While I was gathering notes for this essay in the last week of December 2020, the discussion on the demolition took a welcome turn after the Board of Governors of IIM-A decided to put the demolition of the hostels on hold. Those engaged in the debate directly or indirectly witnessed several architects, organisations, and alumni exchange letters with the management of IIM-A appealing to save the hostel buildings, including giving directions for considerate and sensitive course of actions. Now that the matter has taken a much welcome pause, it would be worthwhile to take note of what was considered and not considered in the discussions about the proposed demolition of the hostel buildings? In this essay I will try to put forward a few known architectural ideas which were missing from the discussions and which may help in offering strategies to think about the architecture of educational campuses.
Let us list some of the key arguments that are emerging in the debates around the proposed demolition of IIM-A hostel buildings:
- The buildings are not structurally sound hence they need to be demolished to make space for new hostel buildings.
[depriving of several batches of students of living in the hostel buildings, or an important cultural experience]
- The management understands that the campus and hostel buildings are culturally and historically important. However, they need to take into consideration the unsafe conditions of the buildings. In that spirit, the management is willing to preserve some hostel buildings near the academic block and demolish the rest to make space for new hostel buildings.
[this is the trap facadism of the city beautification or heritage tourism projects where you either preserve or create a new façade made of seemingly traditional motifs only to hide the, seemingly chaotic built form behind the façade.]
- IIMs are no longer supported by state funds and hence need to consider various means to make their campus financially self-sufficient -including building new hostel buildings that are equipped with contemporary facilities and adding to their brand value.
[Certainly, institutions must figure ways to raise funds for the functioning of the institution and to promote their brand. However, there are ways more interesting and efficient than using the new hostel buildings as promotional material in the brochures and websites. This is also a discussion for a different forum.]
- The management must understand that the IIIM-A campus belongs to the larger cultural heritage of the nation and humanity at large. The IIM-A managements are the custodians of this heritage and hence should focus their efforts in preserving the hostel buildings -Including the integrity or the unity of the experience of the hostel buildings.
[this argument, although heartfelt and a much-needed feedback, reads ideologically and ontologically limiting. Primarily because it closes doors to other possibilities and imaginations for the hostel buildings.]
- The management should consider repair, retrofitting and reuse of the hostel buildings for some other and expanding institutional programs.
[This is perhaps an obvious, relevant, and progressive idea, particularly for an educational campus, considering that some buildings as they age acquire increased meaning for those who directly or vicariously engage with the buildings. Hence, the cultural significance.]
- Architectural groups, arguing against the demolition, do not understand “the client’s” requirements.
[This argument true to the extent that all human beings do not understand any other human being or any other thing. Beyond that it does not add much to the discussion. This also means that architects should consider client’s programs for their utilitarian face value and be inconsiderate to everything and everyone else.]
- The decision is a slow process and a long drawn one and several consultations, meetings and workshops have been organised by the institution to shape these decisions.
[this is a very reasonable and perhaps the most important argument from this discussion. Such decisions require time to shape in a manner that are fruitful to all stakeholders. Slow process also make it possible to take interim and incremental measures. In that sense, the suggestions for repair, retrofitting and search of alternative sties for the new hostel are welcome arguments for such projects.]
- There are few flying comments about how the campus was an upper caste, colonial, classist, imagination in some articles, which are important discussions, but they do not seem to be helping much with the debate at hand.
To summarise the arguments, it appears that the arguments are either for or against either the demolition or partial preservation of the hostel buildings. It also appears that all the arguments are also ideologically bracketed. In other words, there is a, large, grain of puritanical thinking on both sides of this debate -perhaps understandably much needed and justified to turn the tables of the discussions. However, it would be hard to deny that the debate has rendered the situation to be an either-or game.
