nile Valleys.2 In these settlements, attaining quality was either through practice, legacy, sense of responsibility towards ones profession or through force. The strict town planning norms and the perfect geometry of the settlements and building blocks are remnants of the immense importance given towards attaining finest quality.

Excavated ruins of Mohenjodaro at Sind, Pakistan

Similar examples can be found in the later settlements of the world: Islamic architecture has guidelines to accurately calculate the direction of the Mecca Mosque;3 the Chinese settlements established Feng Shui, to understand the norms of Heaven and Earth in order to improve the quality of life;4 Mayamatam, the ancient Indian text on architecture and planning set the standards for designing and construction practices.5
All the above examples of attaining quality in architecture and urbanism had a hidden socio-cultural phenomenon attached to them. For example, occupation based caste divisions could be a means of quality control. Communities were a conglomeration of people with similar skills involved in similar occupations to ensure quality through practice.6

Feng Shui

This article aims to draw connections between quality management, architecture, politics and end users while questioning politico-economic theories and past events. These theories have an impact on quality of architecture and urbanism as they talk about people, society, governance and capital. They took shape when capital started becoming a mode of interaction between people and culture. The events of evolution of mankind, societies and physical realm as a consequence of these theories provide the basis for this discussion.

In order to understand the basic role of quality and the need for quality management on various psychological fronts, one has to understand it from the point of view of the client, the designer and the regulator. On the client’s front, quality management ensures satisfaction of aesthetics and functionality of the structure or liveability of the settlement. On the designer’s front, it ensures professional responsibility and designer’s satisfaction. On the regulator’s front, it is a political responsibility that the citizens of the country have endowed on the administrators. On one side, it becomes an important tool in the hands of the administrators to decide the direction the economy might take, while on the other, it becomes a path to reach the end result for which the economy keeps on striving. This forms a cycle, with quality being the underlying principle and the stakeholders being the nodal elements revolving around the state. The two are tied with the strings of architecture and urbanism. In order to understand this cycle, one has to critically look at our past in relation to political systems in order to understand the role of quality management in shaping our physical environment and the effect that has on the stake holders.

The political Cycle of Quality in Architecture and Urbanism

The article starts this discussion from the age of mercantilism so as to understand the cycle, as it was only after mercantilism that land became a tool in the hand of administrators. Land then became a major component of capital, which was not the case before mercantilism.
According to Karl Polanyi, “Mercantilism, with all its tendency toward commercialization, never attacked the safeguards that protected [the] two basic elements of production – labor and land – from becoming the elements of commerce”. Thus mercantilist attitudes towards economic regulation were closer to feudalist attitudes, “they disagreed only on the methods of regulation.”7

Mercantilism focused towards exploring new grounds and establishing superiority of the explorer state over the explored. One way of doing this was by showcasing physical power, while the other way was through trade. To establish their superiority over the natives of the place, they started building superior structures. Any political achievement would be showcased as a commemorative structure of a finer quality than the one that preceded it. This was the time when the quality of structure would impart a sense of national pride in oneself, while reaching out to a new settlement. This was the time when the sense of quality grew, not under mental or physical pressure, but as a personal or national achievement. The cycle stayed apolitical even while the overriding principle of quality remained a political tool. This was the time when quality management was not a necessity; it was a process that was followed not as a regulation but as a responsibility.

After the invention of the steam engine, and hence the start of Industrialization, mass production of goods started to take place.8 Modules were rationalized and production was broken down into processes and stages. Structures were produced to serve a particular function. The designer might be emphatically attached with the achievement of quality, but the client would be more concerned about the functionality of structures of the time. Ornamentation on structures was reduced , reducing them to simple boxes and cubes. The regulator was only concerned with the changing economic generators, while completely sidelining the debate over the quality of structures and cities. Quality management was just another process used in the factories; it had no connection with architecture and urbanism.

Bishopgate, a former slum area in Wetherby, by C. Lodge, 1906

Even though, historically speaking, capitalism was an offshoot from feudalism, the modern form of capitalism started with the disproportionate distribution of wealth as a result of private ownership of the means of production.9 The society got divided into the owners and the laborers. Emphasis shifted towards mass production with cheap raw materials in order to maximize profits. In the process, daily wages got reduced to a bare minimum. The laborers became a part of the process of production but stayed detached from the final products. The general mass was underprivileged and the state had no say in it.10 The quality of structures and settlements started deteriorating, except those mentored by the capitalist class. In fact, in the race to increase profits and reduce overheads of production while quantitatively increasing mass production, quality control was used as a tool to check and keep the desired quality of the final product under the bare minimum. Public housing and labor housing was just to keep the laborers alive, thereby requiring only a minimum level of quality. This resulted in a living condition called slums11, which describes the quality of living based on particular standards of physical environment. Deteriorated housing stock, bad infrastructure and poor hygiene were some of the characteristics of the slums, which still exist in the present cities of the world.

