With a global practice and international recognition, Charles Correa and his remarkable projects, whether the Kanchanjunga Apartments at Mumbai, the Jawaharlal Kala Kendra at Jaipur or the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon have been an intrinsic part of nearly every Indian architectural student’s academic trajectory. Projects involving imitation of drawing style, emulating spatiality and theorising design principles which oriented around Charles Correa’s work have been part and parcel of the curriculum. And while we have been engrossed in ensuring intake of the tangible aspects of his practice, we cannot claim to have invoked the intangible values which formed the very essence of his words and work. In fond memory of Charles Correa, three years after his demise, we pay our tribute and attempt, through examples of some of his best known work, to explore his ideology.
Hailing from Secunderabad, education led him to St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and University of Michigan as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and he initiated an architectural practice in 1958. His extensive practice, now spanning over five decades defines a range of projects across fields – residences and apartments, institutes, exhibition spaces and master planning for housing as well as urban centres. Among the most prominent aspects his architecture reflects include contextual planning, a confluence of traditional principles with contemporary designs and people centric spatiality.
Residences & Apartments: Kanchanjunga Apartments, Mumbai (1970-83)
The iconic Kanchanjunga Apartments have not only been a significant expression of Charles Correa’s architectural language, but in the midst of the dynamic skyline of Mumbai, the building is also a representative of his core ideology – An urban, Indian work of architecture, which draws from tradition, and yet serves contemporary requirements. The picture depicted above highlights the disparity between the heritage architecture of Mumbai, and the haphazardly situated skyscrapers encouraged today, rooted more out of the need to explore floor areas, than spatiality within and between structures, and compares them to Kanchanjunga, a sole symbol of what contemporary architecture in urban Indian spheres could be.
Image Courtesy: Charles Correa (Source: www.archdaily.com)
The section depicted is synonymous with an architectural student’s ideal perception of an architectural representation drawing, and indicates the people and nature centric ideology adopted and propagated by Charles Correa and his work.
Offices and Commercial: British Council, New Delhi (1987-92)
Excerpts about the architecture of British Council, New Delhi, from www.charlescorrea.net
At the farthest end is the axis mundi of Hinduism, a spiral symbolising Bindu – the energy centre of the Cosmos. The next nodal point, located in the main courtyard, is centered around another mythic image: the traditional Islamic Char Bagh, i.e. Garden of Paradise. The third nodal point along this axis is a European icon, inlaid in marble and granite, used to represent the Age of Reason, including the mythic values of Science and Progress.
Presiding over all this is India herself, symbolised by the shadows of a giant tree, executed in an exquisite inlay of white makrana marble and black kuddappa stone. – the work of the British Painter Howard Hodgkin.
With this conceptual basis, the design of the British Council is an expression in secular unity, and indicative of how varying elements can be harmoniously fused. Elements of art, such as the depiction of the shadows of the tree herein, have been a constant within the designs of Charles Correa. His work never separated the art from architecture, either visually or spatially. Towards his later years, from 2005 to 2008, Charles Correa was the Chairman of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission. Contrarily, as architectural identities within the nation are yet to be strongly defined, the accompanying art dwindles further, with numerous examples opting for imitation and art for the sake of art, a mere aesthetic addition.
Educational: Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune (1988-93)
The conceptual design for IUCAA represents the model of the Cosmos. The site comprised three contiguous pieces of land, with two campus roads passing in between, and the design incorporated elements such as structures, courtyards and a kund, embellished with sculptures, plantation and tiles. The ensemble represents the dynamics of Outer Space and an Expanding Universe.
The insight and thought process involved with such design adds to an inherent intangible value to the design and the project. Such examples are portrayal of true architecture, where the resultant is not a production achieved through mass replication or imitation, for the sake of building. Here, architecture is derived from the soul of the site and the function itself.
Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, Lisbon, Portugal (2007-2010)
The aspect of reflecting metaphoric expressions through architecture does not remain singular to particular works, and appears even in the design for Champalimaud Institute for the Unknown, a research and diagnostic centre. The significance of the site is evident as it is at this point where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean, and it was from this point that Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and such other pioneers embarked on their journeys.
Excerpts about the architecture of Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, from www.charlescorrea.net
The pathway is ramped up (at a gentle slope of 1:20) – so as you ascend, you see the only sky ahead of you. At the end of the ramp are two stone monoliths, straight from the quarry, as primordial as Stonehenge. When you reach the highest point, you begin to see a large body of water – which seemingly connects (i.e. without any visual break) to the ocean beyond. In the centre of this water body, just below the surface of the water, is an oval shaped object – made of stainless steel and slightly convex, so that it reflects the blue sky and passing clouds above. It could be anything – the back of a turtle, a tropical island, a treasure chest. It is the mythic adventure they went in search of, 500 years ago – and a perfect metaphor for contemporary Science’s own journey.
Representing architecture in a way that people can connect to it was an intrinsic factor, observed in all projects. Not only did his practice attempt this means to reach out to the people through individual works, but his masterplans for towns and urban centres are among the biggest reasons why he is acknowledged as one of the greatest architects hailing from India.
Urbanization: Planning for Bombay, 1964
Charles Correa conceptualized a plan for developing the region across the harbour, then to be called New Bombay, to act as a satellite town for the city of Mumbai so that all functions of Mumbai could be split accordingly. The plan gained momentum, the State Government acquired the vast 22000-hectare site for execution, and set up CIDCO, the City and Industrial Development Corporation. Charles Correa’s vision for the city was one wherein people could live, work, recreate and, by extension, commute easily in. However, with the State Government not complying with the requirement of relocating their base from South Bombay to New Bombay, a significant aspect of the proposal never gained fruition, and the plan, to decongest Bombay and transform it into an urban utopia never materialised. However, Charles Correa he did not cease to raise efforts in achieving thoughtful architecture, as evident from his legacy – his practice, his buildings, and his contributions towards inducing the same ideology among others – through organisations such as Urban Design and Research Institute, Mumbai, which is dedicated towards protection of the built environment and interests of urban communities.
The work of Charles Correa, be it an individual home, or a masterplan for a city, exemplifies intricate thought and detail in planning. While the various elements throughout his designs, such as courtyards, linear planning, incorporation of nature shows us what an architect should think about, it is in knowing him, and his ideology which teaches us how an architect thinks. As students, and practising architects, it is essential to keep the latter in sight, for our focus lies neither on expressing through aesthetic forms, nor on building mere shelters, but on enhancing lives through visuals, experiences and spaces, and Charles Correa exemplified this principle in Indian practice.
-Devashree Vyas, Volume Zero.