Thesis statement – Isn’t our past
our heritage?


24th April 2017, India’s first and largest span space frame
structure, the Hall of Nations has been brought down to the ground in the wake
of a comprehensive redevelopment plan at Pragati Maidan, in the city of Delhi. Furthermore,
the plan included an “Integrated Exhibition and Convention Centre (IFCC) which
the Indian Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) has claimed would be world class
and would incorporate state of the art technology. The ITPO has felt that the
existing structure is no longer appropriate for the present day architectural
and technological trends and stated that the Hall of Nations has to be
demolished. Against which there were many petitions supporting the role of Hall
of Nations as a part of the country’s modern heritage but these claims were
dismissed by the Meritage Conservation Committee stating that only builder over
60 years of age can be considered for heritage status, due to which it was
ruled that Raj Rewal, the architect of Hall of Nations has no legal right to
preserve it.

The hall of nations, an exhibition hall built to exhibit
aeroplanes and satellites by architect Raj Rewal and engineer Mahendra Raj in
1972. It was built to celebrate India’s 25 years of independence. The project
costed about 3000 crores in Indian currency. It even played a significant role
in helping Delhi take its place in the global map. If the hall of nations was
built in any other country apart from India, it’d have been done in steel, but
as India was deficit in steel, it was completely done in concrete and steel
reinforcements 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 the
country’s self-sufficiency and the building itself would symbolize the growth
of India in the field of technology. On the other hand, it also symbolized the
stature 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 plain
styled buildings.

The Hall of Nations was considered to be the magnum opus among
the works of Raj Rewal. It was inspired by the jaali element of Moghul
architecture which shows how culturally appropriate it is to Indian architecture.
It is basically a gigantic three dimensional jaali, which is a part of Delhi’s
traditional architecture, transforming it into a futuristic three dimensional
space. It is a capped pyramidal structure entirely composed of tetrahedrons and
triangles which formed the jaalis. The main ideology behind the usage of jaalis
was to allow cross ventilation to reduce or even not included any kind of air
conditioning and ventilation technologies for the structure. The complex
joints, concrete beams reinforced in steel, contributed for the unique facade of
the structure. The huge scale and monumentality of the concrete create a very
apt atmosphere for an exhibition space. The interiors are stunning as there is
a play of light due to the jaalis and it is studded with cantilever stair cases
which break the openness of the space and the monotonous geometry of the
diagrid joints. It was inspired from the Kuwait National Museum which was
designed by architect Michel Ecochard, who used space frames to cut down the
light intake into the museum. Similarly, here the structure itself acts as the
sun breaker.

Moreover, there also were petitions from Museum of Modern
Art, New York and Centre of Pompidou, Paris to the Indian government to
reconsider. Martino Stireli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture
and Design at Museum of Modern art said “The hall of nations and the Nehru pavilion
are outstanding representatives of India’s post-independent architectural heritage
and for this reason must be preserved. The museum of modern art is fully
committed to helping in any way we can to ensure the preservation of these
important monuments of modern architectural culture.” By contrast, the ITPO
felt that these structures are not up to today’s architectural standards and
saw no need to preserve them. Furthermore, they were even backed by the HCC
which evaluated the structures purely based on their age, completely ignoring the
rich modern heritage they possessed.

When various countries were making their mark with the use of
extravagant architecture in their public buildings, India also was recognized
for its’ Hall of Nations. It portrayed the nation’s vision of radical and
revolutionary architecture. The Eiffel tower was initially thought of as a
temporary structure, built for a trade fair, but was made permanent to
symbolize the city of Paris and France itself. The case of Hall of Nations
could be taken the same way, in fact more as it was never thought of as a
temporary structure. Even though it’s been tagged as dilapidated and unfit for
trade affairs, it was a fine example of the evolution of Indian architecture
during the post-modern times. Before its collapse, it was being used as a
training ground for various educational institutions and was an icon to look up
to for the young and budding architects. A structure can be preserved and even
appropriated technologically depending upon our needs; all it takes is the will
to do it. This type psychological disconnect with our past or believing that there
is no need to preserve structure that don’t serve any purpose is a bad ideology
that doesn’t augur well for the future of a developing nation. The hall of
nations was an ecological and a holistic building. It’d have set a great
example if at all it was appropriated and made a synthesis of the past and
future architectural trends.

Now let’s look at all the work that went into building the
hall of nations.