Fall of the hall: los­ing a part of In­dia’s his­tory

Hall of Na­tions at Pra­gati Maidan is a unique struc­ture and must be saved at any cost, say ar­chi­tects

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - Nam­rata Kohli

Ar­chi­tects want The Hall of Na­tions at Prag ati Maidan t o be saved at any cost. The only struc­ture in the world made with con­crete space frames ( the roof is made of con­crete un­like reg­u­lar struc­tures that have steel frames for sup­port), it will be de­mol­ished by ITPO (In­dian Trade Pro­mo­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion) for a makeover of Pra­gati Maidan as a world-class con­ven­tion cen­tre. Other build­ings to be razed in­clude the Hall of In­dus­tries a n d t h e N e h r u Pav i l i o n . Th­ese struc­tures oc­cupy less than 2% of Pra­gati Maidan and can be in­te­grated in any re­de­vel­op­ment ef­fort. The build­ings can be re­fur­bished eas­ily and pro­vided with modern ser­vices like air con­di­tion­ing at eco­nom­i­cal costs to ac­com­mo­date new func­tions, ar­chi­tects say.

A vast section of the in­tel­li­gentsia, in­clud­ing ar­chi­tects BV Doshi, AGK Menon, Gau­tam Bha­tia, KT Ravindran, JR Bhalla, Satish Gu­jral, Rahul Mehro­tra, Divya Kush (pres­i­dent of In­dian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects) and oth­ers, in signed ap­peals to prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, have said the Hall of Na­tions should not be de­stroyed as it is “a vi­tal part of In­dia’s con­tem­po­rary her­itage.”

“Like the Jan­tar Man­tar, Hu­mayun’s tomb and Pu­rana Quila, the Hall of Na­tions and In­dus­tries as well as the Nehru Pav­il­ion are all part of the city’s mem­ory. For many around the world, Delhi is rep­re­sented by its build­ings,” says ur­ban plan­ner Arun Re­wal, who started the pe­ti­tions to save the struc­tures.

The Hall of Na­tions and In­dus­tries con­sti­tute the largest span (a huge hall with­out pil­lars) in a pub­lic build­ing and pub­lic struc­tures in Delhi . Th­ese build­ings are ac­claimed as im­ages of progress, moder­nity in In­dia and In­dian ar­chi­tec­ture.

De­signed and built be­tween 1969 -1972 by ar­chi­tect Raj Re­wal, struc­tural en­gi­neer Ma­hen­dra Raj and pro­ject site en­gi­neer Do­rai Raj, the Hall of Na­tions com­plex has been in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed as an im­por­tant struc­ture of the last cen­tury. The Nehru Pav­il­ion museum ex­hibits events in In­dia’s first prime min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s life which are re­lated to the coun­try’s free­dom strug­gle. The ex­te­rior is in­spired by Bud­dhist stu­pas con­tain­ing relics of the Bud­dha, and is built under a grassy mound. For Re­wal, the mound is sym­bolic of Nehru’s sim­plic­ity.

How was the de­sign for the Hall of Na­tions cho­sen? Re­wal says he had sub­mit­ted it in an ar­chi­tec­tural con­test. “We were part of a com­pe­ti­tion to cel­e­brate 25 years of In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence and won the prize. The idea was to sym­bol­ise the last 25 years and yet look for­ward to change. It was in a dif­fer­ent league al­to­gether as the pro­ject was labour-in­ten­sive, there was use of con­crete as against met­als.”

In­ter­est­ingly, the ar­chi­tect had to con­tend with short­age of steel which had been used up for man­u­fac­ture of weapons after the 1971 Indo-Pak war. A de­ci­sion was taken to then use con­crete and the man who made it pos­si­ble was Ma­hen­dra Raj, the struc­tural en­gi­neer.

The Hall of Na­tions pro­vides an un­in­ter­rupted ex­hi­bi­tion area of ap­prox­i­mately 6,700 sqm in a pyra­mid sup­ported on eight points.

Ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son from Ma­hen­dra Raj Con­sul­tants Pvt Ltd, “A spe­cial nine-mem­ber joint was evolved for pre­cast con­struc­tion but the builder pre­ferred in-situ con­struc­tion. The joint was mod­i­fied to suit the adopted tech­nique. The hall is sup­ported on pile foun­da­tions tied to­gether with post ten­sioned plinth beams stressed in stages. The Hall of In­dus­tries rests on spread foot­ings tied to­gether with high ten­sile steel bars. The en­tire com­plex was an­a­lysed, de­signed and built in a pe­riod of 15 months.”

In many ways th­ese build­ings are re­minders of the coun­try’s abil­ity to in­no­vate with lim­ited re­sources and clever use of man­power. The ar­chi­tec­tural forms have a value be­yond their build­ing con­structs. Most ex­perts feel that the Hall of Na­tions, Hall of In­dus­tries and the Nehru Pav­il­ion re­flect struc­tural in­ge­nu­ity, lay­er­ing of space and an ar­chi­tec­tural char­ac­ter that is de­rived from the coun­try’s col­lec­tive tra­di­tions and rein­ter­preted in a modern con­text. “The pro­ject is widely pub­lished and re­ferred to as text­book ma­te­rial by stu­dents of ar­chi­tec­ture and civil en­gi­neer­ing,” says Divya Kush, pres­i­dent, In­dian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects. It may not be a her­itage struc­ture in the strictest sense but cer­tainly is a piece of ar­chi­tec­ture which is her­itage in the mak­ing, he adds.

A Delhi High Court ver­dict has not been in favour of pre­serv­ing th­ese struc­tures. In re­sponse to a pub­lic in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion (PIL) along with a re­quest from In­dian Na­tional Trust for Art and Her­itage (INTACH) to stop the de­mo­li­tions, the high court rul­ing was: “Mere pen­dency of rep­re­sen­ta­tion to de­clare t he build­ings as ‘ Her­itage Build­ings’ can­not be the ba­sis to stall the re­de­vel­op­ment of the Pra­gati Maidan Com­plex.” The mat­ter is under the purview of the Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion Com­mit­tee under the Min­istry of Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment to give a fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tion. And that for many is the ‘last ray of hope.’

Tech­ni­cally, says Ma­hen­dra Raj, even the Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van is not a 100-year-old build­ing. But we con­sider it her­itage be­cause it has been no­ti­fied as a her­itage build­ing. Surely, the Taj Ma­hal, the Qu­tub Mi­nar are not ‘re­place­able’ for their part in his­tory; like­wise the struc­tures celebrating con­tem­po­rary her­itage of In­dia are not re­place­able too.

Ar­chi­tect Raj Re­wal

The Hall of Na­tions pro­vides an un­in­ter­rupted ex­hi­bi­tion area of ap­prox­i­mately 6,700 sqm in a pyra­mid sup­ported on eight points.

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