Fourteen of the 18 student dormitories designed and built by legendary American architect Louis Kahn at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad will be demolished and replaced with new buildings, The Times of India reported on Friday. Kahn, who died in 1974, is one of the world’s most revered architects.

The iconic structures were built in the 1960s and suffered damage over the years. Plans to restore the dormitories built on the old campus also known as “heritage campus” have apparently failed to yield any results.

In a 11-page letter on Wednesday to the alumni, IIM-A Director Errol D’Souza said the dorm buildings were unsafe for living now. “Our hearts have been ripped open whilst taking the call of doing all it takes to preserve the plaza of the library, the faculty wings, and the classrooms, and the dorms on the edges of the complex so that we do not lose a gift bestowed on us,” the letter said. “For a few of the dorms, however, there will be a new history that we will strive to have in a relationship of continuity with the surrounding buildings of Kahn rather than otherwise.”

D’Souza’s letter also said slabs falling from the roofs of the dormitories can have damaging consequences for those living there, according to The Indian Express. “Over the past couple of decades, the buildings have undergone dilapidation and structural deterioration,” he wrote.

The director further said multiple problems in the existing structures have made it “unlivable”, wondering if it was appropriate to “colonise future perceptions” of living spaces.

“We have grappled with questions as to why we should presume that the past is not changeable and why we should assume that future generations will value things in exactly the same way that past generations have. In today’s world, our experience is that students hardly use these shared spaces as they have gravitated to virtual modes.” 

— IIM-A Director Errol D’Souza. [Source: The Indian Express]

D’Souza’s letter to the institute’s alumni was sent a day before the deadline for submission of Expression of Interest to select a firm that will design the new buildings to accommodate more students. Currently, the dormitories can house 500 students and the plan is to build 800 rooms in a new hostel complex, reports said.

The decision by the institute’s administration to demolish the buildings was taken even as Mumbai-based Somaya and Kalappa Consultants were working to restore it, according to The Indian Express. Last year, the firm got a UNESCO award for its library restoration work on the campus. Somaya, one of the founders of SNK, said they were not aware of the decision.

‘Erasure of history itself’

Meanwhile, architecture experts, students and faculty have criticised the decision to bring down Kahn’s iconic work on the campus.

Rabindra Vasavada, one of the first architects to join Kahn as an assistant in the 1960s, said the decision was an erasure of history itself. “Kahn was always in search of the roots of institutions,” he added. “In this case, it was an institution of learning. He saw every student as a disciple. That value was enshrined in every dormitory, where 10 of them lived together. Out of their classrooms, the dormitories were a space where people could get together to share ideas, without any sense of exclusivity.”

Ahmedabad-based architect Riyaz Tayabji said the buildings represent “great architectural sophistication”. “Their sheer frugality in a time of sparse means showed us that great architecture is not a luxury but could be achieved with the barest of resources,” Tayabji added.