New Delhi: Nearly two years after it stayed the decision to demolish 14 of its 18 dormitories designed by legendary American architect Louis Kahn, the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-Ahmedabad) has decided to rebuild those sections where restoration would have been “technically impractical and ineffective”.
IIM-Ahmedabad director Erol D’Souza informed its alumni in an email last week that the restoration efforts had not turned out to be successful. The need to reconstruct was felt to make the buildings seismologically safe, he added.
A report prepared by a team of structural engineers from IIT-Roorkee and another by an international group comprising restoration experts, architects and structural engineers helped the IIM-Ahmedabad’s Board of Governors come to the decision, he said.
“The reports indicate that most structural elements have insignificant residual life, and thus restoration will be technically impractical and ineffective despite investment of time, effort, and funds. Therefore, rebuilding these sections is unavoidable. The Institute will not continue with any further restoration of the faculty blocks, classroom complex, and dorms other than D15,” D’Souza wrote.
“After careful consideration, an RFP process will be initiated later for the reconstruction of the faculty blocks, classroom complex, and the peripheral dorms 16 to 18 with, the same exterior façade, a seismically safe structure, and non-major renovation of the internal space to improve its functionality to suit the needs of the users. The other dorms will be remodeled, in line with the Louis Kahn heritage and keeping in mind the functional needs of current and future residents of the campus,” he said.
In December 2020, the IIM-Ahmedabad director had informed alumni through an email that the dormitories would be razed as they were unsafe for living and had worn out after an earthquake and floods.
The move had faced a major backlash from the architecture community, alumni, and Kahn’s children, after which the decision was withdrawn by the IIM-Ahmedabad management. This time, too, several experts — including British architectural historian William J. R. Curtis — have decried the IIM-Ahmedabad’s decision to go ahead with the project again.
ThePrint reached out to IIM-Ahmedabad over email for a response. This copy will be updated once a response is received.
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Expert lashes out at IIM
In response to the recent mail sent by the IIM-Ahmedabad director, Curtis has lashed out at the institution for following the ‘nihilistic and negative path of demolition’.
“You have been working with one of the best restoration teams in the world and they are confident that they can continue and complete the good work. Please follow this path rather than the negative and nihilistic path of demolition followed by the construction of lesser, far lesser, buildings…,” he wrote Thursday.
“One does not want to fossilize Kahn’s scheme but one does need to respect its essential qualities, attributes and guiding principles.The challenge here is creative reuse, but in a manner that respects the integrity of the original; not the absolutely wasteful destruction of a masterpiece replaced by a third rate pastiche.”
He has accused the IIM management of “establishing a dangerous precedent of killing off a masterpiece of not just Indian, but also universal significance”.
In his email, Curtis has also accused the Narendra Modi government of its “smash and grab capitalism”. “Under the Modi regime, smash and grab capitalism has flourished combined with an anti secular, anti democratic Hindu nationalism. Modern architecture associated with the Nehru period and with secular values and Nehruvian social projects has come under attack.”
He called the move a “deliberate destruction of cultural and national memory” to suit a particular political agenda and to bend to commercial greed. Calling the Central Vista project disastrous and “office blocks off a beltway in Texas”, he also called the new Parliament building built like a “wedding cake”.
Curtis claimed that Bimal Patel, the architect behind these projects, was Modi’s favourite and a “clever operator” but scarcely an architect of international note.
Spread over 67 acres of greenery in Vastrapur, IIM-Ahmedabad was designed by Kahn. The project began in 1962 and was completed in 1974. The first buildings built were the faculty houses, followed by the dormitories, the main academic complex and other buildings, according to the IIM-Ahmedabad archives.
The IIM-Ahmedabad’s famous exposed red brick structure has been emulated by several educational institutions the world over. The most distinctive features of the red, white and green colour campus are the numerous arches and the square brick structures with circles carved out in the façade. The extensive complex includes teaching complexes, a library and residential buildings.
The Vikram Sarabhai Library, whose restoration was completed in 2018, won the UNESCO Asia Pacific Award of Distinction for Cultural Heritage Conservation the next year.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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