Renowned British architectural historian William JR Curtis has accused the Board of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) of a lack of transparency in its decisions and urged it to think outside the box and “change the mark of its place . . . rather than deep Americanization.”
In a letter to IIMA’s director, its Governing Council and alumni on Thursday, Curtis said: “Commercial concerns can triumph over human and cultural concerns – this is ‘business today’ in the era of of ‘disaster capitalism'”. The letter came after the Board announced on Nov. 3 its decision to halt restoration work on buildings on the old campus and proceed with reconstruction.
The letter was also addressed to the International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement (DOCOMOMO), the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Committee of Critics of Architecture (CICA), at the International Conference on Architectural Quality. (ICAQ) and World Monuments Fund.
“IIMA needs to think outside the box and realize that they have an opportunity to ‘remark’ their place in relation to a great local history and tradition, rather than deep Americanization,” he said.
Referring to the latest structural report of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkie which was cited by IIMA Director Professor Errol D’Souza as the “main deciding factor” behind the decision, Curtis said state, “There is a lack of transparency in these decisions. Apparently a team of engineers from IIT Roorkee prepared a report, but the IIMA administration refuses to make it public. So as for the architectural assessment, this was done by American architects, but there is also a refusal to reveal their judgments, and even their identity. Why all this secrecy? Naturally, there is suspicion of a “white washing”.
On November 3, almost two years after IIMA witnessed strong resentment from various communities, including the children of famous American architect Louis Kahn, over its decision to remove dormitories from its old campus, D’Souza announced that the institute would discontinue restoration and take up reconstruction work, preserving Kahn’s legacy.
“So here we are again two years later defending Kahn’s masterful city of learning at IIMA against the short-term interests of the institution that houses it. Indeed, as temporary residents of a universal masterpiece, the trustees have long-term responsibilities as custodians of a heritage that must be proudly passed on to future generations,” the letter added.
IIMA’s recent announcement “makes curious reading” and that the “visionary Vikram Sarabhai, who was the main force behind the foundation, must be turning in his grave,” suggested Curtis: “It is not he wants to fossilize Kahn’s scheme, but his essential qualities, attributes and guiding principles must be respected. The challenge here is creative reuse, but in a way that respects the integrity of the original – not the utterly pointless destruction of a masterpiece replaced by a third-rate pastiche…”
Accusing the BJP government of attacking secular values and Nehruvian social projects, Curtis stated: “Under the Modi regime, crushed and grasping capitalism has flourished combined with an anti-secular and anti-democratic Hindu nationalism. The modern architecture associated with the Nehru period and with secular values and Nehruvian social projects has been attacked…”
Adding that this is a deliberate destruction of cultural memory to suit a political agenda and pander to commercial greed, he said: “A few years back there were moves to demolish the Association building from Le Corbusier’s Millowners in Ahmedabad and to ‘develop’ the land. for profit. The price of everything and the value of nothing; this is the new India under plutocracy and global capitalism.”
“Why limit yourself to the modern era? Why not change the axes at Fatehpur Sikri to suit some contemporary whim… Why not move the ceremonial lingam in the sublime Elephanta Cave to make it more easy for tourists to see on arrival? Why not play a bit with the Taj Mahal…” Curtis said, adding that IIMA is a Fatehpur Sikri of the future and should preserve in its entirety as part of the Indian and universal heritage.
Suggesting to proceed with the restoration of the buildings by adapting them intelligently and sensitively to the present and future needs, he stated that an IIMA thus restored should acquire the status of World Heritage, UNESCO Protection.
“It would be tragic if Kahn’s great work was demolished when it can certainly be restored and restored. It is so rare to find architecture of this level in any period or place in the history of architecture,” he says.