The Jew Who Designed Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad
Architect Mr. A. D. Raja wrote about Jewish architect Louis Kahn, and I quote “Kahn took architecture as an art more than anything else. He tried to inculcate in his students, who came from all over the world, an awareness that there is a lot to learn from one’s heritage, from the way of life of people and a particular understanding of building materials.” When Louis Kahn designed Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad in India, he said he designed it “reminiscent of the monuments of Nalanda University (Prestigious university from Ancient India)” and he chose to “express in spaces, environment and relationships of man’s institutions.” Louis Kahn was an amazing architect and this article is about his contribution to India. It was India’s famous space scientist Dr. Vikram Sarabhai who led the movement for foundation of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad.
Born in a wealthy Gujarati family Vikram Sarabhai was an award-winning physicist, industrialist and innovator. Sarabhai led the foundation of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA). It was founded in 1961 as a unique collaboration between the Government of India, Government of Gujarat, local industrialists of Ahmedabad, Ford Foundation and the Harvard Business School, and has emerged as a world-class management institute. Jewish architect Louis Kahn was invited by the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, which was entrusted with the responsibility for designing the campus as its consultant on the project.
It was when Louis Kahn was designing the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh then East Pakistan in 1962, that he was approached by an admiring Indian architect, Balkrishna Doshi the first Indian to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize started by the Jewish Pritzkers of Chicago who passed away this year in January at the age of 95, to design the 60-acre campus for the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India. One of the inspirations for many young, talented Indian architects like BV Doshi, Achyut Kanvinde, Charles Correa and Raj Rewal, who returned home to participate in the great adventurous journey of building in a free India with dedication, was Jewish architect Louis Kahn. They brought with them a unique combination of nationalism and internationalism.
Jew from Eastern Europe
Born in Eastern Europe as Leiser-Itze Schmulowsky, Louis Kahn later became renowned as an architect worldwide, according to the rabbinical record, kept in both Russian and Hebrew he was circumcised seven days after the birth. Five years later when he arrived in Philadelphia, he was given a new name, Louis Isadore Kahn. When he grew up, he married a Jewish girl, Esther Israeli, from a highly assimilated Philadelphia family. Their wedding was conducted by a rabbi.
In 1967, on the recommendation of Philip Johnson, a committee charged with building a memorial to the martyrdom of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, in New York City commissioned Louis Kahn to design it. The monument was to be situated in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, where it would have distant views of the Statue of Liberty, but it did not reach fruition.
Kahn’s point of view was that of a thankful Jew spared the Holocaust by his immigration to the United States as per Susan G. Solomon. Like a number of his contemporaries, Kahn first studied architecture at Philadelphia’s Central High School, where he was a classmate of his life-long friend Norman H. Rice. He traveled through northern Europe and Italy, visiting Norman Rice in Paris, but did not express particular interest at the time in the work of Rice’s employer Le Corbusier. Like Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier also got a project from India he designed the planned city of Chandigarh.
India’s Great Architect Late B. V. Doshi on Louis Kahn
Mr B. V. Doshi who assisted Louis Kahn in designing the campus and looked after the architectural interpretations whenever Kahn was out of India, wrote in his article “Louis I Kahn – in India.” published in Architecture and Urbanization, Tokyo, in 1976 that Kahn’s belief in “Man and his Institution” was very much convincing. When called upon to design the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad campus in 1962, he not only discussed the concept of the institution but studied the tradition of Indian culture, the Indian way of life, the city and institutional structures and convinced his clients that the concept of mere management will not make the institution which they aspired for. It is not merely a functional, perfunctory give and take but something more. His emphasis was on integrating education with culture and health as essential requirements of human growth.
Lou’s (Kahn’s) emphasis on interaction amongst the students, between the faculty and students, and their integration with the functional and climatic needs are the major contributions to this institution and its ever growing unusual programs.
When one walks around the complex silently, either in cool winter or hot and stark summer, one gets the vibrations of conversations, dialogues, meetings and activities. The spaces that are created for these activities link the entire complex. The intermediate spaces, with their openings and formal linkages are one of the major characteristics of this complex. They are made in such a way that in spite of their rigorous geometrical order, their humble scale and invitation make one feel participate in “the act without becoming an actor.” Here, one easily recognizes the marriage between Form and Function, each evoking the other.
IIMA was constructed between 1962 and 1974 and was among the most towering masterpieces that Kahn designed, unique for its exposed brickwork, concrete slabs, concrete lintels and concrete beams. The academic blocks, faculty offices, and 33 fully furnished dormitories and the plaza are its key features. The crowning glory of the campus is the “Louis Kahn Plaza”, named in salutation to the man who designed this campus putting in all the care and consideration that would be possible and are due to our youth, exudes excellence. In 2022, the IIM-A board decided to stop restoration work on old campus, and opt for reconstruction, thus suggesting that most of the dorms, faculty blocks and classrooms would be brought down. It also launched a redesigned website with a fresh logo, but as per D’Souza the iconic Louis Kahn Plaza will be retained. Let’s hope along with developing this institution in the best interest of all those associated with it, the architectural legacy of Jewish architect Louis Kahn is protected in Indian Institute of Ahmedabad.