Charles Correa, the legendary architect of modern India died last Tuesday. I remember sitting awestruck in Charles Correa's lecture at School of Architecture CEPT in 1998. Before Charles Correa started his lecture, someone was adjusting the microphone in front of him and the mic went too close. Correa immediately said, "Oh, here goes my front teeth." Everyone laughed and I told myself, 'I like this guy!' The lecture was famously called ‘blessings of the sky’ where Correa talked about his creative journey, building after building, to explain how he uses open-to-sky spaces such as courtyards and terraces in his designs. To him, open-to-sky spaces not only have sacred meaning but they are practical way of making climate-friendly buildings which people can associate with very easily.
Charles Correa is a leading name among a generation of architects who began their career when India became independent. And the question in front of him was how to design buildings, which have Indian ethos and Western modernity at the same time. Correa drew references from the historical buildings and traditional vernacular architecture without being burdened by the past. He absorbed Western modernist ideas of abstraction compositions and devised them to cater to the Indian imagination. His architecture was loaded with playful arrangements of colorful planes, light and shadows.
Ahmedabad knows Charles Correa as a designer of the Memorial Museum at the Sabarmati Ashram. He was 28 years old when he was commissioned this work. Charles Correa taught us how to design in a powerful historical context like the Gandhi Ashram without being loud or without pretending to be traditional. Correa’s architectural marvel in Gandhi Ashram reflect the beauty of being subtle and of being structured yet flexible. The museum becomes an obvious extension – not only to the other buildings in the Ashram – but also to Gandhi’s philosophy of austerity, simplicity and truthfulness.
Charles Correa was a tireless advocate of better urban living. His ideas of urban architecture and housing radically deviated from attitudes of greedy floor space consumptions and dreary skylines that define our cities these days. He was a planner for the New Bombay’s early plans until 1975. Later he was asked by Government of India to lead the first ever Commission on Urbanisation between 1985-88. A lot of what is written in the commission's report(s) still makes sense – giving more financial autonomy to cities or to create unified transport authorities and so on. Of course, these recommendations were never taken seriously or acted upon by the government who commissioned it. It is heartening to see that the NIUA (National Institute of Urban Affairs) is determined to re-publish the reports. Today we can surely criticize the positions of the commission but there is no doubt that they had comprehensive road map for the future of cities and this was in many ways a stepping stone for the future urban policies in India.
Charles Correa’s architecture and his ideas on Indian cities became ‘textbooks’ for the architecture and urban planning students. I am sure Charles Correa’s work will come to rescue whenever a teacher looking for an example to show to her students, - ‘Ah, see what Correa did in this kind of situation’.
(22nd June, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)