Modern or Modernist

The ideological feud over the Rabindra Bhavan makeover continues

01 September 2011
Mezzanine and ground floors of Rabindra Bhavan in 1961.

WHEN ASHOK VAJPEYI, the chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s National Academy of Fine Art, told photographer Ram Rahman at a party in 2008 about planned renovations at the Akademi, he didn’t know of Ram’s connection to the building. Rabindra Bhavan, the lush modernist compound in central Delhi that houses the Akademi, was designed by architect Habib Rahman, Ram’s father, who is known for adapting Indian cultural elements in his work while drawing upon the International Style of the mid-20th century.

Soon after the party Ram Rahman wrote a letter explaining his disapproval of the renovation plans to Ambika Soni, Union cultural minister at the time, and copied it to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The news about the renovation plans ran in the Hindustan Times which, Rahman says, stopped the Lalit Kala Akademi from installing mirror glass on part of the façade as well as a lift tower. Other aspects of the renovation, however, continued.

Rahman calls Rabindra Bhavan his father’s best work. He says the structure was inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of modern Indian culture, which Nehru explicitly asked Habib Rahman to draw upon when designing the compound. He feels the compound is being renovated without due respect to its architectural intricacies, and that its imminent renovation signals a disregard to that vision.

Krishn Kaushik  was formerly a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: Rabindranath Tagore Rabindra Bhavan Sahitya Akademi Lalit Kala Akademi architecture renovation building modernist architecture