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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

After protests, IIM-A drops plan to rebuild student dorms designed by Louis Kahn

The decision follows strong protests from many quarters, including architects, designers, historians, alumni and Kahn's children, to the plan in the past two weeks.

Written by Ritu Sharma | Ahmedabad | Updated: January 2, 2021 7:45:38 am
Louis Kahn, IIM Ahmedabad Louis Kahn, Louis Kahn buildings, Who is Louis Kahn, Indian ExpressDesigned by Louis Kahn on the old campus. (Express Photo: Nirmal Harindran)

The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) has withdrawn an Expression of Interest (EoI) floated by it on December 4 inviting bids for reconstruction of student dormitories on the main campus, designed by the legendary American architect Louis Kahn.

The decision follows strong protests from many quarters, including architects, designers, historians, alumni and Kahn’s children, to the plan in the past two weeks.

An official statement by the Chairman and Members of the Board of Governors of IIM-A to all ‘stakeholders’ of the institute said they were being “sensitive to the feedback from some stakeholders who are not in agreement with this approach”. “We are therefore withdrawing the Expression of Interest that was put out.” The statement, that added that the institute was trying to find an alternative, came two days after Kahn’s children made another appeal to not pull down the buildings.

However, governing council member and Principal Secretary, Education, Anju Sharma told The Indian Express she had no information on this. “I do not have any communication or information of such a statement issued on behalf of all members of the Board of Governors,” Sharma said.

The IIM-A statement said the board would try “to find the best answer to the issues of how to cater to our responsibility to a significant legacy, the safety of those who utilize the buildings as well as being in tune with the needs of the future”. It added that a decision would be taken after taking into consideration the feedback received, including from “the best global conservation and structural experts”.

In a letter to IIM-A Director Prof Errol D’Souza on December 30, Kahn’s children Sue Ann Kahn, Alexandra Tyng and Nathaniel Kahn had appealed that he “reconsider this calamitous and irreversible decision”, saying many people in India and abroad could help the institute find a solution that was beneficial to it and yet preserve “the timeless architecture”.

Kahn’s children had questioned the conclusion that the dormitories were “a lost cause”, given that one of them, D-15, had been successfully restored. They had also asked that a seismic technical assessment report of the building be made public.

They had earlier written to the director on December 22, expressing “shock and dismay” at the EoI issued to replace dorms, saying “the buildings in question are the heart of our father’s universally acknowledged masterpiece at IIM-A”.

The EoI had cited multiple problems in the dorms (D-1 to 18), built between 1968 and 1978, from leakages from roof and dampness in walls to major structural damages caused by the 2001 earthquake.

On Thursday, over 600 architects and academics from 118 universities in over 30 countries released a petition saying demolition of the dorms “will seriously damage the global reputation of IIM-A” and will be “an act of cultural vandalism”.

In a statement released on Friday, IIM-A Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and the Board of Governors had laid out the reasons behind the decision, taken after “deep deliberations”. “The institute recognises that it has a cultural legacy to nurture. At the same time, there can be no compromise on the safety of the residents of the dorms… (hence) a blended approach was considered appropriate. The core of the Louis Kahn buildings — the library, the faculty wings, and the class room complex — and the dorms on the periphery of the complex (Dorms 16-18) would be restored, while the other dorms would be reconstructed,” the statement had said, adding that there had been instances of slabs falling from the roof, endangering students.

Speaking to The Indian Express on December 28, Prof D’Souza, had said they could consider restoration “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”.

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