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Remembering Charles Correa on his 85th birthday...By S Gautham Ratna Kumar
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I would often find myself in endless discussions with my colleagues and friends on what it takes to be a good architect. Some of us would quote the necessity in contributing to the growth of the society and the neighborhood we’d live in, while some would point out that the spaces we’d create defines us. These would range from issues of innovation in practice, vision for the future, vernacular contribution, aesthetics, cost effective practices involved in the project, valuing client’s aspirations. These discussions would sometime reach to a point where we would agree that all the above attributes should be the architect’s default mindset towards his practice rather than seeing it as an additive. Being a young architect, you’d always want someone to look up to and there was no one who’d fit the bill better than the Late Charles Correa. Although they were many architects who had all the attributes mentioned above and each of them would inspire you in one way or the other, none had the same impact as what he did.
Charles sums up everything that we define as being a contemporary architect. He was very modern in his principles and yet very vernacular in his approach and probably that was the reason why he never had a style and each building of his was so distinct from each other. The only thing that all of them have in common is their response to their location, context and their surroundings. They blend in so beautiful that the project goes beyond the building and extends itself to its surroundings. Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal, for instance is a seamless blend of the built form and the open spaces using the natural contours of the site that have been used to create a series of terrace gardens and sunken courtyards overlooking the lake. It was very important for him to make it all look as a single entity co-existing with each other.
The most important thing that differentiated him with the rest is his huge body of work. Very few architects would have had the opportunity to work on a scale that he’d worked on, which ranged from minimalist residences to that of the opportunity of designing one of the world’s largest planned townships for the city of Mumbai. He had covered everything on his way which included residences, multi-storied structures, commercial and educational buildings, hotels, public buildings, townships; housing and urban development projects and had treated them with equal grace and craftsmanship. The designs for Kanchenjunga apartments with its inspiring cross sections redefined the conventional notion of a multi-storied structure and it still remains a reference for students and architects. The LIC building in Connaught place, Delhi is a beautiful marriage of the principles of architecture and urban design, and the great vision he had for the city of Mumbai is displayed through his design of it.
His contributions go beyond his works as an architect and an urban designer. He was a thoughtful visionary who shared great concerns for the cities that we live in. He had written several journals and books on varied subjects of architecture, urban design, and his aspirations for the city of Mumbai. His concerns for urban environment had prompted to establish the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai in 1984, a public charitable trust which aims to enrich the understanding of the urban environment and work towards its improvement.
Words can never fully explain his contribution to the country and the impact he had created in the way we live, enriching the heritage of our country through the beautiful structures he has crafted.
‘Timeless’ is the probably the only adjective that hasn’t found its place in the long list of words we use to describe his work but his buildings are here not to wither away but to stay here for long and will find its place very soon adding to his already gigantic legacy.
May he Rest in Peace.
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