Explained: Why IIM-Ahmedabad wants to raze Louis Kahn’s legacy

Written by Ritu Sharma, by Explained Desk | Ahmedabad |

Updated: December 25, 2020 10:47:04

The board of the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad has decided to demolish the dorms built by the legendary American architect Louis Kahn on its campus triggering a dispute. The dormitory restoration was part of an ongoing project by a well-known consultant based in Mumbai.

Why are the dorms being demolished?

IIM-A plans to tear down at least 14 of the 18 dormitories that were built between 1968 and 1978 have problems with leaking roofs, damp walls, leaking toilet walls, slabs, etc. On top of that, the 2001 earthquake caused severe structural damage to these buildings.

In a letter to the alumni, the director of the IIM-A, Prof Errol D’Souza, justified the demolition and construction of new dormitories that will increase the housing capacity of the campus from 500 to 800, as per the tender. In the letter, he also questioned Kahn’s distinctive exposed brick structure, calling the bricks below average. Because the concrete cladding was not used to protect the reinforcement bars embedded in the masonry, the bars rusted and the masonry cracked, he wrote.

Designed by Louis Kahn on the old campus. (Photo Express: Nirmal Harindran)

What is the new offer of the IIM-A and the controversies surrounding it?

The institute has invited an architecture and design expression of interest (EOI) for the “ comprehensive student housing design on the main campus ”, a five-year two-phase project likely to begin in the middle of 2021 with 60-80% dormitories (nearly 600 rooms) followed by student accommodation of nearly 200 rooms in the second phase which is expected to start in mid-2024. The institute aims to add 50 to 60 percent (nearly 300 rooms compared to to the existing 500) additional rooms with efficient use of space.

This, even as well-known Mumbai conservation architects Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SNK) were working on an ongoing restoration project on campus that included the 18 dormitories, Vikram Sarabhai library, faculty and administration block, and building of the classrooms. SNK won the restoration competition in 2014 and was “unaware” of the new offer. Conservation architects had restored dormitory D-15 as a sample in 2017 which the institute deemed “unsatisfactory,” as per the tender.

The tender was issued on December 4th, just a week after SNK’s founder Brinda Somaya gave a virtual presentation at CEPT University on “The Restoration of IIM-Ahmedabad: Continuity and Change”. In her talk, the recording of which was read from this article, Somaya also talks about how Kahn’s spaces “supported and promoted easy personal interaction and provided inspiration”.

Louis Kahn, IIM Ahmedabad Louis Kahn, Louis Kahn buildings, Who is Louis Kahn, Indian Express The IIM-Ahmedabad dormitory. (Photo Express: Nirmal Harindran)

In his letter, D’Souza also questioned Kahn’s central theme that revolved around the concept of “meeting”. “In today’s world our experience is that students hardly use these shared spaces as they gravitated to virtual modes of interaction,” the alum wrote in the 11-page letter marked with pictures of the damaged parts of said dorms.

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What does demolition mean for the IIM-A?

For architecture students, tearing down Kahn buildings also means defeating everything that stands for restoration and conservation. Alumni also expressed concern over the loss of Kahn’s cultural and architectural heritage, some even saying that this will cause the campus to lose its central theme of “meeting and socializing”.

Contrary to the tender document which says that all 18 dorms must be demolished, the e-mail sent by the director of the institute states that “after much caution” it was decided to restore dorms from 15 to 18. These are the long ones the cricket ground which have been the backdrop for all the usual group photos that create lot after lot memories for years.

Furthermore, the IIM-A symbolizes the best example of public-private participation (PPP), built with the collaboration of space scientist Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, eminent industrialist and philanthropist Kasturbhai Lalbhai, and the support of the then prime minister. Dr. Jivraj Mehta who brought together central and state governments, local industrialists, the Ford Foundation and Harvard Business School to found the institute.

Louis Kahn, IIM Ahmedabad Louis Kahn, Louis Kahn buildings, Who is Louis Kahn, Indian Express IIM Campus in Ahmedabad. (Photo Express: Nirmal Harindran)

In his letter, D’Souza said for other dorms in the inner core, the architects were asked with options of “buildings that are in sync with the facade of existing dorms” and “structure in congruence with the grammar that Kahn visualized. for the campus’.

The director of the institute said that the construction committee and the board of governors discussed all issues, including questions about “why we should assume that the past is not changeable and why we should assume that future generations will evaluate things exactly at same way past generations have. We wondered whether it is appropriate for us to colonize future perceptions of living spaces. As we try to preserve the past to prevent loss, how much are we creating our imagination of the past. “

The new dorms offer attached toilets, unlike the old ones, now preferred by students. D’Souza promises alumni to offer a “contemporary spatial experience” in the new dormitories.

The new campus

To meet the institute’s expansion needs, the new campus built on nearly 40 acres with 16 dormitories, an academic block, seminar rooms, residential blocks for married students, sports complex, guest rooms was completed in 2006. Said to be in harmony with Louis Kahn’s “heritage campus”, while “avoiding mimicry”, the project was undertaken by HCP Design, Planning and Management. The two campuses separated by a busy road are connected by a subway, which passes under it. Unlike Kahn’s impressive red brick old campus, the buildings on the new campus are constructed of exposed concrete as the main building material with glazing in a combination of mild steel and wood. However, the students share that the old campus remains “more interactive” than the new one, although they add that the dorms on the new campus are “more comfortable”.