New Delhi: Some of the country’s best known modernist structures in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan are facing a serious threat of demolition and this has raised the hackles of heritage experts and architects. The Indian Trade Promotion Organisation, that comes under the union commerce ministry, has decided to pull down the Nehru Pavilion and the Hall of Nations in order to replace them with a state of the art convention centre.
This is part of a larger plan announced last November to give Pragati Maidan a makeover, the first step of which is to demolish all non air-conditioned halls. The entire project is expected to cost around 3,000 crores.
However, several people, including the architect who designed the structures have raised questions on why buildings of historic significance are being torn down in this manner. The Indian National Trust for Art and Heritage (INTACH) put in a request to stop the process. An online petition to save the buildings has more than 3,000 signatures. Members of the architectural and artistic community have spoken out against the demolitions.
Photographer Ram Rahman told The Wire that efforts are being made to create more awareness about the historic and architectural importance of the spaces. “The Nehru Pavilion is a classic of Indian modern architecture, in two senses. One is the design concept, which was the giant space frame. It was done in 1971, at a time when our resources were quite low. So it was a hugely audacious design, and Mahendra Raj (the engineer for the project) didn’t have enough material to make a building like that. But he managed to engineer it in hand-poured concrete, which was an engineering feat on its own. The building is regarded internationally as a classic of modern design, both in concept and in execution,” Rahman said.
The architect of the Nehru Pavilion and Hall of Nations, Raj Rewal, described the idea behind the pavilion while speaking to The Wire. “The structure was created to honour a great statesman, not to make a monumental building,” he said. “It is based on a simple Buddhist grass mound stupa. It was also symbolic of Chacha Nehru–children could climb up and down it.
Rewal was awarded the French Legion of Honour for his career in architecture earlier in March. A big book on Mahendra Raj’s work was just released two weeks ago in which the Nehru Pavilion is featured. “It’s ironic that at a time when they’re both gaining recognition, their most famous work together is going to be destroyed by this government,” Rahman said.
These building have received international recognition, Rahman added. “Internationally, a lot of interest has been shown in these buildings recently,” he said. “They were shown in the Pompidou Centre [in Paris] last year, and now the Museum of Modern Art, New York is showing interest in them. They visited in January.”
After their visit, the chief curator of architecture from the Museum of Modern Art wrote to union commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman, asking that the architectural sites be preserved.
The exhibition shown at the Nehru Pavilion is equally historically important, Rahman adds. “The Nehru Pavilion is also a classic because of the exhibition it holds on Nehru which was designed by the great designers Charles and Ray Eames who helped found the National Institute for Design. The making of this exhibition was one of the key steps in the foundation and development of NID as an institution. So destroying that exhibition and building is also, on another level, a terrible destruction of a heritage we should be proud of. That exhibition again has an international reputation.”
Rewal also expressed dismay at the way the structure and exhibition are being maintained. “The upper floor used to have a lot of films and audio visual materials, but that has been totally removed. The ground floor had the original panels designed by the Eames. At some point they whitewashed the whole thing, which has destroyed a bit of the structure and stained some of the panels. It was done very badly and carelessly,” he said. “And now they want to demolish it, which is extremely unfortunate. They should renovate and refurbish it properly. The Nehru Pavilion could also be a standard for future honorary structures, instead of building 400 feet statues. This structure should really be left alone and renovated again, that is my opinion.”
Rahman, Rewal and others plan to continue their efforts to garner public opinion in favour of the buildings and have launched an online and offline campaign to get support.
Categories: Cities & Architecture