Yet another marvel by Louis Khan is the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). IIMA’s Vikram Sarabhai Library (VSL) was set up in 1962 and named after its founder, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, an Indian physicist and astronomer, who established ISRO and initiated a project that led to the building of India’s first artificial satellite orbiting Earth. Louis Kahn was invited about 60 years ago to design the 60-acre campus conceptualized by the blend of modernity and vernacular design.
Spanned over four years, IIMA’s Restoration and Preservation project by SNK (Somaya and Kalappa Consultants) consisted of work on Dormitories, and the Main Complex Building, which is further divided into the four Faculty Blocks, Classroom Complex, and the VSL. The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation accorded the ‘Award of Distinction’ in 2019 for the Vikram Sarabhai Library to SNK’s partner, Brinda Somaya.
Why the restoration?
Following the concerns and discussions put up by the authorities of IIMA, the announcement was made to revamp a few buildings on the site. The concerns were around the areas of water seepage through the exposed brick walls, and effects of the Earthquake that resulted in large cracks in the masonry and in-built efflorescence. This prompted the concerned to take action for the protection of the existing structure for future generations, and that is when SNK entered the scene intending to conserve and upgrade the buildings without destroying the original design with a structural analysis contract handed over to IIT Madras.
Thus, the design evolved to continue to remain as a well-valued artifact for the nation.
The initial phase started with an idea to transform the four-walled classroom learning atmosphere towards a modern approach. Due to this, learning is focused in the hallways and Kahn Plaza to promote creative thinking and inspire its students. The whole design was so thought about by Kahn that he had alternative designs for even unnoticeable details. This unravels out into a vibrant, and surprising path-finding experience for the students and architecture enthusiasts. Kahn’s signature style imprinted in the institution stains every mind that experiences the campus.
With classic brick and concrete materials that are indicative of Kahn’s designs, the geometric semi-circular cutouts sure do astound its inhabitants.
Brinda Somaya, an architect, and conservationist talks about her journey in the restoration and conservation project in one of the lecture series at CEPT University. An in-depth analysis was conducted by the architects to understand the condition and thought process that backed up Kahn’s design. Firstly, they prepared the required drawings and then performed condition mapping, which is one of the prime steps in any preservation project.
Condition mapping is a detailed condition study of every element in the building or site using non-invasive methods. This forms a part of the background study for a conservation project to help architects and preservationists understand the existing fabric and design better. Issues like cracks, efflorescence, collapses, ecological growth, brick erosion, holes, and a lot more were recorded and analyzed to reach a conservation plan or idea. This can be translated to a master plan or vision in any ordinary architectural project.
Architect Brinda Somaya gives an example of an element that had to be retained in the project. She talks about the masonry pointing and mentions that a recessed pointing would allow easy water runoff, but instead, face-filled pointing was employed in the original structure that aided water penetration due to shrinkage cracks. Cement was the band-aid between bricks which made it difficult to remove and replace, which is why they could not change anything in that regard.
There was also efflorescence observed due to salts present in clay used for mortar and spalling due to MS reinforcement in the brickwork. Layers and layers of waterproofing were done on the terrace, but eventually, water seeped through. Phase 2 of Condition mapping consisted of NDT (Non-destructive testing), geo-technical investigations on materials, reinforcement mapping, and individual tests on materials.
One may ask, instead of investing hefty amounts of money, why could the structure not be rebuilt entirely? Because, they are worth preserving even though they are complicated to maintain, says Brinda.
Preservation measures: RCC repair
Structural stitching was carried out to address cracks in the masonry by removing unnecessary bricks and carefully inserting stainless steel. Stainless steel replaced Mild steel due to lesser chances of rusting. The repair of RCC members starts by removing loose concrete on the surface and applying rust removers on the reinforcement.
A rust stabilizer slurry was then smeared and left on for 24 hours after washing the reinforcement with water. Sacrificial anodes were fitted per square meter of brickwork to prevent corrosion. Concrete bonding agents were used for merging the layers after which a staining agent was applied to match the colors of both surfaces. Finally, curing was done for 5 days by sprinkling water after which the surface was cleaned.
