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Who is Louis Kahn and Why is IIM Ahmedabad Tearing Down the 'Iconic' Dormitories He Built in 1962?

The Indian Institute of Management's Ahmedabad campus was built in 1962 by renowned American architect Louis Kahn | Image credit: PTI

The Indian Institute of Management's Ahmedabad campus was built in 1962 by renowned American architect Louis Kahn | Image credit: PTI

At least 14 of the 18 student dormitories located in the 'old campus' of Indian Institute of Management premises in Ahmedabad are set to be torn down.

An iconic college dormitory built by legendary American architect Louis Kahn is on the verge of being torn down, causing outrage among students, architects, and art enthusiasts in India.

At least 14 of the 18 student dormitories located in the "old campus" of Indian Institute of Management premises in Ahmedabad are set to be torn down to make room for a newer dormitory that can house more students. The decision, however, has been met with outrage, with many opposed to the idea of tearing down the "heritage" building, The Indian Express reported.

The opposition is due to the fact that the building was built by renowned architect Louis Kahn in the 1960s.

Who is Louis Khan?

Born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky, Louis Kahn was born in what was then the Russian empire and later emigrated to the United States in 1906. At the time of his death in 1974, Kahn was regarded by many as the greatest living American architect. Kahn, who formed his own atelier in 1936, has been credited with fusing Modernist styles of architecture with the dignity and grandeur of ancient architecture to create new, more stoic and yet weighty edifices that came to define much of 20th-century architecture. His signature "exposed-brick" structures used geometric compositions and exemplary use of light and space, are famous around the world.

Kahn had been invited to India by IIM-A founder and space scientist Vikrant Sarabhai.

Why is IIM-A tearing down the legendary dormitories?

According to reports, the dorms are being torn down to increase rooms for students and to remodel to old building to prevent damage. The dormitories currently house 500 students but the new plan includes housing for 800 student dorms. IIM-A Director Professor Errol D’Souza who is leading the remodeling said on Wednesday that the plan was also to fix the structural problems in the building which the director deemed unsafe for residents. In a letter written to IIM-A Alumni, the director explained that the remodeling was inevitable as the buildings were "unliveable". According to experts, the building had also suffered damage during the 2001 Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat. The new hostels will include attached bathrooms and increased amenities for students, the director assured.

Why are architects opposed to the remodeling?

The IIM-A campus has been known to be one of the most exemplary modern buildings in the country. In 2017, the then IIM-A director Ashish Nanda had announced that IIM-A had started restoration work. As per a report in Mint in 2017, the institute had approached a UK-based firm that specialized in restoration and advisory work on Louis Kahn buildings and the latter even made suggestions for a proposed restoration plan. Mumbai-based conservation architects firm Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SNK) had reportedly won a competition to restore several parts of the IIM-A campus including the 18 heritage dormitories and the Vikrant Sarabhai library. In a December 4 notice, however, their firm was informed that a restored dorm in the Kahn building which had been finished as a sample in 2017 was deemed 'unsatisfactory'. The Indian Express reported that SNK had been unaware of another restoration bid until the tender appeared on December 4 this year.

According to critics, the tearing down of the buildings is directly in contradiction to the spirit of conservation and restoration. Preserving heritage buildings is an intrinsic part of conserving living history and forging alternate sources of history to gain insight and understanding of the cultural practices, ideas, and art of a certain period of time.