The Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) would go back to restoration of its dormitories if efforts to rebuild them fail, said the institute’s director, Errol D’Souza, adding that it would be a “pathetic call to make”.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Monday, D’Souza said, “Both the building committee and board members have agreed that if nothing comes out of the proposals submitted for rebuilding of dormitories as per the requirements of preserving the cultural and heritage aesthetics of Kahn, meeting the budget and required usage of space, then we will go back to restoration.”
The IIM-A has come under severe criticism for calling for bids to demolish and rebuild the 18 student dormitories designed by American architect Louis Kahn.
D’Souza, however, ruled out the possibility of implementing the suggestions for repurposing the dorms contained in letters to him from Kahn’s children — Sue Ann Kahn, Alexander Tyng and Nathaniel Kahn, and from British architectural historian William JR Curtis.
“This cannot happen due to the quality of bricks used. All the architects are suggesting this but even they are aware of this limitation. The quality of bricks does not allow us to reinforce them… it is technically not viable. I have visited several refurbished buildings put to alternate uses in other parts of the world but it cannot be implemented here,” he said.
Asked how long would the IIM-A wait before going back to the restoration plan, D’Souza said, “We would wait and continue trying for at least two-three years. After which you have to admit the failure and take this as a last call. Though it would be a pathetic call to make.”
Curtis, in two letters to D’Souza, dated December 17 and December 20, which he shared with The Indian Express on Monday, suggested that “some or all of these dorms can serve other purposes in the life of the institution”.
Expressing “shock and dismay” over the plans to replace 18 dorms with new buildings, Kahn’s children wrote, “the buildings in question are the heart of our father’s universally acknowledged masterpiece at IIMA”. They also asked D’Souza to engage with them “at this critical time”.
In a letter to the alumni dated December 23, D’Souza confirmed the institute’s decision to bring down 14 of the 18 dorms and restoring dorms 16-18. Conservation architects Somaya and Kalappa consultants had already restored D-15. The ones that were decided to be restored are on the periphery and can be seen as one enters the campus from the main gate.
The director told The Indian Express, that he had only received Curtis’s letter of December 17 and not the one of December 20, which is also addressed to the IIM-A board.
According to D’Souza, the tender notice inviting Expressions of Interest (EOI) was “not a final document” and “is only a part of the initial rounds or the first round where we want to reach out to architects which will be continued for another four to five months…. in June, a few would be selected based on their proposals.”
Curtis’s December 20 letter called the reasons listed by the IIM-A behind its decision as “false oppositions” or “pseudo problems”.
“There are two mistakes in the EOI document. One, we never wanted to reconstruct four dorms on the periphery and second, we are not going for expansion. Our decision was always to keep some dorms… we want to preserve Kahn’s legacy… we understand he was unique,” D’Souza said.
The EOI had listed the dorm capacity to be increased from 500 to 800 students.
The IIM-A floated tenders on December 4 calling for bids for construction of all 18 dormitories on the main campus while in his letter to the alumni, the institute director informed them of retaining four (15-18) dorms and bringing down remaining 14 dorms.
This caused outrage not only because Kahn’s legacy was being undermined, but also that Mumbai-based conservation architects SNK consultants was working on the restoration of the 18 dorms along with the Vikram Sarabhai library, the faculty and administrative blocks and the classroom buildings based on a competition it had won in 2014.
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