Last week, LA Forum hosted a talk with Abhinava Shukla at USC School of Architecture. In this interview, we spoke to Shukla, the Secretary General of Ahmedabad Textile Mills Association, about his role and experiences in the Mill Owner’s Building designed by Le Corbusier.
What is your role as Secretary General and how would you describe your involvement with the Mill Owner’s building?
I am the Secretary General, which is the CEO of the Association. I carry on the work of the Association and act as the custodian of the properties and assets including the Mill Owner’s Building.
The Association, since its inception in 1891, has represented the large sector of manufacturers in Ahmedabad working with cotton. In 1945, the association represented 64 large textile mills employing almost 200,000 employees. The Association was the hub of most economic activities in the city. It promoted and built world-class academic and health facilities for the community, as well as a large number of parks and public spaces for the city. The number of members started dwindling in late 1970s due to the shifting industrial landscape. Today, there are only four members.
During your talk you described your relationship with the building as a “love affair”. Can you share your story with, what the world considers to be, one of Le Corbusier’s masterpieces?
Since my childhood I was attracted to this building with whatever understanding I had imbibed from my art loving mother and litterateur father. Many years later, on December 15th 1998, I accidentally came across it and was disappointed to see the neglected state it was in. As I walked up the ramp I felt that the building was interacting with me and was inviting me to take care of it. Immediately, I decided to bring it back to its original glory and preserve it for next generations. I offered my services— and have been working on it for the past 20 years.
Every day, when I approach the building in the morning, I think of it as a living organism— its structure, the plants, the landscape… every element establishes a dialogue within me; this is my love affair.
Conservation of iconic buildings is a key contemporary discussion, especially of those in fast growing urban centers in developing economies. What are the most pressing challenges that the Mills Association faces in order to improve the conservation of this significant heritage?
The most pressing challenge is the ever-changing urban landscape. The backside of the building used to be adjacent to a river. The view was beautiful. However, new developments forced it to be channeled and pushed far away from the building. Additionally, new roads are being constructed increasing the noise levels.
Increasing real state pressure is quickly converting the area into a high-rise dominant one. The soaring land prices for a smaller building with a relatively large site make the Mill Owner’s Building a target to investors and developers. Additionally, the lackadaisical attitude of the stakeholders and the limited financing paired with the ever-increasing costs of maintenance hinder the conservation of the building.
What do you anticipate will be the outcome of your collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute? Could you tell us about the more imminent goals?
The four-day intense discussions have been the best part of my 20-year association with the Mill Owner’s Building. I am now better equipped as a steward to carry forward the mission of long-term sustenance of the building. The Getty has become an important stakeholder to fall back upon for expertise and support.