Preservation and the Future of Brutal Delhi

The demolition of the Pragati Maidan Hall of Nations is perhaps the most alarming example of an increasing level of ignorance towards our city's architectural heritage and subsequently our modern history, and it indicates the fact that none of these buildings are really safe from such a fate. While municipal laws and regulations fervently safeguard pre-independence architecture such as Connaught Place or the Red Fort, Brutalist buildings have been sidelined (as they should) - perhaps because they aren't yet perceived as truly historical - Brutalist buildings in Delhi don't have much legal protection. The largest cause of demolition for most of these buildings is that they are simply aesthetically unpleasing. While I don’t think that my love for concrete structures or stunning geometry will change anyone’s tastes, I strongly believe that far more is at stake than the visual “pleasance” of our city. What we as a society consider “beautiful” is constantly shifting, so it would be unwise to let fleeting preferences dictate our access to valuable historic sites. We must actively work to shift the prevalent attitude of dismissal that surrounds this issue; once they are destroyed, these undeniably symbolic relics of our modern history cannot be recovered.

A political angle also exists to this debate. The two philosophical arguments that have been placed forth against sustaining the Brutalist presence in Delhi can basically be boiled down to the following:

  1. Brutalism represents the idea of a welfare-state, and exists as a relic of "socialist influences" in our country. While yes, Brutalism did originate from a very real need for welfare-related constructions across the world, I would argue that it actually represents the forward-thinking nature of our political system in the aftermath of the partition and the independence movement. It also demonstrates our engineering and artistic prowess at the time, and it would be wrong to sideline our own achievements at the cost of some hasty political agenda.

  2. Brutalism - and Modernism at large - are distinctly European styles, and have nothing to do with the modern history of India itself. This is also partially true. Modernism did originate in the West, and it would be extremely ignorant to suggest that Brutalism was a uniquely Indian concept, but the very adoption of a highly functional, technologically forward and aesthetically unconventional style as the identity for a “new India" is a testament to our own progress and international integration at the time. We were, as far as architecture was concerned, on par with every other country in the world - not as a result of imperial influences, but on our own initiative.

Despite the heated conversation surrounding the issue, several groups have initiated a movement pushing for preservation of these buildings within Delhi. Many private practitioners and eminent architectural firms have spoken out in favour of the cause; moreover, the conservation group INTACH has persisted in their efforts to legally combat demolition. It appears to be a long uphill battle at this point, but increasing awareness about the issue would genuinely provide a much-needed boost to the cause. You can do this by sharing this site or just by taking a greater interest in the built environment around you!