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The World Monuments Fund (WMF) is urging against the proposed demolition of parts of a modernist building complex designed by the American architect Louis Kahn in Ahmedabad, India.
Built between 1968 and 1978, the structures house a library, conference halls, teaching facilities, and dormitories for the Indian Institute of Management’s Ahmedabad campus (IIM-A). According to the Indian Express, IIM-A’s board announced its decision to raze at least 14 of 18 dorms due to structural issues, including roof leakages and damp in walls. In a letter to alumni, the institute’s director Errol D’Souza argued that the exposed bricks — a hallmark of Kahn’s style — were not properly protected, leading to cracking in the brickwork. He also contended that replacing the buildings with new dormitories will increase housing capacity on campus from 500 to 800 students.
But the WMF, an international nonprofit advocating for the conservation of cultural heritage sites, says the Kahn campus must be preserved in its entirety to protect the architect’s aesthetic and functional vision.
“The Louis I. Kahn IIM-A campus is a remarkable achievement in the development of a modern architectural pedagogic vocabulary that integrates Indian vernacular, relies on locally available building materials, and responds to the surrounding environment,” Jonathan S. Bell, Vice President of Programs at WMF, told Hyperallergic.
The complex’s design is distinctive for its arched passages and simple geometric forms, including large circles cut into the façades for window openings. The plan also represented a new model of campus organization based on the integration of different pedagogic spaces that bring educators and students together.
“Rather than focusing attention on the classrooms as the center of learning, Kahn created new opportunities for interaction across the campus, emphasizing informal gathering spaces as the locus of knowledge transfer and championing a framework for higher education that endures today,” Bell said. The Kahn campus, he added, was “symbolic of India’s newly proclaimed center of global excellence in management.”
D’Souza, however, appears to reject Kahn’s architectural notion of socialization and connection. “In today’s world our experience is that students hardly use these shared spaces as they have gravitated to virtual modes of interacting,” he wrote in his letter.
The IIM-A has issued a request for proposals from architectural and design firms for the replacement dormitories. The announcement of the new bid drew surprise and confusion as a Mumbai-based conservation firm, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SNK), had been brought on for a campus restoration project that included the 18 dormitories, Indian Express reports.
The WMF still holds hope that the institute will reverse its decision. In response to D’Souza’s structural concerns, the organization said the buildings can be restored through “thoughtful conservation” and has offered its expertise to help determine the best course of action.