Designed in 1962, IIM Ahmedabad remains as one of the most revered and celebrated works of the master architect, Louis Kahn. The administration of the IIM Ahmedabad recently announced that some of the dormitories which are the part of IIM Ahmedabad complex, are going to be demolished soon to make way for the new buildings.
This decision by IIM Ahmedabad administration has caused an outrage among many people which includes alumni, architects, urbanists, historians, conservationists and others. IIMA Director through their letter to the alumni shared a number of reasons behind this decision. The copy of the letter can be found HERE.
In a Facebook Post, Riyaz Tayyibji, architect and partner at Anthill Design, Ahmedabad, responded to the decision of IIM Ahmedabad administration to demolish the dormitories. His post mentioned the following,
It’s important to put context into perspective. To really understand the value of things, we must understand the circumstances in which they emerged, the meaning that they have held at various times as much as the meaning that they hold at present.
In 1960 the state of Gujarat was born. It was not a painless birth, severed from its most prosperous economic centre: Bombay, and facing a severe series of droughts and famine, including one that year. Its rate of development fell to 2.63%. These were hard strapped times. The resource-stricken country as a whole was growing at a (COVID like) 2.93% with steel and concrete in very short supply and largely being reserved for military and public infrastructure: those ‘temples of modern India’. You will remember that even a decade later, 1972, a shortage of steel would result in the first concrete space frame structure at Pragati Maidan. Necessity as the mother of invention they say. The next two decades would be ones of frugality and scarcity, and yet it is during this period that some of the most important works of architecture would be built in these most trying circumstances.
Frugality, scarcity and austerity would lead to an aesthetic approach that would find its own poetics. Often the life imagined in these buildings would be monastic, stripped bare, organised around absolute essentials. What then could an architect work with? The Sun? Light? Shadow? The Character of Material? the Sensuousness of Form? The Rigour of Geometry? The Sense of Weight? Gravity? Exquisite Proportion? The Generosity of Volume? In these building of tight inside spaces that reduce the total area to be built, the quality of outside spaces imagined by the architects had that ecological richness and economic simplicity. A north lawn here, a plaza there, a ramp, a canteen a ball and bat, nine nights of dancing.
If you were a student of architecture in the 90’s this is what you learnt from the buildings of that time, and none talked about this frugality in more ambitious, lofty and poetic terms than the Indian Institute of Management by Louis I Kahn. I remember the sense of wonder of realising that it is the ‘lowly toilet block’, that ‘servant space’, in the Louis Kahn Plaza that breaks the monotony of the six repetitive classrooms. Or the incompleteness of the square (The jury is still out on whether it’s a triangle to which stuff is added!) of the dormitory plan that allows the alternating plazas to interlock with the buildings. Each dormitory is different: each dormitory is the same. ORDER: that daunting word! That tapestry of Space and Form, Inside and Outside. Sensuousness and Rigour. Here good architecture is not a luxury, it can be achieved with the barest of resources.
In our consumer intensive world where the narrative of architecture has been usurped as a privilege of wealth, leisure and luxury, where projects become a showcase for the virtuoso in an orgy of material intercourse, if not masturbation, we might do well to remember a simpler time when ‘less is more’ really meant something and wasn’t a cocktail party jingle. Let us not judge this building by the excesses of our time, by the pampering that we need to ensure our over calibrated comfort. Let these building remind us of the simple pleasures of the shade, the breeze and the winter sun and god-forbid that we too may be resilient should the next earthquake, drought or famine strike, and that in that calamity we may still find the strength for poetry, art and honesty.
These buildings talk about honesty, not only that architectural honesty to fucking material… a goddamn deep human honesty, that optimistic honesty that believes that there is something that is ‘good’. No relativistic, subjective bullshit! Here there is ‘joy’ or as Kahn would say – ‘Wonder’. There may be many insignificant reasons to demolish these buildings: damp, efflorescence, seismic stresses… etc. etc. but if we need ‘reasons’ to keep the Kahn Dormitories: Hell! We are on the wrong track!
Seriously! Wrong track!
Below is the YouTube link to a lecture given by Brinda Somaya at CEPT University on the 28th of November. At this time it is clear that the restoration work is a success. UNESCO Award, Getty Foundation and ICOMOS officials being given the tour.
It is also clear from Somaya’s talk that:
a) The demonstrative project of Dorm D-15 was done in 2017, and yet she seems unaware that there are any real issues with the restoration on the 28th of November
b) The restoration of the Hostel in her opinion is a success and she and her team are expecting to complete the remaining 17 dorms contractually, though sequentially later due to logistical issues which she states quite clearly.
In his letter to the IIM Alumni today the IIM Director writes:
“We appointed an independent structural consultant who opined that the compressive and tensile stresses in the walls exceed the limits as per the coda requirements of IS:1905-1987 and that the buildings are unsafe. Halifax bars he opined do not provide any significant increase in compressive strength. The structural consultant of the conservation architect opined that the building codes referred to by the independent consultant came later and that the engineers who were involved in the construction of the campus were preoccupied with earthquake resistant buildings as Ahmedabad and Gujarat have had significant earthquakes. They concluded that the restored buildings have adequate resistance against design based earthquakes (DBE). D15 they stated will resist moderate earthquakes with limited damage and withstand severe earthquakes with significant damage. The Library, however, will in their opinion resist moderate earthquakes without any structural damage, and severe earthquakes with minor damage.”
So Somaya Kalappa Consultants were to restore the Dorm, on the basis of its success the library building was to proceed and did. And yet, for the latter the consultants are being celebrated for having done a Sterling Job, won a UNESCO award etc., while the former is now being condemned as a failure, something which on the 28th of November Somaya and Kalappa don’t seem to know about. Nor do they seem to be aware about this structural second opinion and a tender notice that is to be published on the 4th of December, a week after the talk linked below.
c) The demonstrative restoration is of Dorm D-15, which is in the WORST condition. The logic seems sound that if the restoration is successful here, then the restoration of the other dorms are a much easier proposition. And yet the IIM Director’s letter to the IIM Alumni today says that they will keep DORM D-15, 16-18. So you keep the worst one which is restored and demolish the fourteen which are in better shape. Makes perfect sense!
Besides, is it being suggested that there is no retrofitting possible to make the dormitories safe!!!! Seriously!!!!?
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