At about 7.50 am on Wednesday, architect Bijoy Ramachandran of Hundred hands messaged his acquaintances: “Sad news. Correa passed away at 11.45 pm, Tuesday night.”
For those who had heard 84-year-old architect, planner, activist and theoretician Charles Correa at the JN Tata Auditorium in Bengaluru last year, this moment brought a sense of personal loss though Correa in his lifetime had touched millions with his deeply empathetic architectural work and scholarly writing.
Even in the heart of urban sprawls, Correa tried to create semi-rural environments and build within the context of a city’s geographical, emotional and historical context.
His house in Koramangala, Bengaluru, which is now a Fabindia outlet, exemplifies his approach to even large homes where the only true luxury is their communication with the elements via a courtyard or similar organic interventions.
He respected the scale of human existence rather than of towering buildings, which he famously said exist oblivious to the squatters in their shadows.
The outpouring of tributes to one of the greatest architects India has ever seen was inevitable. Indrajit Kembhavi of Kembhavi Architecture Foundation said, “The word that best describes Charles Correa is ‘profound’. His architecture was joyful while being austere and his designs were sublimely Indian. As the ultimate torch-bearer of post-Independence architecture, he not only inspired generations of Indian architects but also established his pre-eminence on the international stage. We were blessed to have had the privilege of interacting with him and he will continue to inspire us forever. May his soul rest in peace.”
Architectural photographer Shalini Sehgal put up Correa’s landmark building Visvesvaraya Tower as her status picture and posted, “What can I say about a legend…I am dust.”
And then the recollections followed. Noted architect Prem Chandavarkar posted an emotional tribute to Correa, while Chitra Vishwanath of Biome Environmental Solutions reminisced, “I did not know him personally but I have heard him speak and the most prominent memory of the last lecture was him calling out Bengaluru’s architects and citizens to question the way their city was being taken over by developers and to reclaim it.”
She added, “Most of what he said in his lecture that night, he has already outlined in his book, The New Landscape (published in the 80s) where he wrote that developers cannot make a city. A city is for a lot of people, purposes and it is not just a built-up space but a space for ideas too.”
Environment professional Vishwanath Srikantaiah added, “In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi appointed him as the chairman of the National Commission on Urbanisation and he had an excellent road map for development which wasn’t followed. He had a vision for dispersive and not concentrated urban development and he had expounded the need for the creation of 500 GEMs (Generators of Economic Movement) and SPURS (Spatially Prioritised Urban Settlements) as new towns. He was the proponent of low-rise and high-density social housing like the Belapur residential sector in New Bombay.”
Added Vishwanath, “With his writing and his architecture, he addressed the social and not the material milieu in India. He argued for the architecture ‘for’ India and ‘of’ India and his book The New Landscape is a treatise that we can still learn from and hopefully, our ambitious 100 Smart Cities blueprint will derive a little inspiration from him.”
As Correa would say, ” Architecture is not a queue in which we all have to line up, with perhaps the Americans ahead, or the Chinese behind. No, each of us has the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of where we live. No one else can do that. It’s up to us to understand that opportunity.”
with The New Indian Express Reema Moudgil works for The New Indian Express, Bangalore, is the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, an artist, a former RJ and a mother. She dreams of a cottage of her own that opens to a garden and where she can write more books, paint, listen to music and just be silent with her cats.