Interior of IIMA by Louis Kahn

IIMA renews plans to demolish Louis Kahn dormitories

Dormitories designed by American architect Louis Kahn are again under threat of demolition with the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad backtracking on its decision not to demolish them.

The Indian management school is set to demolish and replace a cluster of brick dormitories despite withdrawing its original plans to replace them with new buildings following an international outcry in 2020.

Exterior of IIMA by Louis Kahn
Louis Kahn's dormitories at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad are under threat of demolition

According to the governing board of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), the decision to end restoration works again is due to "a safety concern" for residents.

It recently announced that consultations with engineers from IIT Roorkee and an undisclosed group of restoration experts found the buildings to be "uninhabitable" and in need of replacing.

"Temporary solutions" no longer an option

"The board consulted industry experts and discussed the issue for several months before making this decision regarding the reconstruction of parts of the old campus," the IIMA board's letter states.

"The safety of our people is our primary responsibility, and with that in mind, the board felt there was a need to address this issue rather than opt for temporary solutions such as restorations, which had been attempted but were not as effective."

The IIMA Board claimed that the dormitories will be reconstructed to pay homage to Louis Kahn's original architecture while meeting "the functional needs" of residents.

However, British architectural historian William JR Curtis has described the decision as an opportunity for "a skin-deep Americanisation" of the campus, reported The Indian Express.

IIMA board accused of "secrecy"

Curtis has also accused the board IIMA of a "lack of transparency" over its decisions, claiming that the report from the consultations with experts has not been made public.

"Apparently a team of engineers from IIT Roorkee prepared a report, but the IIMA administration is refusing to make this public," Curtis said.

"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'."

Curtis is not the only industry figure to have publicly responded to the decision. On Twitter, Bartlett School of Architecture professor Sophia Psarra called on the industry to "share and resist destructions to heritage caused by neoliberal projects".

Founder of Bennetts Associates Rab Bennetts said Kahn's work "remains relevant", adding that the decision "is sad news and I hope a solution can be found".

Work on IIMA began in 1962, before reaching completion in 1974, which was the same year that American architect Kahn died.

In 2021, the school's board said it had abolished its plans to demolish the buildings after an eruption of protests. At the time, Curtis described Kahn's contribution to the campus as "one of the outstanding works of the time, of any time" in an article for the Architectural Review.

The IIMA dormitories are among the many ageing heritage buildings threatened by demolition around the world today.

One of the styles often most at risk is brutalism, the term for architecture with bold monolithic forms cast from exposed concrete. In an interview with Dezeen, director of the Twentieth Century Society Catherine Croft said developers are often to blame for the purge of these buildings.

The photography is by Edmund Sumner.