Institution Building

Dublin Core

Title

Institution Building

Description

<p>A need for more space and autonomy is echoed throughout the history of TIFR. It’s seen in the development of NCBS, the Department of Biological Sciences at TIFR, and at other national centres that grew out of TIFR.</p>
<p><br />But the desire to have an autonomous space for biology is very different from having the means to get it. The odds are typically stacked against the process. And so, there exists an ever-fragile gap between idea and realization.</p>
<p><br />The chapters in the Institution Building theme dig into the aftermath of an accepted idea. To build NCBS was to wade through a paper trail justifying the funding agency, the choice of city, and the very need for an NCBS, all steps that seemed tedious in the heat of the moment, and instructive in hindsight. Building NCBS was also a serious quest to define the relationship between scientific research and the built landscape, down to every tree.<br /><br /></p>
<span>2-Autonomy-P1</span><br /><br /><p>In the late 1980s, the TIFR Centre at IISc was like a waypoint for TIFR scientists working on large-scale projects. By July 1989, Govind Swarup’s team of radio astronomers, which had spent the previous few years at the Centre, packed up and moved to Pune to build the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope. Soon after they left, the first biologists moved in from TIFR Bombay. They would stay there till the completion of the NCBS campus on land leased from the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS).</p>
<p><br />The radio astronomy group in Pune morphed into an independent national centre for radio astrophysics (NCRA), much like the independent biology centre coming up in Bangalore. TIFR has had a tradition of developing different and spinning them off as <a href="http://www.tifr.res.in/" target="_blank">separate research centres</a>. This incubator role is perhaps one of its biggest contributions to the spread of Indian science. But the degree of decentralisation from the mothership tends to not be completely spelt out in documents. Some of it is covered in board meetings. Listen, for instance, to Govind Swarup. He narrates a unique TIFR Council meeting in July 1993 to discuss the trajectory of such new centres incubated at TIFR  <span>2-Autonomy-A0</span>. These meeting minutes, along with a set of guidelines sent in May 1992 by Virendra Singh, then director of TIFR, can be seen in the slideshow below.</p>
<span>2-Autonomy-PS4</span><br /><br /><p>Molecular biology started in one large lab space in the 1960s, as shown in the featured image. But to grow, the discipline needed more physical lab space. The first slideshow is an extended extract from the 1990-92 NCBS proposal. It outlines the Centre’s research objective that underscores the need for space. NCBS’ issue of needing space was also closely linked to autonomy from an institutional setting that was not always receptive to the needs of biology. In small and big ways across TIFR history, this strained relation between disciplines surfaces.</p>
<span>2-Autonomy-PS2</span><br /><br /><p>Biology could still use more space in TIFR Mumbai. In the late 1990s, around the time the NCBS construction was being completed in Bangalore, the TIFR Department of Biological Sciences submitted a petition for a new biology building on the TIFR campus. Listen to Shobhona Sharma’s interview excerpt to learn about the decade-plus process that got sidelined partly by institutional disinterest. <span>2-Autonomy-A2</span></p>
<span>2-Autonomy-PS1</span><br /><br /><p>Autonomy for NCBS is mostly to do with administrative oversight and it has had to figure out the right balance over the last 25 years. Listen to Sudhanshu Jha, former director of TIFR, who discusses the need for record keeping as institutions grow and offers some historical context for the origins of the tussle. <span>2-Autonomy-A4</span></p>
<p><br />In 1991, Siddiqi shared his concerns at a National Institute for Advanced Studies speech that “one of the major impediments that hinder the progress of science in our country is its administrative structure”. The NCBS proposal quotes Abraham Flexner who proposed the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton and said that “administration should be inconspicuous, inexpensive and subordinate”. In his audio clip, PP Ranjith reflects on his role as the glue between administration and science. <span>2-Autonomy-A3</span></p>
