Charles Correa: The man who swore never to design a glass building

Charles Correa

Charles Correa  

With the passing away of Charles Correa, often called “India’s greatest architect”, the country has lost a genius of urban planning.

He was the chief architect of Navi Mumbai, considered among the largest urban spaces in the world housing over two million people. He pioneered some unique concepts in urban development and affordable housing that, if adopted widely, could change the landscape of the poorest townships of not just India but much of the Third World. It was Mr. Correa who founded the Urban Design Research Institute in Bombay in 1984.

If there is a legacy that Mr. Correa can be said to have left behind, it is a rare spirit of frugality, freedom, sustainability and rootedness in Indian culture, traits that distinguished his work and which shaped the trajectory of post-colonial modern architecture in India.

In a career that spanned five decades and an array of prestigious projects, Mr. Correa was the quintessential Renaissance man — architect, urban planner, activist and theoretician. He swore that he would never design a glass building, and believed in “open-to-sky” spaces. All his projects breathe this concept. They are responsive to climate and people, with emphasis on plenty of light and air. He extended these ideas to whatever he touched; his projects range from low-cost houses and educational institutions to state-of-the-art research centres and industrial townships, to cultural centres and urban hubs.

Widely recognised as his most important international project, the Champalimaud Foundation Centre in Lisbon was described by Mr. Correa himself as a “Project to the Unknown”, a tribute to how humanity stretches into new frontiers. Other significant projects include the new Ismaili Center in Toronto and the McGovern Institute of Brain Research at MIT, Boston.

In India, Mr. Correa is famous for the Gandhi Smarak in Ahmedabad, Kala Kendra (Goa), National Crafts Museum (New Delhi), Bharat Bhavan (Bhopal), and Jawahar Kala Kendra (Jaipur). Over the last few years, he was involved in researching alternatives to water recycling, renewable energy, rural habitats, conservation and regional biodiversity.

Mr. Correa passed away at the age of 84 in Mumbai, where he had established his practice in 1958. His philosophy and work will inspire several generations.

(The writer is principal architect, Artes-human settlements development collaborative, Chennai)

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 11:13:09 PM |

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