Ralph Lerner, FAIA, former dean at Princeton University and the University of Hong Kong, passed away in May at 61, and his partially completed Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts serves as a fitting way to remember him. Lerner received the commission for this project in 1986, winning an international competition that had received over 190 submissions. His scheme consisted of five linked buildings and five courts, with a central 350-by-700-foot quadrangle, arranged axially along a 25-acre site parallel to the central axis that Edwin Lutyens created for New Delhi.
Although criticized by some Indian architects and Western critics for being overly deferential to Lutyens’s “Orientalist” architecture, Lerner’s design had a degree of clarity and simplicity that appealed to jurors, including Fumihiko Maki, Hon. FAIA, who participated in both the competition and P/A Awards juries. Although juror Max Bond questioned its appropriateness in India, Rob Quigley, FAIA, described it as “the most powerful design we’ve seen.” It is “inventive without being forced,” added Peter Calthorpe. “The forms are fresh and new … not contrived.”
Lerner completed the first phase of the project, in association with the New Delhi firm JSA, and managed to maintain the essential features of the competition-winning scheme, with a symmetrical, U-shaped building that has a base of red sandstone, bands of the local red and pinkish-white sandstone on the upper floors, and a perforated marble wall arching over the main entrance canopy. Colleagues commented on Lerner’s eye for talent, and this project shows that he also had a great eye for architecture.