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Demolishing Legacy – Learn from LACMA

April 16, 2015

Demolishing Legacy – Need or Systemic Oversight?

There is a move to let go of the Hall of Nations Complex and Nehru Pavilion. RSS is tearing down its modest home in Delhi to make way for two big towers as their new office. National Gallery Delhi is going in for a major extension. Rabindranath Tagore might get a new museum dedicated to him in place of a defunct Rabindrashala premise in Delhi…. Many Modernist and some historic buildings are under review from this standpoint: Keep, reuse, modify, repurpose, or demolish?

Recently Arun Rewal  started a campaign (again) to save the Hall of Nations Complex from demolition. This issue is not new and the same concerns are consistently raised by architects since long. But the idea keeps coming back. So one wonders: is the need for a clean slate more symbolic?

Possibility One: Demolition follows function

Demolition is a physical, functional requirement when a space

1. Has become dysfunctional/ it’s function irrelevant and a new function cannot revive the building or landscape.

2. Is cluttered over time, often straddled with old technologies difficult to maintain or upgrade.

3. Has too many fragments that can’t become one, and is faced with the need of a big unified space that can be used (and sometimes rented) as a whole.


4. A new requirement has come up that just cannot be supported by the old building.

For example, Pragati Maidan venue is a maze, difficult to walk. It does not respond well to the new functions. For obvious reasons, a lot of visitors prefer going to Greater Noida than trying to reach Pragati Maidan in rush hour traffic. This, not to account the discriminatory practices of ITPO weening potential exhibitors off the venue, is a real issue.

Chandigarh is favourite whipping example of all, as many of its buildings are proving difficult to maintain and expensive to upgrade. Few administrators can really bear the trouble and cost of air-conditioning a huge pavilion, or of restoring exposed brick work buildings like those at IIMA Ahmedabad.

The slow, tedious process of keeping (or re-purposing) a beloved building is only for the brave of heart: NGMA Mumbai has done it. In their own words, “Introducing floor space into the cavernous high-domed interior of a hall designed along the lines of London’s fame Royal Albert Hall proved to be an architectural challenge. Not only could the outer shell not be touched according to heritage laws, but the foundation was also found to be weak being on a sandy base. Delhi-based architecture Romy Khosla’s design involved constructing a structure within a structure to encase a five-exhibition galleries, one leading to another via a teak and chromium stairway, a lecture auditorium, a library, cafeteria, office and storage space for a permanent collection as well as traveling shows. The renovation has taken 12 years and cost 3.5 crores.

Possibility Two: Breaking away with the past to start afresh

Demolition is a clean up more for symbolic reasons. Or, what happens to buildings is a mere reflection of what is happening to the decision making structure: Change of values, priorities, of financial or organisational model:

Typically, a government with opposing ideology will overturn many a measure of the previous one. Specially when they want to be seen as trailblazers. At least the old wine will be presented in a new bottle after making a clean break with the past.

Oftentimes it is to address a long piling need that the old structure could not or would not address. Like the Auditorium at CEPT. Or when a museum expands its collections.

I quote from Guggenheim’s example: “When Thomas Krens, the museum’s dynamic new curator, commissioned Gwathmey Siegel & Associates to restore the gallery and to add an extension that would cater for the functional needs of the building, he was bound to make new enemies. The public had grown fond of Wright’s folly; there was widespread feeling that, no matter how clean-cut and simple, any addition to Wright’s building was a scandal.”

Those who have no idea of the difficulties of this process are often the most jingoistic about (someone else) going through it… And as far as they are concerned, no one can do it right.

Who sees the beauty?

Again, Guggenheim: “By the mid-Eighties, the building had fallen into a sad state. ‘There was chicken wire where the light now streams in, with bits of the lighting blocked off to stop it hitting the paintings,’ says Rogers. When Tom Krens succeeded Thomas Messer as museum director in 1988, a programme of expansion and restoration had just begun. With a pugnacious zeal worthy of Wright himself, Krens quickly decided, with the architect Charles Gwathmey, to bring the Wright building back fully to its former glory.

‘What we tried to do with the restoration,’ says Krens ‘was simply to ‘unpack’ the building, to take it back to what we call its ‘pre-original’ condition.’ To make it, in other words, the building it was always meant to be, although Wright would surely have disapproved of the dazzling white paint on the outside of the old gallery; he used a subdued sandy colour.”

More @

The new architect, often, sees it. And in some cases, a ‘newer’ one does not. But all thinking is welcome in this fora. In the latter’s case, this will be an apt example: This concept by OIIO Architecture is sure different (Or rather, same)!



What about Modernist legacy in India?

True, Pragati Maidan has issues, but it also has a locational advantage and Metro. All great exhibition venues are grand, and difficult to get around by walking simply because of the scale involved. This is a thing possible to solve by clever management and putting extra resources (Like shuttles at the Mahatma Mandir at Gandhinagar). So why have things come to this point?

As people, are we not the kind to cherish our legacy… Be it modern or ancient? Take the case of Tagore Hall – revived at an expense, but not really used. Sanskar Kendra, which would have become the heart of Ahmedabad’s cultural life, is hardly visited – lying in hope that development towards riverfront will bring some life to this venue. Architects, and citizens, all have put the campaign to ‘Save Sanskar Kendra’ behind, and gone back to their routines. Ellis Bridge, saved from Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s pragmatic decision to demolish it, is back to being a headache for the corporation – Already ruined by earlier decisions and forgotten by the citizens who so zealously saved it.

Fact is, that the trouble to lovingly re-establish any of these structures back in shape is too much. And no one is really willing to put in the energy…

Learn from LACMA

But can there be another way in preparation for something new, big, grand? Is there a need to demolish all earlier achievements?

Peter Zumthor and others show a way to do a new LACMA – They already have Bruce Goff, Renzo Piano and Urban Light. Now, Zumthor, with his inkblot, proposes to solve all the problems of this campus at once:

Latest proposal by Zumthor:

la-et-g-lacma-zumthor-design-20140624 la-et-lacma-tarpits-20130814-photo

Original proposal



Finally, for those who want to know what is on the chopping block (slightly old, from 2013):



Good, bad, ugly, all of us will have our opinions. But change, is inevitable, and a rare architect will not think really hard about changing the work of another.

My Copy & Paste on Nehru Pavilion:

Stop the Demolition of The Hall of Nations Complex and Nehru Pavilion?

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