NBCC concerned about setting the precedent: "One cannot stop development by talking of 'modern heritage' out of the blue."
NEW DELHI: Despite a robust international campaign to save Pragati Maidan's Hall of Nations as part of a movement to protect post-1947 heritage structures in Delhi, the iconic structure in the trade fair complex is unlikely to be spared demolition. It is slated to be razed down later this year. However, to pacify outraged architects and conservationists, the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC), tasked with redeveloping the fairgrounds into a modern exhibition arena, has suggested that the pyramidal, criss-crossed design of the exhibition hall can be replicated in the new edifices to be constructed there.
Architect Raj Rewal designed the Hall of Nations, which came up in 1972, to represent "symbolically and technologically, India's intermediate technology in the 25th year of its independence". Conceived as a utilitarian sun breaker, the design was inspired by the traditional 'jali', a geometrical pattern of perforation that serves to obstruct the harsh rays of the sun while permitting air circulation. As significant as its design was, NBCC officials said that over four decades, the building had begun to fall apart, and was, therefore, one of the structures at Pragati Maidan identified for demolition.
It was the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, or Intach, which spearheaded the campaign to notify the Hall of Nations and around 60 other buildings as protected, modern heritage buildings. Experts argued that antiquity aslone did not define heritage, and these buildings were symbolic of an era and needed to preserved for future generations. One such modern building in Delhi, the Baha'i House of Worship commonly known as the Lotus Temple, is, in fact, being pitched as a World Heritage Site and a dossier is being prepared for its nomination as such.
Conservationists say that the period after independence was one of architectural history when India and Delhi were forging a "modern" identity and many of the buildings of this period possess the same valuable characteristics of heritage that defined the protected historic buildings. "There is no reason why the imperative to conserve the classic of the past cannot coexist with the proposed 'world class' facilities," said one pro-preservation expert.
An Intach official said, "We have sent a list of buildings like these to the Delhi Urban Arts Commission and Delhi's Heritage Conservation Committee, but time seems to be running out for the Hall of Nations.''
NBCC officials contended that if the Hall of Nations was spared demolition, it would set a precedent for others to cite similar reasons to stop their buildings from destruction. "The Hall of Nations is an iconic building, and we do not dispute that. But it has outlived its existence in the last 40 years," said an NBCC official.
He added that NBCC was open to replicating the architectural design of the pyramidal Hall of Nations in the new exhibition halls that will come up as part of the area's redevelopment. "One cannot stop development by talking of 'modern heritage' out of the blue. There have to be clear rules that define why buildings should be protected,'' said the official.