“The supreme point is safety…the IIMA Board is very clear about that”

Almost two years after the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) faced opposition from various sections, including the sons of famous American architect Louis Kahn, over its decision to remove dormitories from its old campus, the principal of the institute, Professor Errol D’Souza announced on Thursday that the institute will not take up any other restoration work, but will rebuild dormitories, teachers’ blocks and classroom complex, maintaining the legacy of Kahn.

In an interview with Ritu Sharma, D’Souza shares more details about the decision. Excerpts:

Has the consensus of the institute of all the communities that opposed its decision in December 2020 been reached?

We have heard from various voices…the supreme point is people’s safety. No one will argue about that. We want to continue the legacy as much as possible, which we have done for a long time…the Board is very clear about that. He has listened to all voices… We have shared the details of the decision with those concerned… with experts who have participated with us… We will publish them on the web.

Has the Board of Governors shared the decision with Louis Kahn’s children, since they were the ones who expressed strong resentment?

We understand your feeling. In fact, we feel more than them while living on campus. None of us want anything… to affect anyone’s life. I think they will understand this decision. The data will speak for itself. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say we should continue with a structure that is not safe.

Was the decision delayed due to the resentment witnessed in 2020?

No. It actually gave us the opportunity to do more work… we went to more experts, we did more reviews. Let’s keep all this new data on the table… The idea was to continue the restoration process as long as possible, but now it’s security. There is nothing you can do to restore.

IIT Roorkie report is the main deciding factor. They’ve been working for a few months on this and they’ve been on campus doing structural testing…they were involved with us for three years…

Will bedrooms 1-14 be completely demolished?

Yes, bedrooms 1-14 would be rebuilt… We would like to keep Louis Kahn’s legacy.

How are these old campus dorms currently being used?

Nobody stays there. Bedroom 15 is used as a downstairs archive and some individual offices. It’s like a reuse because we don’t have any students staying in the dorms because of the security issue. This year, when we started, we moved everyone to the new campus.

Will the capacity of the new dormitories be increased with the increase in the number of seats over the years leading to accommodation problems?

No…it will all be to maintain the narrative of Louis Kahn’s legacy. Even if it means fewer students, we’re fine. If you look at D-15, after the restoration, it had fewer rooms. We went back to Louis Kahn’s original drawings in which the ground floor had no students. So we took them out… we’re very conscious of the legacy and that will continue to drive us… people around the world should recognize that we’ve not gone blindly in what we’ve done. We have managed the process very carefully over the years. Unfortunately, it has not been properly seen or heard.

How is D-15 different from the other dorms since we’re keeping it as such while rebuilding all the others?

It’s no different. We restored it and got a result. What we’re saying is, don’t touch it right now. Let it remain as the library was restored… The moment it is not structurally safe, we will not use it… from now on let it be a legacy that this is the kind of campus architecture.. .A lot of history has happened including the entire restoration project. We didn’t ask the panel to do any new tests…we’ll run those tests at some point and find out.

Will the rebuilt bedrooms 1-14 be the same layout and height?

I can’t say those details now… All we’re saying now is that it’s not safe to continue… the restore isn’t working, so we have to rebuild. We’d like to keep the legacy going… But I’m agnostic because let’s say a designer comes in and gives us stuff that really fits with Louis Kahn’s legacy… it could happen. So no one can say.

What are these initial ideas?

The initial ideas were very clear: safety, safety, safety. Then we can continue the legacy. We want to continue the Louis Kahn narrative…when the RFP (request for proposal) comes out, we’ll know those answers.

How much money has been spent on the restoration work, so far?

It’s been happening for almost 20 years now. I don’t have that data…Cost was never an issue…we always said we would do everything we could to maintain that legacy and we have. Even now we don’t look at the cost. We are very security conscious… At some point if cost becomes the most important thing we may start to consider.

Where did this great funding come from?

It was corporations like TCS that made the library. Some of them were internal funds, some from other companies or alumni… We believe that people will support the journey when they see the growth.

How much construction work has been done on the new campus?

Many have been completed. We hope to open in a couple of months. It was delayed due to Covid.

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