<p><br />Arguably, the distance and autonomy has let NCBS accomplish much. Listen to Vidita Vaidya for a view on NCBS’ autonomy from the TIFR biology faculty and not letting the minutiae disrupt the view of the broader accomplishments. <span>2-Autonomy-A1</span> And on a lighter note, see K VijayRaghavan’s talk below on when one of NCBS' own faculty members, KS Krishnan, decided to set up a remote marine biology laboratory.</p>
<span>2-Autonomy-V1</span><br /><br /><p>More? Check out the Gallery for more oral history interview excerpts from Krishanu Ray, Obaid Siddiqi, and Virendra Singh on autonomy.<br /><br /></p>
<span>2-Paper-P1</span>
<p>In the early 1980s, Vidyanand Nanjundiah and Obaid Siddiqi, faculty members at TIFR, worked on a proposal for a Centre for Fundamental Research in Biological Sciences. It was to be set up as an independent space under the TIFR umbrella. The proposal went through after a series of conversations within TIFR, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Planning Commission. The next step was to find land. It was the beginning of a trail of papers.</p>
<p><br />In early 1986, Nanjundiah, along with two other TIFR colleagues, came to Bangalore to scout places. They needed help from someone who knew the system and would bat for them in Bangalore. Listen to his interview as he reflects on the critical role played by H Sharat Chandra, a professor at IISc, in negotiations with the Karnataka government.</p>
<span>2-Paper-A0</span> <span>2-Paper-PS4</span><br /><br /><p>The biology centre project was still up in the air through the late 1980s despite the approval from the Planning Commission. The slideshow below has almost three dozen records placed in sequence, to give a flavour of the negotiations happening at the time. (Also see the Timeline section in the Sandbox theme). It shows how non-consequential each paper document seemed all the way up to the Oct 22 Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) sanction letter (or the Oct 23 letter, if one counts that the Oct 22 letter had a typo in the financial breakdown).</p>
<span>2-Paper-PS1</span><br /><br /><p>Hurdles and pressures came at every step. In his audio clip, BV Sreekantan talks about the resistance from the Karnataka Government to offer new land to external scientific institutions. They circumvented this by looking for land within another institution. <span>2-Paper-A3</span> But even after they had more or less finalized on Bangalore, they just couldn’t find the right option.</p>
<span>2-Paper-PS2</span><br /><br /><p>Then, after a series of negotiations, it looked like TIFR would get land on the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) campus. The TIFR Council discusses this in a June 1989 meeting -- see the slideshow above. In this meeting, the Council approved the UAS campus land, and also hiring of faculty and staff. But their approval wasn’t the end of the road. There was no ink on a dotted line on any real estate document. And in the end, that’s often what matters. By mid 1990, Jayant Udgaonkar, who had been made an offer to join the new Bangalore centre, was starting to doubt whether it would come up and shot off a letter to the director of TIFR. Udgaonkar narrates this incident. <span>2-Paper-A1</span> K VijayRaghavan, also a young prospective faculty member at the time, recounts the pace of work and the different ways in which they and Siddiqi approached the problem. <span>2-Paper-A4</span></p>
<p><br />At the same time, there was a push for them to look for land in Maharashtra. Listen to TM Sahadevan’s memory of that time, an odd situation when they were being offered tons of space in different parts of Maharashtra. But the place where they really wanted land – Bangalore – was becoming a struggle. <span>2-Paper-A2</span></p>
<p><br />Finally, on February 8, 1991, UAS and TIFR signed a lease deed. And after a few more months, the DAE sent the sanction order for the Centre. But it is only in hindsight that the Oct 22 letter carries weight. This is especially evident when we see the TIFR Council Meeting minutes from October 16, 1991, where they discuss the projected plans for the new biology centre campus in Bangalore. There is no mention of an impending sanction order from the DAE, suggesting it was viewed as more of a formality. If anything, an illegible photocopy of a letter from the Bangalore authorities on Mar 2, 1991, to clear the lease deed between UAS and TIFR, could be viewed as the last bureaucratic hurdle. Whatever followed after was pro forma.</p>
