Historic Buildings Designed by Louis Kahn Set to be Destroyed... Again

After a U-turn on demolition plans in 2021, the site’s fate is once again in question.

Design
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A cluster of buildings designed by famed architect Louis Kahn in Ahmedabad, western India, is set to be demolished. According to reports, the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), will “reconstruct” and “remodel” the faculty blocks, classroom complex, and dorms, which were completed in 1974 – the same year that the American architect died.

The original plan to demolish this section of the Kahn-designed red brick complex was announced in 2020, with the institution citing damage caused by earthquakes and storms being beyond repair. But shortly after, an international outcry from the architecture industry prevented it from going ahead. Protests were largely led by UK-based publication Architectural Review, which launched a petition to save the buildings, garnering over 19,665 to date. At the time, Historian William JR Curtis penned a piece for the publication, describing IIMA’s decision to “smash up their own home” as “cultural vandalism”.

He continues:

“In recent communications with the director and board of IIMA I have accused the organization of cultural vandalism and suggested that this can only harm the institution’s international reputation. Smashing up a world-class building which is in fact part of our collective heritage is scarcely the best way to endear oneself to the world community.”

The U-turn on the original demolition plans was announced on January 1, 2021. In response to the op-eds, protests and online signatories, the school’s board of governors shared a letter in which they cited the response to the decision as being a “reminder” of the building’s cultural legacy. “You have sought to remind us that the dormitories designed by Louis Kahn are a cultural legacy and that these buildings are to be seen as an integral part of the ensemble of buildings that constitute the campus,” they said. “We are acutely cognizant of the place that the institute and its architecture occupy in the larger community, and of the responsibility that comes with being custodians of the legacy that Louis Kahn bestowed on us.”

However, less than two years later, that reminder seems to have been forgotten, and once again – the buildings are faced with the same fate. According to The Print , IIMA director Erol D’Souza last week sent an email to alumni in an email stating that restoration efforts had not turned out to be successful, and that reconstruction was instead needed in order to make the buildings “seismologically safe”. D’Souza cites a report from a team of structural engineers, restoration experts, and architects as being the tipping point of arriving at this decision – which essentially states that the work needed to preserve the architecture is not feasible.

Once again, JR Curtis has clapped back at the announcement: “You have been working with one of the best restoration teams in the world and they are confident that they can continue and complete the good work,” he wrote in an email obtained by The Print. “Please follow this path rather than the negative and nihilistic path of demolition followed by the construction of lesser, far lesser, buildings.”

Other institutions have followed suit in calling out the decision, such as the Vitra Design Museum, which posted an image of the building on Instagram along with a caption urging followers to share and dispute the decision publicly. If the last turn of events is anything to go by, the future of Kahn’s buildings may be the subject of debate for quite some time.

For more architecture, head to the mountainous Huairou District of Beijing, where architecture studio NSAAA (also known as Narrative Space) has completed a home that aims to create a sense of being at one with the natural world.

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