Details

Keywords Change this

Brutalism, Indian Modernism, Post-independence Architecture In India, Space Frames

Project timeline

1970 – 1972

Type

Congress & Exhibition

Location Change this

New Delhi
India

Current state

Demolished

Also known as Change this

Pragati Maidan

Architect Change this

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Article last edited by Bostjan on
October 10th, 2020

Hall of Nations Change this

New Delhi, India
by Raj Rewal Change this

Raj Rewal and structural engineer Mahindra Raj’s Hall of ...

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Description Change this

The Hall of Nations, the world’s first and largest-span space-frame structure built in reinforced concrete, holds special significance in India’s post-colonial history. A masterpiece of architect Raj Rewal and structural engineer Mahendra Raj, the building was a wining entry in the 1970s Indira Gandhi announced competition to design a large exhibition complex at the Pragati Maidan in New Delhi to commemorate 25 years of India's independence. It was inaugrated in 1972.

Inspired by the traditional Indian Jaali (perforated screens), his space frame education in Europe and Le Corbusier's sun breakers as an extension to his building façades in Chandigarh, Rewal here let the space frames itself become the walls and the roof of the exhibition halls.

Materials and Design

The design was evolved to meet the constraints of time, availability of materials and labour, but above all, to reflect symbolically and technologically, India's intermediate technology in the 25th year of its independence.

In the film "Indian Modernity" by Manu Rewal, structural engineer Mahindra Raj explains how space frames at the time were being done in steel everywhere but India did not have the quality and the fabricators for steel sections for a project of that scale and importing steel sections from abroad to build this symbol of India's growth and progress was not an option. The building got international recognition and appreciation for its brave and ambitious attempt at blending tradition, technology and availability.

Destruction

Forty -five years later in 2017, the Hall of Nations was pulled down by half a dozen bulldozers that worked overnight to demolish this masterpiece of post-independence architecture in India making way for a "new state-of-the-art convention centre and exhibition centre."

Raj Rewal, called it “an act of outrage” since the matter was sub-judice in the Delhi High Court at the time, with hearings scheduled for April 27, 2017, and May 1, 2017, on a writ petition filed by The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). Rewal’s own related petition in the same court, to declare and preserve the structures as a “work of art of national importance,” had been dismissed just four days earlier, owing to a legal loophole concerning the definition of heritage. The ITPO stealthily used this narrow, week-long window to go ahead with its plans, thus evading judicial scrutiny. In conversation with the Quint after the demolition, Rewal explains, "In 1972, the Hall of Nations and Industries was symbolic of an achievement by young architects in a newly-independent India, creating a style, which could be constructed with limited means, yet be uniquely Indian."

Architecture Live quoted Rewal: "Hall of Nations was a great feat of art and architecture… it was a symbol of what very ordinary people can do. 500 families worked on the site; there were no canteens, no crèches, no helmets, and the work went on for a very long time. The structure was built from hand-poured concrete, and was labour intensive; the credit does not only belong to the architects and the engineers, but also to these people – because it was their achievement, to have created something through such simple methods.”

The demolition was met with widespread national and international condemnation by museums, cultural institutes, architects and historians alike, not just because of the loss of an important piece of Delhi's heritage, but also for the clandestine manner in which the demolition was conducted.

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