<p><br />Want to see more? Check the Gallery for more oral history excerpts and documents.<br /><br /></p>
<span>2-Arch-P1</span>
<p><br />It is six o’clock in the evening and traffic has come to its daily chest-thumping halt on the Airport road just south of NCBS. Nobody is moving, a lot of cars are honking, and the air over the flyover is thick with exhaust. UB Poornima, the chief resident architect at NCBS, looks up from her phone and out of her car window at the <em>full jaam</em>, as these things are called in Bangalore. And a question pops up in her mind. The construction agency that built this flyover – would it have planned for this kind of a dead load, this static weight of dozens of cars? That’s her question.</p>
<p><br />Planning and visualising is, more often than not, Poornima’s preoccupation. She joined NCBS after responding to a job posting in 1994, partly to be the link between NCBS faculty, Raj Rewal, the NCBS architect based in Delhi, and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) civil engineering team. Today, Poornima is one of the few continuous links to the original campus design. Listen to the audio excerpt where she talks about the form of a building, her philosophy in design, and how it feeds back into the function of the building. <span>2-Architecture-A1</span></p>
<p><br />Raj Rewal’s design built on his desire to use natural material quarried from the hills beyond Bangalore. His plan for NCBS included a series of inter-linked and landscaped courtyards, and the main research building was designed with individual lab spaces. Check out Rewal’s audio slideshow, where he meditates on the <em>rasa</em> of architecture of a science institution.</p>
<span>2-Architecture-A0</span> <span>2-Arch-PS4</span>
<p><br />The form of a building is the least likely element to change, and it has long lasting impacts. Have a look at the slideshow below that chronicles documents and photos from the start to end of the first phase of NCBS’ construction.</p>
<span>2-Arch-PS1</span>
<p><br />Siddiqi was known to be fairly insistent if he felt strongly about something. And he usually had his way. Listen, for instance, to Shobhona Sharma as she shares a story from TIFR where she had to accede to his insistence for exactly six feet wide lab benches. <span>2-Architecture-A3</span> And in her interview excerpt, Poornima shares a story on Siddiqi and Rewal debating over the size of windows on what is now the Simons Centre building, and the after effects of their decisions. <span>2-Architecture-A2</span></p>
<p><br />Much of institution building – architecture included – is about imagining. It started with the idea of moving to the then pensioner’s paradise. Ironically, partly because Bombay was becoming too congested, but driven more by a need to be somewhere else that was also a good climate for biology. Listen, for instance, to Obaid Siddiqi’s interview, where he talks about his informal survey of scientists to finalize Bangalore. <span>2-Architecture-A4</span></p>
<p><br />In the early days, NCBS had called SD Vaidya, one of India’s first landscape architects, to walk around and build a vision for its future look. This was to imagine it, as Siddiqi had commented then, when the trees have grown. The slideshow below gives a glimpse into the early design models, to landscaping and to early days of an aesthetic committee.</p>
<span>2-Arch-PS2</span>
<p><br />The difficulty of space design, especially communal spaces, is that they are interpreted differently by floating populations. How a space eventually gets used is anybody’s guess. The new Southern Laboratories Complex (SLC) is a departure from the older buildings, opting for an open shared lab space among many research groups, and potentially more interaction between groups. But it is also a space where more theft has been reported; the SLC is now dotted with web-cameras.</p>
<p><br />Take another example of space use. The elevation view of the NCBS campus shows columnar structures on top of the buildings. When Raj Rewal designed NCBS, he included these <em>chatris</em> on the roofline, places on the roof that would provide respite from heat. When they designed it, they felt these would be spots where staff could stand in the shade and discuss their work. That doesn’t happen. Instead, as it turns out, air conditioner modules occupy some of the <em>chatris</em> today.</p>
<p><br />More? Check the Gallery for more photos from the construction phase.<br /><br /></p>

