Louis Kahn’s Legacy Lives on at IIM Ahmedabad

The Management Institute at Ahmedabad in India demonstrates architect Louis Kahn’s fascination with expressiveness of commonly used building materials.  His masterful architecture of brick and concrete was threatened by possible demolition a few months ago. However, strong lobbying by journalists, architects and preservationists around the world forced the institute to change its course, keeping Louis Kahn’s legacy alive. 

First visit

I visited the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) at Ahmedabad as an architecture student while it was still under construction.  It was an awe-inspiring experience to see various buildings under construction.  With untimely death of Louis Kahn in 1974, the task of completing the unfinished work fell on fellow Indian architects Balkrishna Doshi and Anant Raje.  I was able to observe Kahn’s ongoing work at the Institute after I joined Mr. Doshi’s office in Ahmedabad in 1976.

The Institute of National Importance

The IIM at Ahmedabad was the second of the two management institutes in India set up by the Government of India as institutes of national importance at that time. There are several more such institutes now.  IIM Ahmedabad is among the top ranked management institutes in the world today.  The Government of India wanted to create an exemplary campus as a symbol of India’s modernization effort. As a champion of modern architecture, architect Louis Kahn was chosen to lead this effort.

The plazas and courtyards
The plazas and courtyards 1

The campus plan to foster collaborative learning

Kahn questioned conventional campus plans with individual academic buildings scattered throughout the campus vying for attention.  He believed that such plans created fragmented campuses. Instead, he chose to create a campus of interconnected buildings with collaborative open spaces.  He strongly believed that learning took place in formal classroom settings in academic buildings as well as in the informal plazas and courtyards. 

Use of local building materials

Louis Kahn is known for his hypothetical conversation where he asked a brick what it wanted to be, and the brick said that it wanted to be an arch.  He was fascinated by different ways in which brick could be used as a building material. His interest in expressing the materiality of building materials is similar to the approach taken by Hasan Fathy in Egypt where he experimented with mud bricks. Kahn’s architecture utilizes brick arches in various shapes and sizes to create openings, visual buffers, and shaded areas to suit the needs of programmed spaces. 

Inside a dormitory
Inside a dormitory 2

Decision to raze the dormitories

After nearly fifty years, the brick facades began to exhibit signs of wear and tear and discoloration. It is not uncommon for an exposed brick façade to experience decay in the form of cracking, spalling, bowing, leaning, discoloration and mortar deterioration. Instead of trying to restore and clean the façade, the IIM Board decided to raze the dormitories and rebuild them. Their decision was announced to the institute faculty and students in December 2020. 

Dormitories at IIM Ahmedabad
Dormitories 3

Demolition averted assuring Louis Kahn’s Legacy

The decision to raze the dormitories met with an international outcry from architects and journalists as well as museums such as the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  Their efforts were supported by an online petition circulated by the UK based Architectural Review as well as extensive media coverage in India.  As a result of this campaign, IIM board reversed course in January 2021.  They decided to save the dormitories and restore them in order to keep Louis Kahn’s legacy alive.

• Title image: Louis Kahn Plaza at IIM Ahmedabad
By Students of IIMA – Perspectives – the photography club of IIMA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8252390
• 1 The plazas and courtyards. By Mahargh Shah – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17884002
• 2 Inside a dormitory. By Students of IIMA – Perspectives – the photography club of IIMA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8252386
• 3 Dormitories at IIM Ahmedabad. By Students of IIMA – Perspectives – the photography club of IIMA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8252033

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