The discussions certainly open an avenue to ask, what new ideas can be introduced such that it can help shift the frameworks of this ongoing debate? Particularly spatial and formal ideas. One particular and important idea that is missing from these debates is thinking about an architecture for a changing campus. None of the sides of the debate at the moment are conducive for the large-scale educational campus which is an evolving and changing entity. After all, it is the campus -its cultural relevance, longevity, experiential integrity along with its spatial and utilitarian relevance- is the object or what is at stake in these debates.
In this essay I will try to bring some ideas from the discipline of architecture that might help us think about change and architecture of campuses. We will consider ideas particularly developed by the members of Team-X and Aldo Rossi from 1960s, and by Lacaton and Vassal in the early 2000s. Here too I will list the ideas or arguments rather than a detailed analysis of each of the ideas.
Team-X : Mat Buildings and Open Structures
The idea of mat building was developed in the 1960s by several members of Team-X, particularly starting with Piet Blom -followed by Alison and Peter Smithson, and developed in practice by several others. Their provocation was the concern for large scale urban projects and their architecture, and their inspirations ranged from the Venice Hospital by Corbusier, Fatehpur Sikri from India (which apparently was introduced to the Smithsons by B V Doshi) to the Katsura Palace in Japan. A key project that influenced this discussion was the Richards Medical Research Labs by Louis Kahn. The key idea that emerged from here is the modular grammar of large-scale projects and the open-ended structure of these projects to either expand, shrink, or absorb new programs and intentions. One can think about the famous orphanage in Amsterdam by Aldo Van Eyeck, Several Projects by Herman Hertzberger, and so on.
An important campus project that emerged from this discussion was the proposal for the Humanities department at the Frei University in Berlin by Candilis, Josic, Woods and Schiedhelm. This is of great importance in the debate round IIM-A campus because firstly, it is an idea for thinking about an architecture for campuses and secondly because it is a large-scale campus building which is coded to absorb a wide range of new developments in the department and the campus. As is popularly known, the building has interchangeable prefabricated components right at the level of fixtures to the structural and façade components. Whether the building is truly modular in the long run is a matter for another debate. What is interesting for our reference here is how has this mat building with open structure fared with new changes over the years in dealing with changing intentions?
Firstly, the Frei University campus is a site where multiple architects have contributed designs for multiple buildings. Secondly, the Humanities building itself, the mat building, has evolved in several ways since it was completed, including a brain shaped library designed by Norman Foster. Some students have even appropriated one of the modules as a hipster café and resting place. Even with these additions and changes, the integrity of the building design is not compromised at all. In fact, if anything, these additions make the project even more interesting and lived.
The idea of open structure, where Kahn’s work is a key reference, could hold remarkably interesting possibility for the future of the campus of IIIM-A and several other campuses elsewhere. This idea transgresses the assumed binary between demolition and preservation. One can imagine new additions between the hostel buildings, almost like scaffolds or formwork for new programs and newer intentions. The great potential of this idea is in identifying and continuing the diagram / system of the building, albeit in an open ended and perhaps even in a striated manner. This is perhaps also its limitation, as it predefines a possible space all too in advance.
Aldo Rossi : Urban Artefact and Typological Framework
Contrary to the idea of Open Structure, yet similar in terms of openness of the objecthood of a building, is the typological idea of urban artefact developed by Rossi in his Architecture of the City. If you are a student of typology in architecture, you have certainly spent quite some time with Architecture of the City by Aldo Rossi. You are also aware of the key ideas from the book, particularly those concerning the urban artefact and the enduring form in the city. You also remember the intriguing images of a Colosseum transforming into a settlement, buildings accrue other buildings over decades, various economic, social, and political modes live their lives either through existing buildings or lead to the production of new buildings. Several buildings endure through several paradigmatic periods and several others are demolished to make space for newer buildings. To that extent, if you are a student of typology in architecture then, change and endurance are your friends to think about the city.
