What do these buildings represent?
They were built to commemorate 25 years of India's independence. The brief given to us was that they should showcase India's self-reliance through the use of computer-aided design — even back then — and its massive labour workforce. There were close to 1,000 worker families living on site during construction. The credit for erecting these buildings goes as much to them as to the engineers and architects. It's ironical how the present government wants to demolish these 100% made-in-India structures even as they push the Make in India campaign. In fact, a former president of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission had suggested that Hall of Nations be turned into a museum for Make in India.
Traffic congestion and lack of air-conditioning in various halls are cited as the main reasons for redeveloping Pragati Maidan. Did you foresee these problems?
No, because we built the buildings with features that would protect them from the sun. There are sun-breakers on the facade and its mesh-like structure allows circulation of air. Both the buildings and the Nehru Pavilion comprise just 7% of the entire area. We are not contesting the idea of redevelopment but only suggesting that these buildings be amalgamated in the new plan. With a little effort these buildings can be made air-conditioned, airtight and fit for another 200 years.
Does a building have a life? When do you decide it has outlived its importance?
Buildings can be renovated to stand the test of time and reflect the changes in the world. But some buildings need to be preserved as they are for their architectural and historical significance. For example, Parliament building, Central Secretariat and Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. You can give them a new patina or redo a part of the roof, but preserve them.
The plan is to develop 100 new smart cities. What advice would you give their developers?
Cities need to be developed by visionary architects, like Le Corbusier. Right now, MNCs are being favoured for these new projects. This is absurd. We should follow the best practice — have an architectural competition judged by qualified and impartial people and let the best team win. This will give our architecture a new impulse, and reflect the new ways of living and thinking in India.