Architectural voices from around the world write in support of preserving Louis Kahn’s campus at IIM Ahmedabad

Buildings Which Sing

Architectural voices from around the world write in support of preserving Louis Kahn’s campus at IIM Ahmedabad

A portion of the original campus of IIM Ahmedabad, designed by Louis Kahn (Klaus-Peter Gast)

Last month, AN shared news about significant anticipated changes to the original campus of IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA) designed by Louis I. Kahn with Indian architects B.V. Doshi and Anant Raje. Since then, voices from around the world have voiced their concerns via social media, news media, and in direct letters to IIMA leadership. AN has reviewed communications from the last two forms of protest. In the spirit of broadening the conversation about the decision to rebuild and renovate Kahn’s work, excerpts from these ongoing efforts (unedited and shared with permission of the authors) are included below.

HCP responded to AN’s inquiry to confirm its prior work on the overall campus. IIMA has not responded to multiple requests for comment by AN. AN has reached out to India’s Council of Architecture and the Indian Institute of Architects for comment but has not yet received replies.

(Klaus-Peter Gast)

Rajnish Wattas, author, critic, and former principal of the Chandigarh College of Architecture, as published in The Tribune on December 3

Luminaries are lamenting this mindless ‘bulldozer’ and ‘wrecking ball’ approach to modern icons in the name of making room for new, slick and glossy pastiches of shallow architecture devoid of a great, timeless soul.

Can we ever imagine the dreamy spires of Oxford or Cambridge being pulled down to make room for utilising more floor area ratio (FAR) or sprucing up the old moss-laden stone facades for more tacky, glossy, new-age claddings?

So marvelous are the present-day techniques of conservation architects and other related experts in adaptive reuse of old buildings that while retaining their external authenticity, they are retrofitted with the best of amenities inside. And Indian structural engineers are none behind the world’s best to shore up some merely 60-year-old buildings!

At the time of Independence, India had only colonial edifices built in eclectic, neo-classical styles or some art deco buildings in big cities. In a great act of farsightedness, it invited two world-famous masters — Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn — to come and build.

While Corbusier went on to raise buildings in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad, Louis Kahn — then designing the Assembly building of the new capital city of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) — came to design the IIM. Inspired by the presence of these two masters, many young, talented Indian architects like BV Doshi, Achyut Kanvinde, Charles Correa and Raj Rewal, also took leaps of faith and returned home to participate in the great adventure of building in a free India. They brought with them a unique combine of nationalism and internationalism.

No wonder, the recently concluded exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, titled ‘Projects of Independence: Architectures of Decolonisation in South Asia’ had the largest display from India. These projects ushered in an era of independent India finding its architectural voice and idiom. They merit conservation and celebration. Not bulldozers.

Robert McCarter, Ruth and Norman Moore Professor of Architecture, Washington University in St. Louis

The IIMA Campus is not only the greatest work that was largely realized during the lifetime of its architect, Louis Kahn, but it is recognized as one of the foremost examples of modern architecture appropriate to its place and function. More importantly for those who have been privileged to live and work there, the IIMA Campus has housed generations of students and faculty, becoming a place of collective memory, and inspiration for the future. As the author of two books on Louis Kahn and a professor who has taught classes on Kahn’s work to generations of architecture students from around the world, I can say unequivocally that the IIMA Campus is one of the true landmarks of modern cultural world history, and therefore it belongs to us all.

In a time when the necessity to stop global warming and climate change through the preservation and maintenance of existing building complexes, rather than the untenable and unsustainable demolition of buildings and concomitant loss of their embodied energy, the current proposal to demolish Kahn’s IIMA Campus is nothing short of madness. Today people around the world are well aware that demolition and new building, rather than preservation and appropriate and sensitive restoration, is unsustainable by any definition of the word. Destruction of the IIMA Campus would constitute a criminal act against cultural history and against the global climate.

(Klaus-Peter Gast)

Victoria Newhouse, The Architectural History Foundation

Jean-Louis Cohen, David DeLong, David Friedman, Barbara Miller Lane, and Marvin Tractenberg all teach, or have taught, at major institutions in the U.S. They share the opinion that demolition of the IIM in Ahmedabad would be a prime act of architectural barbarism: destruction of a major work of one of the greatest architects of the mid-20th century.