Table Of Contents

Space & Autonomy, Paper Trails, Architecture

Items in the Institution Building Collection

Raj Rewal, architect of the first phase of NCBS: Perspective on 'rasa' in architecture and his view of designing buildings for science.

UB Poornima, chief architect at NCBS: On the philosophy guiding architectural design.

UB Poornima, chief architect at NCBS: Memories of the design changes on the library wall (now Simons Centre at NCBS), conversations between Raj Rewal and Obaid Siddiqi, and follow-up effects.

Shobhona Sharma, former student and current faculty member, TIFR: Memories of working with Obaid Siddiqi on building new lab spaces at TIFR.

Obaid Siddiqi, founding member of NCBS & TIFR's molecular biology unit: The early ideology behind setting up NCBS in Bangalore

Govind Swarup, former faculty member at TIFR: Recounting a story of a TIFR Council Meeting where JRD Tata advocated the setting up of many national centres under TIFR.

Vidita Vaidya, faculty member at TIFR: Weighing in on the perception of NCBS as a rule breaker -- looking at the broader good rather than being bogged down by details

Shobhona Sharma, former student and current faculty member, TIFR: The story behind TIFR's Department of Biological Sciences seeking more space with a new building at TIFR (c 1998-2014), and the roadblocks along the way.

PP Ranjith, early hire as lab manager at NCBS: On building an efficient administrative process in the lab and working within the rules.

Sudhanshu Jha, ex director of TIFR: On Homi Bhabha's administrative skills and the need to follow rules and process as an institution scales.

Krishanu Ray, faculty member and former PhD student at TIFR: On the idea of autonomy for research, with a comparison of TIFR's Department of Biological Sciences and NCBS.

Man Mohan Johri, retired faculty member from TIFR: Reflections on the start of NCBS, the conversations at the molecular biology unit and figuring out whether one makes the move to Bangalore.

Obaid Siddiqi, founding member of NCBS & TIFR's molecular biology unit: Reflections on the role and limitations of a director of an institute

Virendra Singh, former director of TIFR: On the need for NCBS autonomy and yet defining the link to TIFR.

Vidyanand Nanjundiah, faculty member at TIFR in 1980s: Reflecting on the role of H Sharat Chandra in early negotiations for NCBS to get space in Bangalore

Jayant Udgaonkar, faculty member at NCBS: On writing an angry letter to the then director of TIFR, after facing many delays in the setup of NCBS

TM Sahadevan, long-time administrative architect at NCBS: Memories of the late 1980s period when NCBS was being offered land in Maharashtra while struggling to find land in Karnataka.

BV Sreekantan, former director of TIFR: Reflecting on the search for land in Bangalore for NCBS, c 1987.

K VijayRaghavan, faculty member at NCBS: Recounting the wading through bureaucracy in the late 1980s, and the different attitudes of the early NCBS faculty.

CNR Rao, National Research Professor at JNCASR and former director, IISc: On the nature of scientific collaborations in the country.

TM Sahadevan, long-time administrative architect at NCBS: First meeting with Obaid Siddiqi at the TIFR Centre, IISc, in the mid 1980s.

BV Sreekantan, former director of TIFR: The 1985 negotiations with the Planning Commission to set up national centres under TIFR to justify the scope of proposed programmes, including NCBS and GMRT.

1. initially conceived master plan of NCBS campus.jpg
Initially conceived master plan of the NCBS campus by Raj Rewal Associates, c 1993.

16.  NCBS Campus- Barren land being levelled.jpg
Barren land on the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) campus, leveled prior to the construction of NCBS, c 1994.

1988 Indian Architect Mag Cover - Raj Rewal - OS.tif
Obaid Siddiqi's copy of a 1988 issue of "Indian Architect" Magazine featuring a cover story on Raj Rewal's design of the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi.

