Very simply, whose building is it? The Rabindra Bhavan is officially the three-tier art gallery of the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), built in 1961.
Its architect was Habib Rahman, who designed several public buildings in Delhi like the General Post Office on Patel Chowk, the WHO headquarters, the External Affairs hostel on KG Marg, the multi-storeyed flats in RK Puram and the small sarkari two-bedroom government flats all over Delhi, besides the graves of former Presidents Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.
Though a national gallery in which two generations of contemporary artists and several international art shows have exhibited, the Rabindra Bhavan building lacks basic amenities like proper toilets, modern lighting and disabled access. Nor can heavy sculptures be taken beyond the ground floor.
Ashok Vajpeyi, current chairman of the LKA, is attempting to set this right: a lift capsule along one outer wall and a proposed glass front along the Mandi House side outer wall (which is not an inner display wall), to lure the public into the gallery, new lighting, toilets and flooring.
These plans to make the Rabindra Bhavan’s precincts more user-friendly are strongly opposed by photographer-activist Ram Rahman, son of Habib Rahman, as “desecrating the integrity of my father’s design.”
“We are merely trying to make the space more usable,” says Vajpayi. “The renovation design is contracted to the School of Planning and Architecture, headed by K.T. Ravindran and the construction is to be done by the National Building Construction Corporation, a government body. There are basic gallery requirements to be met today that were not considered in the ’60s. They are overdue and being made as tactfully as possible,” he added.
“Who has allowed them to do it? It’s my father’s best building,” says an emotional Ram Rahman. Architect Ravindran refuses to comment, citing contractual propriety.