“If the NDMC is doing something like that on its own building, what will happen to the rest of Delhi?” asked the architect of the iconic building.
New Delhi: In what has been seen as the latest attempt to undermine the capital’s ‘modern heritage’, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation building in central Delhi has been covered with LED billboards. The NDMC building is part of list of 62 structures that the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) wants designated as ‘modern heritage’ and thereby protected under law, though the government’s Heritage Conversation Committee is yet to take a decision on the matter.
“The INTACH Delhi chapter had recommended to the Heritage Conservation Committee in 2013, that this building, along with 61 other buildings built in Delhi since 1947, be notified as ‘modern heritage’ under the relevant section of the Building Bye Laws of Delhi,” A.G.K. Menon, architect and former convenor of the INTACH Delhi chapter, told The Wire. “The committee agreed that this was a good idea but could not take the necessary action to date. So, technically speaking, there is no ‘modern heritage’ in Delhi and therefore this building cannot be protected under law.”
According to an India Today report, the decision to turn the 22-storey building into a full LED-display building was taken in August 2015. “While at daytime it would look like an ordinary glass pane building, after dusk, it would transform into a gigantic projection screen flashing pictures, public interest messages and advertisements,” the report said. Work for this is now in progress.
Designed by architect Kuldip Singh, construction of the building was finished in 1983. The original drawings of the building have now been archived at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. “The Museum of Modern Art has also written asking me to give them the models of this building, it’s historically very important,” Singh said.
“This concrete building has a very strong image. It is recognised as a symbol of the NDMC, a landmark,” Singh told The Wire. “By putting this foul-looking material on it, consequently the front elevation and the entire image is being altered. If the NDMC is doing something like that on its own building, what will happen to the rest of Delhi?”
“The building now looks extremely tacky, with what they’ve attached to the facade. It’s also hidden the architectural patterns that were made on the concrete, destroying its aesthetic quality. Why do you need a giant billboard on the entire building, anyway?” photographer Ram Rahman, who brought the issue to attention on social media, told The Wire.
“Fixing LED display panels on the facade of buildings, particularly important civic buildings, is a very bad idea,” added Menon. “It not only undermines the significance of the building, but in this particular case, given its location and visibility, it would be a danger to the traffic around the area. The courts have already given severe strictures against hoardings along streets that are a hazard to vehicular movement, and the LED display on the NDMC building is like a gigantic hoarding, making a mockery of the court ruling and will certainly be a distraction to vehicular traffic along Sansad Marg and, given its height, perhaps even surrounding roads.”
The latest in a chain of events
While the Heritage Conservation Committee sits on its decision on which modern structures it will designate as ‘heritage’, several buildings in the running face an uncertain future.
Perhaps the most well known of these controversies is the commerce ministry’s planned demolition of the Hall of Nations and Nehru Pavilion at Pragati Maidan, designed by renowned architect Raj Rewal. The structures are internationally acclaimed, and both the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York have written to the minister of commerce – under whose charge Pragati Maidan falls – asking her to reconsider the decision. INTACH filed a plea in the Delhi high court asking for the immediate protection of the 62 structures on its list, including the two at Pragati Maidan. The Delhi high court has put a stay on the demolition while hearing this plea and even expressed its displeasure at the amount of time the Heritage Conservation Committee is taking in reaching a decision.
“It’s becoming more and more apparent that this issue of modern heritage isn’t being taken seriously enough. The Heritage Conservation Committee never designated the buildings INTACH has proposed as heritage. They even had a meeting last week, when the decision was deferred – they’re just delaying the process. Since these buildings haven’t actually been designated, it’s like a free for all. The demolition of Chanakya Cinema many years ago, which was a classic structure, was also a part of this,” Rahman said.
According to Menon, this indifference has now become a pattern. “There is a growing indifference among civic authorities in our country towards respecting works of architects and architecture. The situation in Delhi is particularly regrettable because it has a Delhi Urban Art Commission to care of urban aesthetics,” he said.
The NDMC had not responded to The Wire‘s request for comment at the time of publication.