Friday, 19 June 2015

Conscience-keeper of the urban skyline, Correa rose above all

Reporter: Bachi Karkaria

He Did Not Spare Designers Who Fed Appetite For Alienating Towers
When you walk to the edge of all the light you have, and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon, or you will be taught to fly .' Patrick Overton's lines glide into the mind every time you gaze upon the work of Charles Correa, who passed away on Tuesday .His iconic architecture across the world conveys both solidity and flight. Many cliches have rushed into the void left by his death, and, like all their breed, they are both apt and inadequate. Yes, he was `the greatest architect of independent India' (was there a comparable Indian one before that?), but his oeuvre tells you that he stands with the world's greats.
Yes, his was a god-given `mastery of light and space', but his contribution was not just to architecture but to the whole skyline. Correa was about cities, and the way they should be built. His works were only the handmaidens of his urban vision.
If you had the good fortune to visit the retrospective of his work at London's Royal Institute of British Architects, held in the summer of 2013, you'd have realized the limitations of all that has written about him, globally .
The diversity and the detail were awesome in themselves, but more notable was the urban aesthetic that canopied them all.
Earlier that year, Correa had donated his entire archive of 6,000 architectural drawings and other material to RIBA, the largest gift ever by a nonBritish architect to this hoary institution with its historic collection of 2.5 million items. In 1984, Correa had received the Royal Gold Medal, the Big Drool of architectural honours. Ironically, in that year, the other Charles, the Prince of Wales, dismissed modernist architecture as a `monstrous carbuncle', a description that our Charles tried all his life to excise.
Consider the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon's historic Betel district. Apart from its breathtaking design, it reveals Cor rea's genius in melding past and present. It's built at almost the exact spot from where Vasco da Gama sailed out on his unmapped voyage to India; this state-of-the art facility for neurosciences and cancer too is dedicated to another genre of discovery . Its huge porthole-shaped windows frame a panoramic view of river segueing into ocean. Another aspect presents the hilltop chapel where Portugal's legendary mariners prayed before set ting out into the unknown. The tropical gardens inspire both research and recovery . The complex marks a historic spot, but does not appropriate it, tourists and citizens have open access to the beach, and to the Centre's own beauties.
This is another marker of Correa's design for urban living: the essential interaction between private and public spaces. For him these were the complementary Yin and the Yang which interlocked to release a third force greater than the sum of its parentage.
Correa didn't just mouth platitudes even when he'd reached the international stature that would allow him obiter dicta. Every one of his creations illustrates his oft-quoted statement, `Certainly architecture is concerned with much more than just its physical attributes. It is a many-layered thing. Beneath and beyond the strata of function and structure, material and texture, lie the deepest and most compulsive layers of all.' He rejected, with caustic disdain, the Legoland to which India's cities aspire--and never spared the architects who feed this appetite for alienating towers. If he weren't so lofty, he'd be on a permanent collision course with these high priests of high-rise who have converted the India's urban skyline, with no chance wapsi to the ghars of comforting tradition. His PREVI affordable housing project in Lima, Peru, or even his award-winning Tube House in Ahmedabad, are a conclusive riposte to those who pooh-poohed his lowslung concepts as impractical and anachronistic.
He was equally unsparing of journalists, including this writer, when they failed to convey the nuances of what he'd told them, or, heaven help us, if he believed that we sympathised even marginally with the Evil Empire of sky-mauling architects and rapacious builders.
He extended his conceptual sweep to the wider landscape, and was appointed chairman of the first National Commission for Urbanisation.Long before the siren song of FDI made urbanisation an official chant, Correa had anointed cities as `places of hope'. He'd added that `the skills we need are urban skills', and that `we never have to ask the World Bank' for these, because `we already have a rich storehouse'.
However, his hometown Mumbai became for him a city of disappointments. He was the architect of Navi Mumbai, but the lack of political will made it dead on arrival--till it was resurrected by Mumbai's bottomless need for land and housing. The bigger travesty was the way his mill-land plan fell to what would swell into the death-knell of the megalopolis, the politician-builder nexus.
It is Mumbai's tragedy that it was home to one of the world's greatest architects, but has recklessly spurned his world-acclaimed imprimatur.
Forgive us our ingratitude, Charles.
Funeral in Dadar today
The funeral mass for Charles Correa is to be held at 11 am on Thursday at the Church of Our Lady of Salvation (Portuguese Church) at S K Bole Road, Dadar. The burial will take place later at the Haines Road cemetery.
Some prominent Indian buildings he designed:
1 Salvacao Church, Dadar, in the mid-1970s.The church consists of a series of inter-linked spaces, some covered and others open to the sky Kanchenjunga,
2 Kemps Corner, Mumbai, 1970-83 | A condominium of 32 luxury apartments with double height terrace gardens at the corners. One of Correa's most famous landmark buildings
3 British Council building, New Delhi, 1987-92 | Building houses a diverse functions including a library, auditorium, art gallery and its India headquarters. It recalls historic interfaces that have existed between India and Britain over the last several centuries Mahatma Gandhi
4 Memorial at Sabarmati Ashram, a museum and memorial center in Ahmedabad
5 Cidade De Goa, Dona Paula, Goa, 1978-82
6 The City Centre, Salt Lake City, Kolkata, 2004
7 The National Handicrafts Museum, Delhi, 1975-1990
8 Kala Academy in Panjim, Goa
`Politicians' insensitivity to urban issues upset him':
The legacy he left behind is an incredible one because it spans everything from urban planning to jewels of architecture. While he was imagining New Bombay, he was also building the Gandhi ashram -that itself was amazing.
In urban terms he anticipated what happened to Bombay, New Bombay was about avoiding what has happened. Nationally, he constructed a theory about how we should be imagine cities in the Indian context. In recent years, he was frustrated with politicians and bureaucrats and their myopia and insensitivity to urban issues.The idea that you can leave cities to market forces -that's what Correa was resisting. Planning has to be a state subject because it's about the common good.
In architectural terms, there's a plethora of incredible buildings, buildings that grew out of locality, time, climate and more than that he was able to articulate these ideas beautifully in the written word, which is there for us to read in all time to come.
The Gandhi ashram was seminal in many ways, to find an architectural expression for the values and sensibility that Gandhi stood for, to represent values in architecture. At the other end, we have Kanchenjunga, which you can compare with everything around it and realise the complexity of what he tried to do, in designing apartments that breathe. Kanchenjunga was ahead of its time and is studied across America and Europe today..-Rahul Mehrotra (Rahul Mehrotra is an architect and son-in-law of Charles Correa)

SOURCE: June 18 2015 : The Times of India (NaviMumbai)