Ritika Jharia was awarded the DOOCOMOMO US/NY Tri-State Student and Emerging Professional Grant to attend the 2023 Docomomo US National Symposium “Complexities of the Modern American City” held June 21–25 in New Haven, CT.
Passion, patience, and perseverance are three values that have driven my advocacy for preserving 20th-century Modern Heritage in India and led me to the United States to pursue new knowledge, collaborations, and research on the international significance of the work of Louis I. Kahn. The DOCOMOMO US/NY Tri-State scholarship for the 2023 National Symposium “Complexities of the Modern American City” offered a perfect opportunity to expand my research in New Haven on Kahn’s work. Not only did the scholarship enable me to conduct research it also allowed me to attend some of the thought-provoking sessions addressing Modern Heritage preservation. As a foreigner, I could not help but draw parallels between the challenges faced in Modern Heritage preservation in the United States and India. As the Symposium presented issues addressing past urban renewal projects of American cities, India also has been undergoing urban transformation to redefine its identity in recent years. While attaining a new identity, India lost one of its modern treasures, the Hall of Nations in New Delhi, which was bulldozed overnight in April 2017. One of Kahn’s most significant works in South Asia, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, came under threat of demolition in December 2020 due to the development needs of the Institute and the challenges in assuring the structural stability of the buildings. Aiming to address similar issues, the Symposium offered inspiring discussions and sessions on sustainability, inclusivity, and ethical approaches to balance preservation and development needs. How can these modern buildings be given second chances to find their place in the community while honoring their multilayered histories. The exciting part of attending this conference was that it offered a collaborative platform to discuss these issues with some of the great minds in the field of historic preservation in the United States. It gave me the opportunity to congratulate the New Haven Preservation Trust and meet the makers of New Haven Modern to discuss their commendable efforts. New Haven Modern is an inspiring project that could become a model for other cities—in the US and abroad—for documenting their modern heritage.
Another intriguing topic during this conference, and a part of my research on Kahn, was the contributions of American architects such as Robert G. Boughey (Figure 1) in newly independent Bangladesh after World War II. This was a session presented by Fatema Tasmia, Ph.D. student, Boston University. Such historic collaborations and nation-building activities by American architects become integral as shared heritage between these countries and needs be celebrated and preserved. These Modern heritage buildings embody synergies of interchange of values and cross-cultural learning.
The Symposium opened doors to visit iconic works of Paul Rudolph, Louis Kahn, Eero Saarinen, Robert Venturi, John Rauch, and others. The walking tour guides shared inspiring stories about the creation and conservation of these buildings (Figure 2). John Gordon (Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts Yale University Art Gallery) shared one such story on preserving local narratives during the walking tour of the Yale University Art Gallery. During the restoration work, the conservation team preserved the doodles the students drew while using the public phone behind the concrete wall of the staircase. These doodles have now become a memory trigger for alumni and their association with the building (Figure 3).
For this unforgettable and inspiring experience, I want to thank the DOCOMOMO US/ NY Tri-state board for the symposium scholarship. I am grateful to Melanie Macchio and Frampton Tolbert for providing guidance during the Symposium. The opportunity to interact with many preservation professionals during the Symposium was rewarding and I hope to take these conservations forward in my work in the US and my advocacy for Modern heritage in India. Congratulations to the organizers and all participants for putting together such a memorable symposium. A big shoutout to Shelby Schrank and Nathaniel Valenza for assisting during the Symposium and guiding me through my first visit to New Haven!
— Ritika Jharia
Ritika Jharia is a graduate (Class of 2023) of M.A. Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University. She is a preservation architect from India with over a decade of professional practice in conserving 19th-Century and 20th-Century historic buildings and has worked in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. With her experience working on post-independence Modern buildings in India, Ritika is particularly interested in expanding her research on materials such as reinforced concrete and reinforced brickwork. With the demolition of New Delhi’s Hall of Nations in 2017, she began volunteering with ICOMOS India and other nonprofits to work on outreach and awareness for protecting modern heritage and assisting on heritage at-risk legal petitions. Since 2019, she has been involved in the advocacy of various modern heritage sites at-risk as a member and as a Co-Coordinator of the National Scientific Committee of 20th Century Heritage, ICOMOS India. Her first heritage alert was published in ICOMOS Heritage at Risk World Report 2016-2019 on Monuments and Sites in Danger in 2020 for the case of World Heritage Site – Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai. She is a recipient of the 2022 Summer Adolf Placzek Fellowship with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Her research at Cornell focused on the global understanding of modern heritage, their contribution to the cross-cultural interchange of human values, the international significance of the architectural work of Louis Kahn, and developing objective preservation strategies for safeguarding such properties.
For this inaugural year, the symposium grants were given in honor of John Morris Dixon, FAIA, renowned editor and writer, who recently stepped down from the New York Tri-State Chapter board after more than two decades of service.