Redefining the Ethos of Heritage
A need for saving the recent past
“Deconstructing heritage practices.”
27th April 2017, Published by The Architect’s Newspaper
Iconic and Revered; Yet an Uncertain Future?
“India flattens its iconic Hall of Nations and Industries, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.”
“The Hall of Nations and Industries; world’s first and longest span space-frame structure which was not only an architectural masterpiece but also evidence of Post-Independence India’s Chronicles; was razed to the ground on 24th April 2017, to make way for or a “world-class, iconic, state-of-the-art” Integrated Exhibition and Convention Centre (IECC).” (Sayer, 2017)
It made me question things like; How in a city like Delhi with several heritage preservation agencies does a situation like this arise, wherein the fate of a structure which is widely viewed as having heritage value is demolished at the stake of building something iconic and new? Does the architectural importance and design have no value in preserving a structure? Do modern structures not count as heritage?
If not, what do we define as heritage then? Is it the regulation stating a structure that ages to 60 years of age, or is it the public notion that heritage is something that is built in only the past?
The reason behind taking this topic was the news of the Demolishing of the Hall of Nations and Hall of Industries, a remarkably robust structure Designed by Ar. Raj Rewal and Structural Engineer Mahendra Raj, in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. These structures were built for celebrating the ‘25th year’ of India’s Independence at the International Trade Fair called Asia 72.
The structure was razed to the ground with an agenda of advancing the city and making something “iconic” for the city. This incident led to an outrage worldwide highlighting the need for conservation of modern heritage in India.
The architecture of contemporary India and recent past is significantly different from older heritage. The architecture thus evolving can be categorised as modern or new-age architecture. Modern architecture brought India a time period during which the nation’s architects made a bold attempt to make a break with the past and make a relevant amalgamation of old and new, of the regional and universal. Modern architects opened up to the tests of the future as well as the grandeur of the past and was a careful and thoughtful inclusion of philosophies that had their foundation in a culture far removed from her own.
The principles of modernism and urbanism are supposed to have a common focus; What is the modern heritage language of India? How was modern heritage inherited by India in the near past? Is it the advancements in technology, culture, revolutions or fading of the vernacular? Alternatively, is it an amalgamation of all the above; thus, creating a third perception to the concept of modern heritage.
After all, development and conservation may soon be moving parallel, one facilitating the other.
At the onset, the very idea of this thesis is to change the approach towards conservation of heritage. In the present scenario, heritage in India already has developed an identity, which is complicated, confusing and multi-layered.
The thesis intends on creating an impact on people showing that it is the need of the hour to conserve modern heritage. The focus of this thesis will be to question the evaluation of heritage in India, the role of conservation and future built heritage in India. It will be a symbol for emphasizing destroying a structure like the “Hall of Nations and Industries” tampering Delhi’s history, to make way for something iconic for the city and thus create an impact on people.
1.4 Need for study
“The future when it comes to architecture is marked by a series of demolitions, of which one is the most recent demolition of the Halls of Industries and Nations, and the Nehru Pavilion at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. The future of design and especially architecture is only possible if whatever exists is first demolished. But, is this the future that we want, or should want? The design is based on thinking, and design is political; however, what is projected as design for the future, does not want to think, it only wants to dress pretty and forget that this is one of the oldest political practices. To design is to express, within the process of articulating function and need, the broader sense of what you think and believe.” (Ar. Mehta, Is the future of architecture political?, 2017).
The future that we are talking about is somewhere linked to the history of the last 25–30 years, a period that breaks away architecturally and structurally from its immediate past, results of which we have begun to witness.
So why even after many pleas, litigations, petitions submitted by the architect still stand to fail and a structure like Hall of Nations, demolished? Why did the architect fail to save his own structure? Why didn’t he get any support from the commoners? It is not only that the buildings have been demolished, but somewhere very clearly the ideas they embodied have been demolished; so, the demolition clearly indicates that there was no care for the thought behind the buildings, its contribution to the cityscape and the nation, and the vision that it represented but they were treated simply as old pieces of concrete construction.
With the demolition of such a structure, India tampered with its own history, a modern history which prevailed after the Independence period, something that showcased India’s Post- independence chronicles and marked the starting of a new evolution in terms of architecture, lifestyle, living standards, and overall development.
This makes me question that what if Taj Mahal was to be demolished tomorrow to make way for something iconic, would it face the same fate as that of the Hall of Nations? For a fact, a monument like the Taj Mahal won’t meet the same fate as citizens understand its significance, whereas something as modern as the Hall of Nations is denied. So why couldn’t we the common people save the Hall of Nations? Is it only the job of the architect, or few heritage conservation agencies, or activists, to know the importance of the structure? Do architectural significance and design, not appeal to the people anymore? What can change this approach?
“In the end, we only conserve what we love
We will only love what we understand
We will only understand what we are taught”.
- Baba Dioum
As the quote suggests, we are taught to appreciate and love the Taj Mahal as a symbolic monument, and something that needs to be preserved. But not modern architecture symbols like the Hall of Nations, which define the era of modernism in India. If we as architects don’t make people aware about such structures, and the need for their preservation, a day will come when India won’t have anything to be called as the heritage of modern era. And so, I firmly believe that it is essential to create a more important awareness of modern heritage and why we need to preserve it, particularly in the current environment of threats and demolition.