This idea of typology can be seen to be wonderfully developed in the oeuvre of Rafael Moneo, parallelly championed by Oswald Mathias Ungers and others. Particularly interesting is the idea of working towards adding to the urban form of the city. In this framework, it is not the diagram but the form –perhaps we can also use the term objecthood- of the building that is given primacy in deciding an appropriate and beautiful manner of composing the built-form. The added form corresponds with the existing built- forms not in a diagrammatic manner but analogously. What this means is that the new form need not be either similar or same to the existing built-form but has its autonomous existence while spatially engaging with existing buildings in a manner that together form a new unit of experience or new form. This differs from the open structure strategy in a way that in this case, there is no predefined diagram that one need to follow but take into account only the quality and intensity of the spatial experience that is the new additions will produce.
Lacaton & Vassal + Frédéric Druot: Never Demolish
The open-ended idea of Never Demolish developed by Lacaton & Vassal with Frédéric Druot is in many ways polemical, yet perhaps one of the most considerate ideas for urban settlements and societies of 21st century. Think of their most popular project ‘Transformation de la Tour Bois le Prêtre’ where they not only proposed to save the social housing from demolition, but also developed an architectural strategy to add more space to the existing apartments while never displacing a single occupant. Not only that they also convinced the clients that with the money that they will save by not demolition and not displacing the occupants they can build a brand-new building on another site. This way the client gets two, good, buildings, I must add, at the price of one -and all of this while enriching the apartment spaces of the existing households. Also, by building less one is also able to reduce one’s ecological footprint (although one needs to really put the ecological angle to test, but it certainly is convincing and even relevant in all other aspects that it considers)
This strategy is not only considerate to the capacity of the existing built form to absorb new intentions and changes, like the typological framework, but also is considerate to the life and well being of the inhabitants, the life of buildings, economy, and livelihood of all stakeholders. This strategy is accompanied by closely reading the building, its structural system, condition of the building, circulation, its urban setting, clients’ budget, and intentions, lives of inhabitants and their intentions, and so on. It is in line with the repair and retrofitting strategy, but it goes a step ahead and equally considers the aesthetics of means.
Architectural offices like 51n4e, ROTOR, DOGMA, among others (even OMA) have been parallelly developing ideas for projects to work with existing buildings by means of spatially reorganizing and adding very minimal scaffold like structure to make space for new programs. This form of close or considerate reading of multiple factors and intentions and formulating architectural strategies from these considerations is what distinguishes this approach from both the form driven typological approach and diagram driven mat building or open structures approach.
Close Reading: some concluding remarks
The ideas listed above are few among various other spatial and formal frameworks to think about architecture of institutional campuses and particularly in light of the proposal to demolish the IIM-A hostels. While all the three of them are open ended in terms of their starting point, the core and hence the generative framework for all the three ideas significantly vary. What is also common to all three is that they invite everyone involved to participate in the process of closely reading the situation in various ways. For instance, the mat building strategies entails that the design of the building encode in its diagram, structure, form, and elements the possibility to continuously expand and modify as and when the need arises. For the typological framework, a close reading of the urban setting of the buildings, site, neighbouring buildings, scale, proportions, experience of space, light, etc. are paramount. Lastly, the Never Demolish framework calls the stakeholders and architects to closely read, as mentioned above, a wide range of conditions, right from buildings, stakeholders’ intentions and wellbeing, ecological and economic factors, and so on.
Coming back to the question of the proposed demolition of the hostel buildings at IIM-A. What these four ideas tell us is that it would be unwise to be puritanical or ontologically limited about the architecture of an educational campus. Instead, it should be possible, both ethically and spatially, to conceive and mobilise formal strategies that should be able to absorb a wide range of intentions, present and future, while strengthening, adding, enhancing, intensifying the quality of experience of a beautiful campus like the IIM-A without having to demolish the existing buildings.
These ideas, including the images (below), are suggestive and are intended to open more discussions on new spatial and formal imaginations for the IIM-A campus. Like everything else, one may choose not to engage with such a discussion if one is not inclined to.
[the collage and plan studies are developed by the author for his own study and are meant only to initiate a discussion / to make a point. They are not actual proposals,neither are they meant for any proposal.]