In the wake of the recent controversy erupting around the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad putting up an Expression of Interest (EoI) for rebuilding some of the dormitories designed by Louis Kahn, the business school's board of governors (BoG) is now looking to re-evaluate its options.
Writing to "stakeholders" of IIM Ahmedabad, the Chairman and the board of governors have said that 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".
"We are sensitive to the feedback from some stakeholders who are not in agreement with this approach. We are therefore withdrawing the Expression of Interest that was put out," the IIM-A board's letter stated.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Kahn, an exponent of exposed brick architecture, had built 18 dormitories around the Louis Kahn Plaza (LKP), which comprises the Vikram Sarabhai Library, faculty and administrative blocks as well as classrooms. However, following gradual wear and tear as well as some structural damage due to the 2001 earthquake, IIM-A took up the restoration work of these buildings.
The B-school held a competition in 2014 to grant the restoration and updation work of all of Kahn’s buildings, including the Vikram Sarabhai library, faculty and administrative blocks and classroom buildings. Mumbai-based firm Somaya & Kalappa Consultants (SNK) Consultants won the contest. The library’s restoration, in fact, bagged the Unesco Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage and was widely appreciated for its conservation work.
However, the 18 dorms (D1 to D18) have been facing problems like leakages and dampness in walls, apart from the damage caused by the earthquake. Barring Dorm 15, which has been restored, and 16-18, which will be restored, the others are in the inner core.
After unsatisfactory results from restoring one of the 18 dorms that have undergone dilapidation and structural deterioration over a period of time, IIM Ahmedabad had put out an EoI with an aim to rebuild around 14 dorms. The move had, however, drawn flak from Indian and international architectural communities and structural experts who raised concerns over potential damage to Kahn's legacy.
The board has now written to all its stakeholders acknowledging the sentiments and concerns shared with the institute. "We are acutely cognizant of the place that the institute and its architecture occupy in the larger community, and of the responsibility that comes with being custodians of the legacy that Louis Kahn bestowed on us," it said in the letter.
The board informed through the letter that not only bricks used in building these dorms have grown brittle and weak, but load bearing areas also have become vulnerable, along with the masonry being damaged by collection of water. Moreover, the reinforcement bars are not protected by concrete casing, in addition to the 2001 earthquake causing extensive damage.
As the buildings got increasingly unsafe, the institute invited international restoration consultants Peter Inskip and Stephen Gee who advised restoration of one of the dorms on an experimental basis first. Following this, IIM-A engaged SNK and restored Dorm 15 and the library. Later, an independent structural consultant opined that the restored dorm was unsafe to live. The structural consultant of the conservation architect on the other hand opined that the dorm will resist moderate earthquakes with limited damage but there will be significant damage with severe earthquakes.
"Overall, the expert opinions we have received have not satisfactorily allayed our concerns about the long-term structural stability of the restored dorm. Meanwhile, the condition of the other dorms continues to deteriorate – there are slabs falling from the roof of the dorms with potentially damaging consequences for the safety of the residents," the board informed IIM-A's stakeholders.
While IIM-A recognized that it has a cultural legacy, especially of the legendary American architect Kahn to nurture, there could be "no compromise on the safety of the residents" of the dorms.
As a result, taking into account expert opinions, consultations with a range of other stakeholders and balancing all considerations, a blended approach was considered by IIM-A. This resulted in the core of the Louis Kahn buildings comprising the library, the faculty wings, and the class room complex as well as the dorms on the periphery of the complex (Dorms 16-18) being restored, while the other dorms would be reconstructed.
Following this, the EoI was put out, after deep deliberations at the Building Committee and Board of Governors over the last few years, the letter stated.
But now, with several eminent architects, structural experts and historians from around the world including Kahn's children -- Sue Ann Kahn, Alexandra Tyng and Nathaniel Kahn as well as British architectural historian William JR Curtis expressing their concerns, IIM-A has withdrawn the EoI for reconstruction of the other dorms.
"We seek your support as we try to find the best answer to the issues of how to cater to our responsibility to a significant legacy, the safety of those who utilize the buildings as well as being in tune with the needs of the future," IIM-A board stated in the letter assuring communication of the future course of action in due time.