Response from an Architecture PhD Candidate

Recently the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) halted the development of a Convention Centre adjacent to the Pragati Maidan Complex proposed by the Indian Trade Promotion Organisation. While on the one hand, the pragmatics of unfeasible parking and the incongruity of the scale of the proposal are cited as reasons for the rejection, on the other, the discourse surrounding this objection appears to take in its fold larger ideological issues:  the destruction of the nation’s post independent architectural heritage, the centrality of the Pragati Maidan complex for the cultural legacy and memory of Delhi, the existing complex as a global icon of modernity and modernism in India. These are all valid concerns but they do throw up some interesting problems. Through a lens that argues for the preservation of the nation’s modern architectural heritage it is argued that “any perspective (sic) plan for redevelopment of the complex could result in demolition of some iconic buildings and adversely impact the landscape of the area.”

Through these observations it is perhaps useful to think of ‘Parking and other Incongruities’ as a euphemism or coda for deeper underlying conundrums, and in the process consider how it can be productive in thinking about the problem of development and heritage simultaneously.  It throws up at least two critical issues. First, there seems to be an underlying assumption in the above that no development in its proximity can match up to this invaluable modern heritage. What kind of a larger message does the DUAC send out to the present day Indian architectural fraternity? This is not a plea for or against the new proposal, rather a mediation on the preservation strategies of the DUAC, the design watchdog for Delhi’s urban and architectural interventions.  

The gesture for preservation does not appear to have a place for architecture that works with existing fabric and architects who are capable of doing so, which India and specifically Delhi has no dearth of. It is not inconceivable that new development and architecture-deemed-as-heritage speak to each other, give each other new constructive meanings through their interactions, their intersections, but this is not on the agenda. Secondly and equally worrying is the possibility that comes with the impulse for preservation and heritage-ising places- of turning them into haunted museums. The Crafts Museum adjacent to the Pragati Maidan Complex is an unlikely but strangely appropriate motif for one such distant, haunted museum of Indian heritage and its display. Is it possible for the enablers of architecture in Delhi to avoid giving the existing Complex the same future, without compromising its own logic?