1991 Jul NCBS compound wall - Siddiqi reply 2.tif
Obaid Siddiqi's reply to an office memo at TIFR about the building of a compound wall in July 1991 to define the boundaries for the new NCBS.

1992 Architect Subcommittee Review Report - Comparisons and selection - 1.tif
A committee report from 1992 on the selection of an external architect for the design of NCBS, with details on Raj Rewal's previous work on the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi.

1992 Architect Subcommittee Review Report - Comparisons and selection - 2.tif
A committee report from 1992 on the selection of an external architect for the design of NCBS, with details on Raj Rewal's previous work on the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi.

1992 Aug - RD John to Siddiqi - Borewell need at NCBS site.tif
NCBS hired RD John, a retired Department of Space engineer, as an external advisor for the NCBS construction. Here, RD John relays to Obaid Siddiqi the delay in getting water to the construction site and the need for the construction agency to have…

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_1.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_2.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_3pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_4.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_5.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_6.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_7.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_8.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 D-2003-01237 RajRewal_NCBS_Architecture_9.pdf
The initial project design proposal for NCBS, sent in by Raj Rewal Associates.

1992 early - TIFR Council Meet - Architect - 1.pdf
Although the DAE had an architect division, the initial crew for NCBS insisted that the new institute should hire an external architect who had experience with laboratory space design. TIFR Council Meeting Minutes from early 1992 where the Council…

1992 early - TIFR Council Meet - Architect - 2.pdf
Although the DAE had an architect division, the initial crew for NCBS insisted that the new institute should hire an external architect who had experience with laboratory space design. TIFR Council Meeting Minutes from early 1992 where the Council…

1992 Jan - DAE to TIFR - NCBS IISc renovation order.tif
While NCBS was being built, the early faculty continued to work at the TIFR Centre on the IISc Campus, and needed more lab space. The DAE sanctioned money for this additional construction effort in January 1992.

1993 May NCBS Raj Rewal Hiring.tif
Raj Rewal's acceptance letter for an offer to be the architect for the design of NCBS. May 1993.

1993-04-26 PMC 2 Minutes - Architect choice.tif
In April 1993, the Project Management Committee of NCBS approved the hiring of Raj Rewal for the NCBS design, based upon the assessment of a 1992 committee that evaluated the work of five external architects.

1995 1st Floor Plan of TIFR at Bangalore.tif
First floor plan of the TIFR Centre, Bangalore, in 1995. While NCBS was being built, the early faculty continued to work at the TIFR Centre on the IISc Campus.

1995 Mar Poornima To Raj Rewal - Toilet note.tif
Early in the project, NCBS hired an external architect, Raj Rewal, to design the campus. It also hired U.B. Poornima, a local architect, to interface between Raj Rewal Associates, the DAE and the NCBS faculty. Her role would prove to be critical as…

1995 MKM Laboratory design at NCBS.tif
Early designs of laboratory space for the founding members of the NCBS Faculty. This image shows the design for MK Mathew's laboratory in 1995.

1995 NCBS construction photo - 1.jpg
NCBS construction in process. View overlooking the plantation.

1995-96 D-2004-01240-02  -  ncbs construction monthly report.tif
Every month, TM Sahadevan, an administrative officer at NCBS, would send a report to TIFR with an update of the construction process. The reports would include pasted photographs of the site. By 1997, they switched to digital prints.

1995-96 D-2004-01240-04  -  ncbs construction monthly report.tif
Every month, TM Sahadevan, an administrative officer at NCBS, would send a report to TIFR with an update of the construction process. The reports would include pasted photographs of the site. By 1997, they switched to digital prints.

1995-96 D-2004-01240-05  -  ncbs construction monthly report.tif
Every month, TM Sahadevan, an administrative officer at NCBS, would send a report to TIFR with an update of the construction process. The reports would include pasted photographs of the site. By 1997, they switched to digital prints.