India’s famed structural engineer, Mahendra Raj, who has worked on several projects that shaped the country’s modern architecture after Independence, shares his views on the recent controversy involving IIM-A’s plans to raze dormitories. The portfolio of Raj, now 96, includes Tagore Memorial Hall and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad; and the Hall of Nations at Pragati Maidan in Delhi. For the creation of IIM-A, he was the advisor to the structural team. The IIM-A’s red-brick campus is considered a masterpiece of Louis Kahn. The dorms on the campus had been recently deemed unsafe by IIM-A. Raj told TOI on Saturday that the IIM-A’s main campus can be saved with proper conservation. Excerpts:
What are your views on the controversy over IIM-A’s demolition plans?
When the dormitories were being built, they were designed to withstand earthquake forces as specified in the codes of that time. More than 50 years later, the buildings do need proper maintenance. I do not agree that the dormitories should be dismantled. Extensive restoration should be provided if needed.
‘Second-class bricks’ were cited to abandon conservation efforts for the dorms.
I do not agree. The bricks used across the entire campus of IIM-A were of the first class.
The 2001 earthquake is said to have caused extensive damage to the main campus. Are these dorms safe?
If the library (Vikram Sarabhai Library) could be restored successfully and win an award (from Unesco for restoration in 2019), then in my opinion it should be possible to restore the dormitories as well.
A structural consultant told IIM-A that the restored Dorm-15 is unsafe. But the structural consultant of the conservation architect said the dorm will resist moderate earthquakes. It was said that the library will withstand a severe earthquake with minor damage. What do you make of these appraisals?
I have not visited the IIM-A campus for a number of years. If there is a difference of opinion between two structural engineers, I would suggest that the buildings be inspected by a panel of minimum three structural engineers.
How are the Kahn buildings relevant today?
Some structures reflect the technology and culture of the time they were built in and attract worldwide attention. The IIM-A campus designed by Prof Louis Kahn falls into that category. The campus has been studied extensively by students of architecture and engineering since it was built in 1960s-1970s. It has attracted worldwide attention and has made significant contributions to the professions of architecture and engineering. Also, the campus is one of the most significant contributions of Prof Kahn as an architect and an important indication of the Indian engineering talent available at that time.
How do you view the decision to demolish the Hall of Nations and IIM-A’s razing proposal?
As I have stated earlier, some of these buildings made a significant contribution to architecture and engineering. As they became important markers of a time, these iconic buildings also made the nation proud. IIM-A and the Hall of Nations in Delhi fall in this category.
IIM-A aside, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium (Navrangpura) is being restored. As a professional associated with both, what’s your prognosis?
My contribution to the design of IIM-A was limited. I was an advisor to the structural team set up by National Institute of Design. In the case of the stadium, I was the prime engineering consultant and Charles Correa was the architect. The stadium is considered an iconic building. The World Monuments Fund selected it as a ‘2020 World Monuments Watch Site’. I am proud of my contribution to the making of these buildings. Like IIM-A, the stadium is more than 50 years old and would need maintenance and restoration. The World Monuments Fund has been awarded a Getty Foundation grant to develop a conservation report/proposal for the stadium in collaboration with local experts.