01 Jan 2021 17:11 IST

IIMA board of governors put off demolition of dorms

Will re-evaluate other options to conserve the iconic structure by Louis Kahn

After strong resistance from the global architect community and a section of alumni of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) over the demolition of dormitories, the Board of Governors on Friday announced putting off the idea of demolition and decided to re-evaluate other options for conservation of the iconic structure designed by the celebrated American architect, Louis Kahn.

In a letter to the stakeholders of the IIMA, the Chairman and the Board of Governors of the institute acknowledged the sentiment expressed their sensitivity towards the feedback received from a wide spectrum of the stakeholders, who opposed the demolition of the students dormitories.

Blended approach considered appropriate

“We are therefore withdrawing the Expression of Interest that was put out. We will deliberate on the feedback received, re-evaluate the options, consult the best global conservation and structural experts, and chart out a course of action, which the institute will communicate in due course,” the letter stated.

Notably, a group over 600 architects including Council of Architecture (COA) and academics from 118 Universities from around the world had asked the institute management to drop its proposal to demolish dormitories designed by Kahn.

It all started following the structural deterioration of the buildings including the students residences — dormitories, which was set up about five decades ago. The management had sought expert opinions and consultations with a range of other stakeholders. “Balancing all considerations, a blended approach was considered appropriate.”

Two sides

“We learned that the bricks used were what is termed “second class bricks,” which have grown brittle and weak. Load bearing areas have become particularly vulnerable. The masonry has also been damaged by collection of water. The reinforcement bars are not protected by concrete casing. The earthquake in 2001 caused extensive damage,” the letter said.

“As the buildings got increasingly unsafe, the institute invited international restoration consultants Peter Inskip and Stephen Gee who advised that we should on an experimental basis first restore one building. Based on that experience, we could decide how best to take up further work in the other buildings,” it added.

The institute had engaged conservation architects — Somaya & Kalappa Consultants and restored Dorm 15 and the Library. “On completion of the restoration experiment, an independent structural consultant opined that the restored dorm is unsafe,” the letter clarified.

The structural consultant of the conservation architect opined that the dorm will resist moderate earthquakes with limited damage. “But there will be significant damage with severe earthquakes.” The expert opinions that the institute received didn't satisfactorily allayed its concerns about the long-term structural stability of the restored dorm.

Preserving cultural legacy

Meanwhile, the condition of the other dorms continues to deteriorate with slabs falling off from the roof of the dorms with potentially damaging consequences for the safety of the residents.

“The institute recognises that it has a cultural legacy to nurture. At the same time, there can be no compromise on the safety of the residents of the dorms.” So, based on expert opinions, consultations with a range of stakeholders and balancing all considerations, a blended approach was considered appropriate.

The core of the Louis Kahn buildings — the library, the faculty wings, and the class room complex — and the dorms on the periphery of the complex (Dorms 16-18) would be restored, while the other dorms would be reconstructed. “Following this, the Expression of Interest was put out. The entire process has involved deep deliberations at the Building Committee and Board of Governors over the last few years,” the letter said.

However, after putting off the plan to demolish the dorms, the management has now sought support to find the best way out on retaining the legacy of Kahn and also ensure safety of those living in the buildings.