Their feeling is that this is more than a collection of buildings, but rather a collective entity that unites architecture and the spaces in between. It provides a collective memory for generations.

Here in New York City MoMA has recently exhibited the fine work done on the subcontinent in the early 1970s. Visitors to the exhibition were shocked by the fact that Raj Rewal’s and Mahendra Raj’s superb Hall of Nations in New Delhi, together with Rewal’s nearby Nehru Memorial Museum were both demolished. It seems as if India is on a fast track to obliterating its finest architecture. This is something that the Peoples’ Republic of China followed after the country’s political revolution–a path it came to bitterly regret.

Kathleen James-Chakraborty, professor of art history, University College Dublin

Once again the buildings at IIMA are under threat.  My study of them formed the foundation of a career in which I have thankfully achieved great professional success.  It also introduced me to India, a country to which I have returned frequently since and of which I am now an overseas citizen.  In my Masters thesis and subsequent publications, I was able to demonstrate, in scholarship that has been extended by Dr. Amit Srivastava of the University of Adelaide, that these buildings were the result of a collective effort that included two of the world’s most celebrated architects, Louis Kahn and Balkrishna Doshi, as well as one of India’s great teachers of architecture, Anant Raje, and the leadership of IIMA, not to mention the many brickmakers and masons, among others, who worked on the site.  The result has shaped much of the best institutional architecture erected across India and also Bangladesh ever since.  It also had a profound impact on Kahn’s later career and on the work of the many architects from around the world who appreciated his ability to make modernism appear timeless and appropriate to its place.  This is something he specifically learned to do in India, thanks above all to Doshi’s tutelage.

All buildings age, some more gracefully than others.  All buildings need serious work at about the mid-century mark.  The flaws in these buildings result largely from IIM’s original insistence that most of the construction budget flow straight into the pockets of semi-skilled workers.  But they are not beyond repair, as India’s finest conservation architects have already demonstrated.  Demolishing them would erase the opening chapters in the distinguished history of IIM and the places that shaped the first and extremely distinguished generations of its students, who have brought Indian and IIMA such fame and contributed so much to India and indeed the world’s growing prosperity.  These buildings are also a key example in post-independence India of what is now termed sustainable design, as they were intended to be built as much as possible using local materials and in a way that would not require expensive cooling systems.

(Klaus-Peter Gast)

Laurent Solomon, honorary president of the French Society of Architects; former architect council of the French State; professor emeritus of the National School of Architecture of Normandy; visiting professor at the School of Architecture, Urban Planning and Engineering of the Politecnico di Milano

Today, the time has come to think systematically about the legitimacy of destroying. Climatic conditions recommend that we always focus on transformation over destruction in the name of the carbon footprint of buildings.

This is a first topic that concerns your decision to destroy the IIMA designed by architect Louis Kahn for Vikram Sarabhai and commissioned in 1961, 61 years ago. This duration is nothing for a masterpiece that is not a simple “consumer good”.

Beyond a mess as tangible as it is immaterial, it would be good if all the members of the governing board thought about their personal responsibility in this process aimed at the destruction of this work. There are two very different ways to enter history: as a builder or as a destroyer. To the entire cultural community around the world, it is obvious you are not making the right choice.

Because destroying this work is an insult to its founder, and insulting Vikram Sarabhai in Ahmedabad is a decision with serious consequences. It is also to make your name bear the guilt of this insult as much as that of the destruction of an international monument.

Nicholas Ray, emeritus reader in Architecture, University of Cambridge; emeritus fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge; honorary visiting professor, University of Liverpool School of Architecture

The embodied energy in any large complex of twentieth-century buildings, employing concrete and brick, is considerable.  World-wide, in the face of catastrophic global warming, architects should refuse in principle to engage in this activity, but seek ways of rendering the buildings usable for future generations.  This will involve retaining as much of the existing fabric as possible.  And clients should not instruct their architects to behave in an environmentally irresponsible way.  The message that you send to the world in doing so does no justice to your institution – surely you make your students aware of the ethical implications of decisions such as this?

