How barefoot is Barefoot College? The USP of the acclaimed institute at Tilonia near Jaipur—that it was built by unlettered ‘‘barefoot’’ architects—has now become its Achilles heel, with a Delhi-based architect winning credit for the design that bagged the $5,00,000 Aga Khan award for Architecture last year.
The foundation has revised its award citation—which had earlier credited an ‘‘illiterate farmer’’—to pencil in the name of Neehar Raina. His name is also included in the text and credit displayed on the foundation’s website.
The institute—previously known as the Social Work and Research Centre and set up by ex-IAS officer Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy—has won worldwide fame for its innovative approach to rural development. But the Aga Khan award, which lauded its campus, rainwater harvesting projects and homes for the homeless, only served to kick off a controversy.
Raina—who says he was paid Rs 72,000 for his work—protested that not only had his name been dropped from the citation, but also his work as project designer had been attributed to an ‘illiterate farmer’. The citation originally issued to the Barefoot Architects said: ‘‘The success of this approach is exemplified through the construction of the campus by an illiterate farmer from Tilonia along with 12 other barefoot architects, most of them have no formal education.’’
The revised citation, which Raina received on Friday, now reads: ‘‘A young architect, Neehar Raina, prepared the architectural layout and an illiterate farmer from Tilonia, along with 12 other Barefoot Architects, constructed the buildings.’’
Raina said that the project, which unfolded on an eight-acre campus 100 km from Jaipur, was like any other, where a qualified architect prepared the designs and then handed them over to locals. ‘‘I spent months in Tilonia researching local material and traditional architecture. All the designs and drawings of all buildings were made by my Delhi office.’’
Raina corresponded at length with the foundation’s office as well as the Delhi-based Council for Architecture. ‘‘By calling SWRC New Campus designed by me a barefoot college and attributing designs, ideas, concepts, implementation and supervision to people who were merely supervisors and masons, Roy has made a mockery of not only the architectural profession but of the prestigious Aga Khan award for Architecture,’’ said one of his letters to Jack Kennedy of the Foundation.
The foundation then asked senior architect Romi Khosla to investigate the row, after which it rewrote the award citation to credit Raina.
But Bunker Roy sought to make a difference between the project’s ‘designer’ and ‘architect’. ‘‘It has been decided that Raina was the designer and not the architect. There’s a difference between the two,’’ he told The Indian Express. ‘‘I don’t mind being called the designer. Who else designs but an architect?’’ retorted Raina. His name in the revised text is under the category of ‘architects’.
‘‘It’s a question of ethics. When a person provides sociological inputs, he sometimes forgets that others are also involved. But I am happy that the foundation revised its credit. All is forgiven now,’’ said P R Mehta, president of the Council for Architecture.