Architecture Community Rallies to Save Louis Kahn–Designed Dorms in India from Demolition
Though famed 20th-century American architect Louis Kahn did much of the work that would win him both AIA and RIBA gold medals while based in Philadelphia, the architect’s influence is truly global. Now, more than 45 years after Kahn’s death, the international architecture community has rallied to defend one of his major Indian projects—successfully saving it from demolition.
Last month, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, announced its intention to do away with 14 out of 18 student dormitories, part of a campus project started by Kahn in the 1960s and finished during the 1970s. In a letter sent out by Management Institute director Errol D’Souza to alumni on December 23, the school outlined its plan to replace the “unlivable” dorms with help from architects around the world. The letter cited the use of “second class bricks” and lingering structural damage from a 2001 earthquake as reasons why they considered the dorms unsalvageable.
Within a matter of days, numerous architecture enthusiasts organized in support of Kahn’s work on the campus. On December 30, the World Monuments Fund issued a press release urging protection of the campus’s architecture, describing it as an “exemplary group of modernist buildings” that was conceived of as a complete ensemble and thus should be preserved as such.
As an organization dedicated to safeguarding notably cultural spaces, the WMF offered to help keep all of Kahn’s buildings intact, making contact with the school “to offer its expertise and counsel on managing the challenges of maintenance and repair of these buildings in the hopes that a viable, long-lasting solution can be reached.”
A day later, an open letter to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad’s governing council was published. Among the 600-plus signatories were architects from more than 30 countries as well as three Pritzker Prize laureates. Balkrishna Doshi, a pioneering modernist and brutalist who helped forge Kahn’s connection with India, was one notable example.
The text of the letter argues that the demolition plan “seriously jeopardizes the legacy of Louis Kahn and of modernist architecture, especially in the Indian subcontinent.” The signatories also see the dorms slated for demolition as “intrinsic to the historic core of IIMA,” warning that preserving the school’s Kahn-designed classrooms, library, and administrative block but not its dorms “would destroy the architectural soul of your esteemed campus and undermine the very commendable [conservation] efforts you have undertaken.”
Between these and other strong condemnations of the demolition plan (including a Change.org petition with more than 15,000 signatures), IIMA had cause to reconsider. In a January 1 letter, the school’s chairman and members of the Board of Governors said they have withdrawn the Expression of Interest asking for new building designs and instead seek to plot a course that balances “the issues of how to cater to our responsibility to a significant legacy, the safety of those who utilize the buildings, as well as being in tune with the needs of the future.” Although further consultation with conservation experts is required to determine any next steps, the decision is surely a relief for Kahn fans around the globe. Hopefully, the way forward balances the dorms’ structural integrity with the integrity of his unparalleled vision.