The protests in New Delhi over the proposed demolition of the iconic Hall of Nations and other buildings designed by Raj Rewal at the Pragati Maidan precinct were tame. Architect Arun Rewal put up a petition on Change.org and there were newspaper articles denouncing ITPO, which owns the building and wants it brought down to make way for a convention centre. The proposal, according to Rewal, now rests with the commerce ministry and higher-ups in government, which had scotched the proposal in 2012 after the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC), then headed by Raj Rewal, passed a resolution against it.
But present DUAC chairperson P.S.N. Rao seems unlikely to join the fight to save the structure, feted as much for its bold aesthetics as for being India's first space-frame construction in reinforced concrete. "It is a private building and the owner has every right to do as he wishes with it," Rao says.
In Chandigarh, Vikramaditya Prakash is fighting a similar battle against Tata Camelot, a proposed high-end residential complex with 27 towers of 12 to 36 storeys. The complex, says Prakash, who teaches architecture at the University of Washington, will ruin Le Corbusier's "design vision" for the city's Capitol Complex by disrupting the careful relationship the acclaimed French architect had worked out between the building and the Himalayas in the distance.
This balance was not just aesthetic but ecological too, says Prakash, who is the son of Aditya Prakash, a member of the architects' team that worked with Corbusier on Chandigarh. The site of the proposed complex is a riverbed and abuts a reserve forest, and Corbusier had been so careful of maintaining it that he had persuaded Jawaharlal Nehru to drop plans to build a military cantonment there.
Doshi's CEPT buildings, Rewal's Pragati Maidan structures and Chandigarh are today celebrated as landmarks of Indian modernity. In 2013, Rewal's work was showcased at Paris's Centre Pompidou in an exhibition called 'Plural Modernities' and NGMA hosted retrospectives of both Rewal and Doshi last year.
Ironically, there's no legal provision shielding these structures from alteration or demolition. The laws which protect our built heritage apply only to buildings over a hundred years old.