Wednesday, March 23, 6:30 pm EST
In-person: Piper Auditorium at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (Harvard i.d. holders only)
Join us at 6:00 p.m. for samosas
Livestream: Online viewing at GSD event page here
The period of 1950 to 1980 saw exemplary examples of architecture in the South Asian region, some of which are being celebrated this year in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York’s first transnational show focused on the region, titled “The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947–1985.” While these projects were an integral part of the nation-building agenda and the construction of national identity at the time, more recently, these buildings have begun to come under threat with political and social shifts in the region.
With the passage of time, the importance of these buildings is becoming more evident, albeit among a small group of academics and practitioners in the South Asian region. Recently, The Hall of Nations—Raj Rewal and Mahendra Raj’s critically acclaimed, postcolonial project known for being the world’s first and largest space-frame structure built in concrete—was demolished overnight. This act invited much outrage and triggered an entire debate on what the architectural and cultural significance of such projects, which many might call “works of art of national importance,” is in contemporary times. Ever since, Louis Kahn’s IIM Ahmedabad dormitories and Charles Correa’s Kala Academy, among several other buildings, have similarly come under threat.
At this critical juncture, an urgent question has emerged: How might we redefine what constitutes architectural history and “heritage,” given that the current categorization of “heritage” sets a minimum time horizon of 100 years? Why does an act like demolition or proposed destruction of ‘modern’ buildings not spark more of a public outcry? How can modern buildings be rethought not only as historical remnants but active backdrops for contemporary life? What might qualify as “works of art of national importance” today?
More importantly, what narratives might we develop to anchor the importance of such buildings in the public awareness once again, so that transitionary political agendas and bureaucratic constraints are not left to determine their fate? What strategies and interpretations must the practice of conservation devise to include to help cope with an increasingly contested and transitionary landscape that characterizes the region now?
“Conservation in a Time of Transition/ Shifting Landscape” is an event that aims to convene leading scholars working on architecture in South Asia to discuss this very question. This event hopes to begin the process of reconceptualizing conservation practice in the face of such threats and current attitudes. It also aims to celebrate and build upon MoMA’s current exhibition focused on the architectural history of the region between 1947 and 1985, which throws light on these endangered projects, illustrating their importance not just in the region’s history, but also their contributions to the fields of architecture and the culture of building in South Asia and beyond.
**Please note that Harvard ID holders are welcomed to attend in person. This event will be live-streamed for the general public on the GSD’s website. Visit gsd.harvard.edu/events
Executive Director, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute
John T. Dunlop Professor in Housing and Urbanization, Harvard GSD
The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art
Art History and Cultural Policy, University College Dublin
Ashoka University, India
Moderated by Eve Blau
Adjunct Professor of the History and Theory of Urban Form and Design, Director of Research, Harvard GSD
This event is organized by the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University (LMSAI), the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) with its current exhibition, “The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947-1985.