-the world as I see it
My work in heritage conservation took me to Delhi last month. Unfortunately, I could only spare a day to go around the city and as I was to meet a friend in the Hauz Khas area that evening, I had to figure out where I could spend my afternoon. Be it the monuments from the Mughal period, to the imposing Indo-Saracenic structures that were built in the British era or the post-independence concrete marvels that were harbingers of modern India’s identity, Delhi does not fail to whet a heritage enthusiast’s appetite with its sundry structures of historical significance. I took a quick look at the map of Delhi and the name ‘Pragathi Maidan’ caught my eye. ‘That’s it, that is where I should go’ and I made my way to the Hall of Nations, a testament to India’s structural engineering prowess which is, unfortunately, all set to be razed to the ground, courtesy of the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO).
The Hall of Nations is a space-frame structure erected in poured concrete that has housed exhibitions since 1972, when it was built to commemorate 25 years of Indian independence. Conceptualised by Alexander Graham Bell (an electrical engineer by profession) at the turn of the 20th Century, triangulated space-frames are ideal to construct exhibition halls and convention centres, where the need for large uninterrupted area dictates design. Computers made the construction of large scale space-frame structures a reality as they could perform the complicated calculations involved in their design.
Almost all the articles and write-ups on the Hall of Nations refer to it as iconic, and iconic it is, in every sense of the word.
Even though heritage conservationists from all across the globe have raised a furore over the demolition of the Hall of Nations and online petitions to save this building have garnered a lot of support, plans to demolish it are well underway. In fact, the place bears a deserted look and there was not a soul in sight, save for a security guard and the man (supposed to be) selling tickets at the booth. “Aapko kya dekhna hain? Yeh to bandh pada hain (What do you want to see? This place is closed) ” he drawled. That actually translated to ‘Go away. Please let me continue to do nothing’. “Mujhe yeh building dekhna hain (I want to see this building)” I said, handing him the 30 rupees for the ticket. “Par yeh to demolish hone wala hain (But this is going to be demolished)” he said in exasperation , to which I replied, ‘That is exactly why I want to see it”. I got my ticket handed to me with a suspicious look and I made my way to the pavilion.
The Hall of Nations might not be the most imposing building at first glance but when you delve into its history and look at its construction details, it does not fail to impress. When you get a closer look at the texture of the concrete, you will notice the patterns that have been created using wooden shuttering – a simple and inexpensive way of improving the aesthetics of the structure. Since the building is locked I couldn’t get in but I managed to snap a picture of its interior.
The Hall of Nations is so much more than just a structure. It is the victory trophy of the underdog which serves as an inspiration to overcome the odds and strive for excellence. This momentous structure deserves to have a chapter dedicated to it in the pages of our history but here we are, tearing up the very traces of its existence. The importance of the Hall of Nations in the history of India is well-articulated in this short video by The Wire. If you want to check out the engineering drawings and photographs of the structure, here is the link.