Old image of Bristol Social housing

The changing societal setup, and ever increasing number of laborers demanded changes in the political setup of the economies. Socialism came into the picture with the working class revolution of the eighteenth century.12 Saint-Simon, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx advocated the creation of a society that allowed for the widespread application of modern technology to rationalize economic activity by eliminating the anarchy of capitalist production.13 This brought back the sense of pride of one’s skills lost during the advent of the industrial revolution. The states started playing a major role in the societal setup and their emphasis was on the provision of equal opportunities for all citizens. Dissolution of classes, revitalized the working class in terms of their wellbeing and skills. The emphasis towards attaining quality became personal preference for the designer and the executive based on their attachment with the process of attaining quality. For the states, quality was still not a major factor. For them, reducing economic disparity was a prime concern. There was no need for regulating quality through quality management and control.

The principles of communism talked about an egalitarian society, where the means of production and property would be largely owned by the public or the elected representatives.14 It also talked about the liberation of the working class. Ironically, over time, the egalitarian essence of communism died down, dividing the society into a small yet powerful group of administrators, or “guardians” of communism, and the workers, treated as numbers, but only like zeros. The elected few, enjoying immense power, had the required strength to mentor creation. The architecture of the state would be of the finest quality, showcasing the superiority of their system over others. For the working class, quality would be just another measure of equality. Ideally, communism would have allowed qualitative growth by providing the opportunity for one to involve themselves in activity, excel in it and receive satisfaction by doing so, while remaining in the same economic position. There would have been no need for quality management. It would have taken the issue of quality and quality control to the time when it was a psychological state, recreating the dying link between a creator’s inner self and the urge for fine quality. But, like the phrase ‘ Jack of all trades, but good for none’, it failed to do so and remained a mere tool in the hands of administrators to measure equality among the general audience.

Globalization became the buzzword after the 1960′s.15 It had much to do with states, entrepreneurs and individuals reaching out beyond all boundaries. On one side, it threw light on some of the unexplored arenas of the world, while on the other it triggered a dormant competition about attaining superiority over others. Down the line it was related to showcasing patriotism and national pride. Architecture and urbanism also followed the same lines. Sharing of technology, style, material and skill became an issue of national pride. With it, started the discussion about comparing qualities and efficiency among various tenets from around the world. Quality control became an important filter in the hand of the states to assure that whatever is sent out of one’s nation is of more superior quality than any other. World expositions are one of the most significant examples of this. The Shanghai exposition showcased the finest quality of architecture, style, technology and ideology that man has achieved to date.

This paper attempts to understand the relation of quality management and quality control in a political context. Land and labor had been a major component of capital and hence remained at the forefront of all economic dialogues. Changes in political philosophy had a direct impact on the political parameters dictating societal norms. It also had an impact on the overall quality of architecture and urbanism through an impact over the well being of the laborers. Through the passage of time, it has been evident that attaining quality for self satisfaction, or as a mark of national pride, is only possible after providing the physical and mental well being of the working class. Quality can be controlled, it can be regulated, it can be standardized, but the attachment of the inner self of a creator and mentor with the final product of a process of design is what makes the outcome unique and defines its quality. It also gives the creator and mentor freedom to use quality as a measure of achievement of complete design, rather than making it a tool for the regulators. In case it becomes a tool in the hands of the regulators, the shifting political norms and ideologies of the state would either tend to abuse it or use it based on economic parameters, creating a bridge between the politics and stake holders of the process of design.

1.    Burnstein, Frank Stasiowski and David. “Total Quality Project Management for the Design Firm”. New Yrok: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.
2.    Kenoyer , Jonathan Mark, “Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization”, American Institute of Pakistan Studies, Oxford University Press, 2004.
3.    Abdali , S. Kamal, “The Correct Qiblah”, Washington D.C., 1997.
4.    Marie, Tina,  “Feng Shui Dairies”. Esoteric Feng Shui : s.n., 2007-2009.
5.    Dagens, Bruno,  Introduction, pg lxiiii, in Mayamatam, Vols. I & II, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi & Motllal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi., 1994.
6.    Hillery, George A., Jr., “Definitions of Community: Areas of Agreement,” Rural Sociology, 20 (4), 1955.
7.    Polanyi, Karl, “The Great Transformation”, Boston : Beacon Press, 1944.
8.    Sullivan, Steven M. Sheffrin, “Economics: Principles in action”. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2003.
9.    Lanham, Md , “The Idea of Capitalism before the Industrial Revolution. Critical Issues in History”,  Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.
10.    Braudel, Fernand, “The Wheels of Commerce: Civilization and Capitalism 15-18 Century”, Harper and Row, 1979.
11.    UN-HABITAT report, April 2007.
12.    Newman, Michael, “Socialism: A Very Short Introduction”, Oxford University Press, 2005.
13.    Lawrence and Wishart, “Marx and Engels Selected Works”, 1968.
14.    Karl Marx, “ The German Ideology”, Marx-Engels Institute, Moscow, 1845.
15.    Croucher, Sheila L., “Globalization and Belonging: The Politics of Identity in a Changing World”, Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

1.    Excavated ruins of Mohenjodaro at Sind, Pakistan, Source: www.pbs.org
2.    Feng Shui, Source: www.ohmspiritualcenter.org
3.    The political Cycle of Quality in Architecture and Urbanism, Source: Author
4.    Bishopgate, a former slum area in Wetherby, by C. Lodge, 1906
5.    Old image of Bristol Social housing, Source: environment.uwe.ac.uk, copyright: Bristol Record Office



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