As the Hall of Nations in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan awaits a court decision, a social media initiative is using satire to offer perspectives.
Over the last eight months, the Hall of Nations has been in news for its imminent demolition. While heritage conservationists are fighting court battles, Architexturez South Asia, a digital space for architecture, planning and processes, has gathered the reins of dialogue over social media. Architect Anand Bhatt invited people to appropriate the Hall of Nations “by placing it everywhere, to see if it will allow for new sites in our imagining”. Architecture has always been a project of speculation and conjecture, which often takes place in the architectural imagination. If the intellectual climate of a city is related to the social production of space, this initiative is a way to make that space possible. And if space is contested, then it also becomes political. Can there be a democratic dialogue for the Hall of Nations? While some contributors have transposed the building to archaeological sites, others have given it a political address, there are pop-culture references in a few, and yet others have sited them in locations of national pride.
Denver-Ahmedabad-based architect Shubhra Raje situates the building at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. “When we make things strange and unfamiliar, it helps us discover characteristics of a building. One cannot escape the strong, structural design prepared by Mahendra Raj. We felt the discussion about these buildings was narrow, and it considered only a few aspects such as heritage, legacy and history,” she says.
To prove that heritage isn’t the only premise of discussion, Raje and Delhi-based architect Vrinda Jariwala place the building in the contemporary context of cinema and literature. They enter the Star Wars universe with Darth Vader and galactic war. “It is like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the building seems to ‘fit’ everywhere and appear as a witness of events. It is like an exercise in speculative archaeology,” says Raje.
Bhatt quotes Le Corbusier: Only those who play are serious. “Architecture has to return to the stuff of life. Buildings in their material form tend to distract us from this play. As architecture is a non-affirmative art, an architect’s responsibility requires that the work be liberated from the narrow confines of site and heritage. If this is the case then, where do we put a building? As more and more people create images, we are asking what principles does this establish?”
Photographer Ram Rahman fuels his imagination with the political hot potato: the Ram Mandir. “It all began when Anand posted an image of Philip Johnson’s Glass House and placed the dome of the Florence Cathedral on it. I have been saying that the only way to save modern buildings is to turn them into religious sites. So I thought of placing the Ram Mandir on top of the Hall of Nations, then nobody would dare to touch it. Maybe it will have a deity that appears at night, and in the morning you can have bells ringing, and flowers,” says Rahman, who hopes the initiative will encourage dialogue.