British architectural historian in letter: Board lacks transparency, rebrand IIM Ahmedabad, says Curtis


Renowned British architectural historian William JR Curtis has accused the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) Board of lack of transparency in decisions and urged it to think outside the box and “rebrand their place… rather than skin-deep Americanisation”.

In a letter to IIMA director, its Board of Governors and alumni on Thursday, Curtis said, “Mercantile concerns are allowed to triumph over human and cultural concerns: this is ‘business today’ in the era of ‘disaster capitalism’.” The letter came after the Board announced on November 3 its decision to stop restoration work of buildings on the old campus and go-ahead with reconstruction.

The letter was also marked to International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement (DOCOMOMO), International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), International Committee of Architectural Critics (CICA), International Conference on Architectural Quality (ICAQ) and World Monuments Fund.

“IIMA need to think outside the box and realise that they have a chance to ‘rebrand’ their place in relation to a great local history and tradition, rather than a skin-deep Americanisation,” it said.

Referring to the latest structural report by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkie that was cited by IIMA director Prof Errol D’Souza as the “major deciding factor” behind the decision, Curtis stated, “There is a lack of transparency in these decisions. Apparently a team of engineers from IIT Roorkee prepared a report, but the IIMA administration is refusing to make this public. As for the architectural assessment, this has been made by American architects, but there too there is a refusal to reveal their judgements, and even their identity. Why all this secrecy? Naturally there is suspicion of a ‘white wash’.”

On November 3, nearly two years after IIMA witnessed strong resentment from different communities, including children of famous American architect Louis Kahn, for their decision to pull down dormitories on its old campus, D’Souza announced that the institute will discontinue restoration and take up reconstruction work, keeping Kahn’s legacy.

“So here we are again two years down the line defending Kahn’s magisterial city of learning at IIMA against the short term interests of the institution housed there. In fact as temporary residents of a universal masterpiece, the administrators have long term responsibilities as custodians of a heritage that should be handed on with pride to future generations,” the letter added.

The recent IIMA announcement “makes for curious reading” and that the “visionary Vikram Sarabhai who was the main force behind the foundation, must be turning in his grave” Curtis suggested, “One does not want to fossilise Kahn’s scheme but one does need to respect its essential qualities, attributes and guiding principles. The challenge here is creative reuse, but in a manner that respects the integrity of the original; not the absolutely wasteful destruction of a masterpiece replaced by a third rate pastiche…”

Accusing the BJP government for attacking secular values and Nehruvian social projects, Curtis stated, “Under the Modi regime smash and grab capitalism has flourished combined with an anti-secular, anti-democratic Hindu nationalism. Modern architecture associated with the Nehru period and with secular values and Nehruvian social projects has come under attack…”

Adding that this is a deliberate destruction of cultural memory to suit a political agenda and to bend to commercial greed, he said, “Some years back moves were made to demolish Le Corbusier’s Millowner’s Association Building in Ahmedabad and to ‘develop’ the plot of land for profit. The price of everything and the value of nothing; that is the new India under a plutocracy and global capitalism.”

“Why be restricted to the modern era? Why not shift the axes at Fatehpur Sikri to suit some contemporary whim… Why not move the ceremonial lingam in the sublime Elephanta Cave so that it is easier for tourists to see it on arrival? Why not mess around a bit with the Taj Mahal…,” Curtis said, adding that IIMA is a Fatehpur Sikri of the future and it should be preserved in its entirety as part of Indian and universal patrimony.

Suggesting to continue to restore the buildings while adapting them intelligently and sensitively to present and future needs, he stated that an IIMA thus restored should acquire the status of Universal Patrimony of Humanity, UNESCO Protection.

“It would be tragic if Kahn’s great work were to be demolished when it can certainly be restored and refurbished. It is so rare to find architecture of this level in any period or place in the history of architecture,” he states.





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