Raj Rewal becomes the first Indian architect to enter the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Earlier this year, Rewal became the first Indian architect to have his drawings and models accepted into the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The architecture and design department at MoMA, established in 1932, is the world’s first curated collection of modern architecture and includes significant holdings of some of the most important modernist architects: Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The museum has acquired Rewal’s models of the Hall of Nations (the building itself was demolished in April 2017 to make way for a swanky convention centre), the Asian Games Village, the French embassy staff quarters and the Parliament Library in Delhi. Apart from models, the acquisition includes sketches, drawings and photographs. 

Raj Rewal in his office.
Raj Rewal in his office. © Pradeep Gaur/Mint


The current state of architecture in India doesn’t inspire much hope in him either. The decline of Indian architecture began, he says, when architecture competitions stopped being judged solely on merit. Governments very often give projects to those who quote the lowest fee. Another ill-thought stipulation for some competitions, he says, is that an architect has to have earned a certain amount in the past year to even qualify to enter a competition. “It is absurd,” he says. “It is completely absurd—it instantly eliminates all emerging talent.” There is no way, he says, that those entering the field are going to be earning, say, Rs2, 3 or 5 crore in their early years. He also believes the jury should mostly comprise “our peers, with a few serious connoisseurs and academics and not a crowd”. And the competitions should be completely anonymous. 

“See, the Indian establishment is based on lawyers, economists, political families, journalists...,” he pauses. He reconsiders the list and starts laughing. “Hmm, okay, let’s leave the journalists out,” he says. “Most of them are architecturally illiterate and philistines.” There was a time, he says, 30 or 40 years ago, when people like Pupul Jayakar had a sense of arts and culture. He believes today there is nobody in the political field who cares about architecture.