The Indian Institute of Management is sited on a plot of land of roughly 32 hectares, situated 6 kilometres west of the River Sabarmati. It is flat agricultural land without any features except for some mango trees. The plan constitutes three layers, starting student convocations. The first layer is composed of classrooms, library, administrative and faculty offices, followed by the students’ living quarters – the dormitories. A large body of water, planned to separate the students’ residences from the houses of the faculty and support staff, serves as a physical and psychological buffer. The three layers of the plan are tightly bound together by a geometry that orients the residences toward the prevailing wind direction. Kahn called the school a ‘citadel of institution’.
The dormitories are an extension of the classrooms with open-to-sky courts between them to let the air cross-ventilate the rooms. Kahn loved the masonry walls of the Pompeiians who shaped their buildings with wall enclosures that made closed and open rooms. What he added to the openings made in the walls were reinforced ties to contain the horizontal thrust generated by the arches. These, in his words, were the composite order where both brick and concrete coexist. Material to Kahn was a choice in light. Light ‘is the giver of all presences’. For him the room does not exist in nature. The room is so marvellous that its size, dimensions, walls, windows, light have an effect on what you say and what you do. If there is just one other person present besides yourself, what you say would be generative. The room is so sensitive that a third person entering it would change the event into a performance. A plan is a society of rooms.
To Kahn, the beginning of design is a question that invariably occupies the centre of a given space. The mark made for the question grows larger and larger until ‘what to do meets the means of doing it’. This question and its mark, in the case of the Indian Institute of Management, started with the school building, with the open-to-sky building within. The periphery of the court grew larger until it broke up into several spaces, making classrooms, library, offices, and further, in their wake, formed the layers of students’ residences – which further broke up to accommodate the courts of light. In terms of ‘poche’ made by charcoal, the entire composition jelled into a plan where the first layers are apparent.
In Kahn’s mind, the intuitive sense takes the uppermost position: ‘The intuitive is the most accurate sense we have. Science can never reach it. Knowledge can never reach it. The beautiful thing that the intuitive gives is a sense of commonality, a sense of human agreement which is agreement without example. Something can be produced for the first time, and somehow it has a quality of having always been there.’ Simply stated, Kahn raised the level of the intellect to a spiritual level, invoking humanistic and spiritual ideals in pursuit of timeless architectural solutions. His instinct for new technology, combined with abstract visual language and learning from the lessons of history, gave a new direction to the meaning and purpose of architecture.
Brick is the basic building material for all the buildings on the campus. The openings in the brick walls are spanned by arches, both segmental and flat. The plans, therefore, whether of school buildings or residences, reflect the order in brick construction. The mass is important in carrying the loads. The mass that makes the structure makes the light. The library stacks have the reinforced concrete frame within the enclosure of bricks where the book-loads on the floor slabs are carried on the concrete frame, leaving the peripheral brick walls to respond to the weather, create shade and bring in the light while keeping the glare out. The nature of the material that governed the brick construction generated arches, pilasters, buttresses. Walls brought about a composite order with concrete for frames and restraining members used for ties. Unplastered, both brick and concrete left their mark on all surfaces, and created a new architectural language that recognized craftsmanship and care in its making. This language instantly made connection with historical places like Mandu, Golconda, Bidar and Bijapur on the Deccan plateau in central India where the Sultanates built some of the most magnificent buildings in the fifteenth–sixteenth century.
The major works on the campus of the Indian Institute of Management after Kahn are the Management Development Centre, the Student and Faculty Mess Halls, Housing for various categories of supporting staff designed and built between 1974 and 1979, and the Ravi Mathai Centre.
Ahmedabad, 8 September 1997