The three-story reading hall was restored completely with the creation of five zones- Silent zone, Quiet zone, Collaborative zone, Administration zone, and Services zone, achieved with the help of the former librarian, Dr. Anilkumar, and his team. The reading section on the second floor was preserved and a few stacks were switched up. On the upper floors, the design cut through the monotonous arrangement of the stacks into a more even manner to see collaborative study areas and open spaces. An interpretation center, cyber laboratory, and interactive spaces were added to the first floor. The ground floor got upgraded with coffee breakout spaces, a children’s section, and additional space.
Based on the lighting and concept study of Kahn’s design, glare-free fixtures with low maintenance were chosen, preserving the tree lights which are a part of his original design. Keeping in mind the original wood finish, a lighter shade was applied to bring life to the space. Kahn’s idea of not using paint and depending solely on the light to see shadows and light-wells was retained. To brighten up the area, colors like mustard, red, turquoise, and ochre were set up against Kota stone flooring and brickwork.
Fortunately, due to the shape and geometry of the library, no additional structural changes were required as the shape brought natural stability. The terrace slab, parapets, windows, the brick wall on the southeast side, and 85 flat arches with each brick chamfered were reconstructed due to severe damage.
The depth of the original frightening thin slabs ignited a surprise from the architects who replaced them with thicker reinforcement. With retrofitting and preservation, not all the features can be restored without damaging or modifying the existing which is why some were left untouched.
Restoring Artwork at VSL
The nine panels of applique artwork created by Sarojben Lal, a highly distinguished folk artist, were evaluated by Ms. Deepshika Kalsi for restoration. Initial microscopic observations depicted a long life for the panels. Following up on cleaning, and a thorough examination to identify causes of fading of pigments, stain, and dust accumulation, recommendations were put forward to mount cloth behind the fabric on which the artist worked.
On a concluding note, the primary steps that are considered in any conservation project are to highlight the aim throughout, maintain a complete documentation study, employ minimal intervention measures, create mock-ups before carrying out tasks, and hold a maintenance manual with the restored monument to ensure it is taken care of, even in the coming years.
The Built Form we see today
Certainly, there are important questions we must ponder, regarding the buildings that we see today. Would they also face problems in the future that would change the whole feel of the place? Do you reckon that people in the future would want to conserve the past? Would they be challenging to preserve, given the increasing behavior of natural disasters?
One aspect Ms. Somaya believes in is that conservation and preservation cannot be left to a small group of conservationists. To preserve the essence of a building, we all must join hands. Only then would a positive impact occur on a large scale. Preservation and conservation not only set a great example, but they also conserve the bond between the inhabitants and the building.
- NDTV (2020). IIM-A To Demolish “Unsafe” Dorms Designed By Architect Louis Kahn. [online]. (Last updated 25 December 2020). Available at: – IIM Ahmedabad To Demolish Unsafe Dormitories Designed By Architect Louis Kahn (ndtv.com) [Accessed 16 June 2021].
- World Architecture (2017). Louis Kahn-Designed IIM-Ahmedabad Invites Alumni To Support Its Restoration and Conservation. [online]. (Last updated 21 March 2017). Available at: – Louis Kahn-designed IIM-Ahmedabad invites alumni to support its restoration and conservation (worldarchitecture.org) [Accessed 15 June 2021].
- The Wimwian (2019). Vikram Sarabhai Library – The Story of Restoration and Upgradation. [online]. (Last updated 19 March 2019). Available at: – VIKRAM SARABHAI LIBRARY – The Story of Restoration and Upgradation – The WIMWIAN (iima.ac.in) [Accessed 15 June 2021].
- Dna India (2019). Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad’s restored library opens for students. [online]. (Last updated 12 March 2019). Available at: – Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad’s restored library opens for students (dnaindia.com) [Accessed 16 June 2021].
- The Times of India (2019). VS Library opened at IIM-Ahmedabad. [online]. (Last updated 12 March 2019). Available at: – VS Library opened at IIM-Ahmedabad | Ahmedabad News – Times of India (indiatimes.com) [Accessed 15 June 2021].
- ArchDaily. AD Classics: Indian Institute of Management / Louis Kahn. [online]. Available at: – AD Classics: Indian Institute of Management / Louis Kahn | ArchDaily [Accessed 15 June 2021].
- CEPT University. (2020). Talk by Brinda Somaya, FA M20 Lecture Series. [YouTube video]. Available at: (1) Talk by Brinda Somaya | 28 Nov, 2020 | FA M20 Lecture series – YouTube [Accessed 15 June 2021].