Thesis statement – Isn’t our pastour heritage? On24th April 2017, India’s first and largest span space framestructure, the Hall of Nations has been brought down to the ground in the wakeof a comprehensive redevelopment plan at Pragati Maidan, in the city of Delhi.
Furthermore,the plan included an “Integrated Exhibition and Convention Centre (IFCC) whichthe Indian Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) has claimed would be world classand would incorporate state of the art technology. The ITPO has felt that theexisting structure is no longer appropriate for the present day architecturaland technological trends and stated that the Hall of Nations has to bedemolished. Against which there were many petitions supporting the role of Hallof Nations as a part of the country’s modern heritage but these claims weredismissed by the Meritage Conservation Committee stating that only builder over60 years of age can be considered for heritage status, due to which it wasruled that Raj Rewal, the architect of Hall of Nations has no legal right topreserve it.The hall of nations, an exhibition hall built to exhibitaeroplanes and satellites by architect Raj Rewal and engineer Mahendra Raj in1972. It was built to celebrate India’s 25 years of independence.
The projectcosted about 3000 crores in Indian currency. It even played a significant rolein helping Delhi take its place in the global map. If the hall of nations wasbuilt in any other country apart from India, it’d have been done in steel, butas India was deficit in steel, it was completely done in concrete and steelreinforcements and was built in situ with the help of manual labour alone i.e.,without the use of any extensive machinery. This was done to project thecountry’s self-sufficiency and the building itself would symbolize the growthof India in the field of technology.
On the other hand, it also symbolized thestature the of the country’s young architect’s like Raj Rewal, Kuldeep Singh,etc., who made innovations with their designs in contrast to the existing plainstyled buildings. The Hall of Nations was considered to be the magnum opus amongthe works of Raj Rewal. It was inspired by the jaali element of Moghularchitecture which shows how culturally appropriate it is to Indian architecture.It is basically a gigantic three dimensional jaali, which is a part of Delhi’straditional architecture, transforming it into a futuristic three dimensionalspace. It is a capped pyramidal structure entirely composed of tetrahedrons andtriangles which formed the jaalis. The main ideology behind the usage of jaaliswas to allow cross ventilation to reduce or even not included any kind of airconditioning and ventilation technologies for the structure. The complexjoints, concrete beams reinforced in steel, contributed for the unique facade ofthe structure.
The huge scale and monumentality of the concrete create a veryapt atmosphere for an exhibition space. The interiors are stunning as there isa play of light due to the jaalis and it is studded with cantilever stair caseswhich break the openness of the space and the monotonous geometry of thediagrid joints. It was inspired from the Kuwait National Museum which wasdesigned by architect Michel Ecochard, who used space frames to cut down thelight intake into the museum. Similarly, here the structure itself acts as thesun breaker.Moreover, there also were petitions from Museum of ModernArt, New York and Centre of Pompidou, Paris to the Indian government toreconsider. Martino Stireli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architectureand Design at Museum of Modern art said “The hall of nations and the Nehru pavilionare outstanding representatives of India’s post-independent architectural heritageand for this reason must be preserved. The museum of modern art is fullycommitted to helping in any way we can to ensure the preservation of theseimportant monuments of modern architectural culture.
” By contrast, the ITPOfelt that these structures are not up to today’s architectural standards andsaw no need to preserve them. Furthermore, they were even backed by the HCCwhich evaluated the structures purely based on their age, completely ignoring therich modern heritage they possessed. When various countries were making their mark with the use ofextravagant architecture in their public buildings, India also was recognizedfor its’ Hall of Nations. It portrayed the nation’s vision of radical andrevolutionary architecture. The Eiffel tower was initially thought of as atemporary structure, built for a trade fair, but was made permanent tosymbolize the city of Paris and France itself. The case of Hall of Nationscould be taken the same way, in fact more as it was never thought of as atemporary structure. Even though it’s been tagged as dilapidated and unfit fortrade affairs, it was a fine example of the evolution of Indian architectureduring the post-modern times.
Before its collapse, it was being used as atraining ground for various educational institutions and was an icon to look upto for the young and budding architects. A structure can be preserved and evenappropriated technologically depending upon our needs; all it takes is the willto do it. This type psychological disconnect with our past or believing that thereis no need to preserve structure that don’t serve any purpose is a bad ideologythat doesn’t augur well for the future of a developing nation.
The hall ofnations was an ecological and a holistic building. It’d have set a greatexample if at all it was appropriated and made a synthesis of the past andfuture architectural trends.Now let’s look at all the work that went into building thehall of nations.