By Navaneeth Aithal
After Independence, India faced several challenges like providing shelter to millions of refugees, a shortage of resources, supply and skilled labour. The government public work departments were responsible for building projects but they lacked the experience to develop an architectural vocabulary representative of the nation.
A large number of architects from the country migrated to Europe and the US for advanced studies and one of them - Charles Correa - returned and evolved a style of architecture which was a blend of western rationalism and vernacular tradition, and had that bit of originality which would later go on to set new benchmarks.
Correa belongs to a unique and rare breed of architects who have made great contributions to the architectural vocabulary in India. In a career spanning over six decades, Correa not only evolved a distinctive style of his own, but has also played a major role in shaping the country’s infrastructure by participating in influential government projects.
In a field where an individual career might take off after one was 45 or 50 years of age, a prodigious 28-year-old Correa made his mark with the creation of Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya in Ahmedabad. His notable works since then include the iconic Kanchanjunga apartment tower in Mumbai, Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur, Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Sciences centre, Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown and most recently Ismaili centre in Toronto.
Correa’s architectural vocabulary was derived from local traditions, values, culture and importantly the climate. A smart response to climate often lies at the root of all his projects. The response often demonstrates a subtle and sophisticated understanding of the climate, mainly derived from observation.
"I had never learnt architecture as a style, but as principles, as attitudes," Correa once said in an interview to fellow architect S Gopakumar.
His unique interpretations of tradition and culture were expressed in his design through certain typical spaces. For example: the Surya Kund courtyard at the centre of the built form, being the source of energy. All his works have laid special emphasis on prevailing resources and materials. He called for local craftsmen who have been using indigenous materials for centuries while at the same time taking cues from western technology in his designs.
Correa as an urban planner was particularly fascinated by issues relating population and rate occupancy of spaces in India and other third world countries. His projects, like the planning of Navi Mumbai and others, are reflective of a sensitivity towards such issues. His philosophies mainly adopt a human approach towards cities by respecting and maintaining a human scale in all its built forms.
For the present generation, Charles Correa is not just an inspiration, he was a man who could envision built forms driven by a sense of creativity and unwavering principles. He has left behind an unparalleled legacy.
Navaneeth Aithal is an graduate in architecture