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The Kahn family speaks out as the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad remains threatened

Not Done Yet...

The Kahn family speaks out as the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad remains threatened

A panorama of the main complex at the the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, across from Louis Kahn Plaza. (Lauri Kymäläinen/Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

While the demolition of 18 Louis Kahn-designed dorms at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) was ultimately withdrawn after widespread international outcry, that isn’t the end of things. In their January 1 letter, the IIMA’s board of governors claimed that while they recognized the dorm buildings were a part of architecture history, they were built with substandard bricks and an independent engineering survey determined that the trial dorm building that was restored was still unsafe. Further, if the restored Dorm 15 was already at risk of failure, it didn’t bode well for the remaining 17 buildings, which, together with the Vikram Sarabhai Library and main school building, form the sprawling IIMA campus.

The survey results, the letter read, raised questions about the buildings’ seismic stability as well. The dorms, all built in the 1960s and ’70s, were designed to be passively cooled, which the IIMA claims isn’t adequate for student comfort. Dorms, 16, 17, and 18 were next to be renovated.

Recognizing that the fight to preserve the campus’s historic modernist construction has only been put on hold, not called off entirely, Kahn’s three children, Sue Ann Kahn, Alexandra Tyng, and Nathaniel Kahn, sent the following letter to IIMA director Errol D’Souza imploring him to preserve their father’s work:

Dear Errol,

Thank you for your response to our letter of December 22nd. With all due respect, we find the arguments for demolition of the dormitories at IIMA, put forward in your letter to the alumni and in your response to us, to be illogical and misleading. You attempt to make the case that the dormitories are a lost cause, yet you have already restored one of the dorms (D-15) and have announced intentions to restore three more. This is a contradictory position. Additionally, you cite that you had an independent technical assessment done regarding seismic resistance. That report should be made public. Did your excellent restoration team—a team that includes an internationally recognized seismic expert from IIT Madras and that recently won a UNESCO award for their work on IIMA’s library—respond to that report? If so, it would be very helpful to make that response public as well.

The photographs you show of the dorms in your letter to the alumni are clearly chosen to highlight problem areas, but these are exactly the kinds of conditions that were encountered and already remedied in D-15 and in the library. In fact, the first photo you show in your letter to the IIMA alumni has the number “16” above the lintel. Dormitory 16 is one of the three additional buildings that you indicate you plan to restore. Therefore, we already know that the problems illustrated can be fixed. You also take issue with the quality of the bricks used in the original construction. But these are the same bricks used in the library, and very effective measures have been developed by your restoration team to deal with the various brick-related challenges encountered.

Why not celebrate the clear success of IIMA’s conservation efforts to date by sharing photographs of the restored Vikram Sarabhai Library and dormitory D-15? Below are a few screenshots from last month’s public lecture at CEPT given by Brinda Somaya, the principal in your restoration team of Somaya & Kalappa Consultants. These before and after shots clearly show the exemplary restoration of both the library and dormitory D-15.

before and after comparison of brick restoration
A before-and-after comparison of the restoration work done at the Vikram Sarabhai Library (CEPT University/Youtube)
slide containing a 4-shot of brick restoration
Before-and-after restoration comparison of the brickwork at Dorm 15 (CEPT University/Youtube)

We, and indeed many others worldwide, find it confounding that IIMA would take such a radical course of action to destroy its heritage if the buildings can be restored successfully. If you need more student living spaces, as you indicate in your EOI, you are already building a new campus that can address that. If the problem is money, please just say so. In addition to the many IIM graduates that revere the Kahn buildings, there are organizations and individuals the world over who support the cause of preserving great architecture. If you appeal to them with a clear commitment to conservation and restoration, they can assist you.

There is one point from our initial letter to you that we must clarify: the option of making sensitive adjustments to the dormitory interiors to suit changing needs is in no way the same as tearing the buildings down and constructing something else on the same footprint. Please do not attempt to twist the meaning of what we wrote to you. You cannot retain the “grammar” of our father’s buildings if you destroy them. Period. In a recent statement to the press, you indicate that adjustment of interior spaces in the Kahn dorm buildings is problematic. But has your experienced conservation team actually studied its feasibility? If so, we request that this study be made public.

It is clear to us that the conservation process at IIMA is going well. The library restoration has won a UNESCO Award. The team is continuing their work restoring the Louis Kahn Plaza and the faculty and classroom buildings flanking it. The pilot restoration of dormitory D-15 is nearly completed. There are 17 more dormitories to go, and most of them are in better shape to start with than D-15. If adjustments and refinements need to be made along the way as you restore the dormitories, that is to be expected.

When we met you in Philadelphia in 2018, you promised to keep us apprised of the progress on your plan to conserve and restore our father’s iconic architecture. Yet you have never once reached out to us. You indicate in your letter to the alumni that you had many meetings before making the extremely serious decision to destroy the dormitories, which are the heart of Kahn’s design for your campus. But we—and the entire international community, as well as many connected with IIMA directly—seem to have been kept in the dark about your extremely consequential deliberations.

We implore you to reconsider this calamitous and irreversible decision. There are many people and organizations throughout India and the world ready to help you resolve this in a way that is beneficial to IIMA, and that also preserves the timeless work of architecture in your care. Please make use of the resources available to you. We are eager to speak directly with you and the IIMA Board. Will you please convene a meeting with us as soon as possible?

Respectfully,

Sue Ann Kahn
Alexandra Tyng
Nathaniel Kahn

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