When the buildings in question are recognised as being of international significance as works of architecture, the idea of demolition is even more unjustifiable.  I write from a collegiate university whose continuing academic standing is bound up with the qualities of its architecture, much of it dating back many hundreds of years.  We build new buildings where essential, but In each generation, architects are charged with the responsibility of making sense of the fabric they inherit and how they do so creates the legacy for succeeding generations.  This is not mere sentimentality: you would find it to be the case in all institutions of national or international standing that possess buildings of high architectural quality.  Destroying your architectural legacy will destroy your reputation in every respect.

José Manuel Pozo, architect PhD, School of Architecture, University of Navarre

I dedicate my efforts to teach students to look carefully at history, because I’m convinced without it it is not possible to move forward……

And now I get the news that the demolition project of the && designed by Kahn is underway; I want to believe that this nonsense is being fought against, which is for me as if someone dared to demolish the Eiffel Tower or something similar….

Kahn’s architecture has been for my generation, all time during my studies at the School of Architecture, a constant reference that illuminates so far my teachings and my advice to students.

I am sure that the building will have problems, as we have here with the cathedral and old churches, and palaces,… but we never think of demolishing, but of carefully reinforcing and saving.

(Klaus-Peter Gast)

Klaus-Peter Gast, German architect working in India

In 1956 the great visionary Industrialist Vikram Sarabhai together with the Harvard Business School and state authorities started the grand idea of creating the best school for management in India. Finished in 1975 the building complex gained enormous attention and recognition in the architectural world but also by its teachers and students.

Generations of students have left the campus for a successful career and still share their wonderful memories in the media of having studied in this exceptional environment.

Kahn’s unique layout of the buildings forms a complex spatial pattern of voids and masses on different levels in a distinct geometrical order never achieved otherwise. This outstanding composition needs to be restored and preserved in its original condition because it belongs to India’s great cultural heritage!

Richard England, Maltese architect

The international architectural community has been informed of the regretful decision to demolish the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad, a work that must surely rank among the great architect Louis Kahn’s masterly works. The proposal to demolish such an iconic 20th century architectural masterpiece is no more than an absurd and destructive proposition. The educational leaders of one of India’s most prestigious educational institutions surely cannot contemplate such a destructive act. On the contrary, it is their solemn duty to ensure that a work of such architectural merit is cared for and saved. The IIMA building features as one of India’s most iconic modern edifices together with the works of Le Corbusier and those by eminent local architects Rewal, Correa and Doshi. In Paul Valery’s ‘Eupalinos the Architect’ Eupalinos refers to “buildings which are mute, others which speak and the rarer ones which sing”. All of these are amongst the rare ones which sing, and it is therefore the solemn duty of Indian authorities to ensure that they are cared for and saved.

(Klaus-Peter Gast)

Conrad Thake, architect and associate professor at the University of Malta

This is an iconic building complex that deserves to be celebrated and safeguarded as a world heritage site. Louis Kahn’s architectural legacy has significant international resonance that goes well beyond the frontiers of India. As a lecturer in architectural history at the University of Malta every year I deliver a lecture on the works of Louis Kahn to the art history and architectural students and I highlight the architectural significance and merits of Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad to the students. I shudder in trepidation that next year I may be constrained to add an infamous caption to my slides stating that this was demolished in 2023 by the local authorities.

Henri Ciriani, architect

C’est avec angoisse et amertume que j’ai reçu l’information d’une éventuelle destruction des édifices du lndian Institute of Management, œuvre capitale de l’architecte Louis Kahn, ensemble qui fait déjà partie de l’histoire de l’architecture et qui a illuminé des générations d’architectes.

On ne peut qu’espérer que notre appel pour une reconsidération de cette tragique décision trouve une réponse favorable de votre part qui vous permette de convaincre les autres responsables de l’Institut et l’on puisse ainsi assurer la sauvegarde de cet indispensable œuvre du patrimoine mondial.