Charles Correa, India’s greatest architects and urban planners, died on Tuesday night. Correa was one of the major advocates of what he called the open-to-sky space concept, which was reflected in his work across the world.
His rich body of work included Mahatma Gandhi Sabarmati Ashram, Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur, the Madhya Pradesh state assembly, India’s Permanent Assembly in the United Nations, in New York, two hotels- the Cidade de Goa and the Kovalam beach resort besides several residential projects including the famous Kanchenjunga unit in Mumbai’s Peddar road and Delhi’s Crafts Museum.
Correa was winner of multiple awards including the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal in 1984, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1998 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2007. The Charles Correa Foundation, which started in 2010, is an affirmation of Correa’s long evangelism towards inclusive architecture. He knew architecture didn’t work in isolation but involved economics and politics as well.
As the architect, who was known as much as India’s architect as India’s world architect passed away on Tuesday, his peers and contemporary architects remembers him as one of the most uniquely original minds.
Rabindra J Vasavada, Architect, Ahmedabad
Charles Correa has been in forefront of modern architecture since last five and a half decades. His life’s work had a tremendous strength of sense of direction which reflected his respect for nature, his poetic design sense and human dignity. His own personal appreciation of intellectual potential of Man and his own belief in that guided his thought processes through perception of nature of human needs and desire. His own intellectual brilliance placed him on a much higher level above many of his contemporary architects. His entire philosophical understanding of life and living characterised his architectural work starting from Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad (1962)to the latest Islamic Centre in Toronto including his work for urbanisation and the New Landscape accommodating for less privileged urban population. His works include buildings connected with all aspects of human needs and architectural sensibilities, spread across many countries. His works, including his teaching at universities has left an invaluable heritage for younger generation to emulate. He will be remembered for generations to come as the most important contemporary architect from India on the world architectural scene.
Mahendra Raj, Engineer, Delhi
I knew Charles since the 1960s. We were both starting out then. My first project with him was the Hindustan Unilever Pavilion in Pragati Maidan. It was a design which looked like crumpled paper, irregular-shaped, it was a small 900 sqm project. We had trouble designing it, there were no proper drawings. This was the time when there were no computers, no drafting tools, we had to improvise and learn along the way. Soon after that, came the Sardar Patel stadium. I was practising in Bombay at the time. And Charles came into my office and said, ‘Raj, I have a big stadium to build. They are giving me Rs 25,000. Will you build it for me? I will share half the money with you.’ We had to design a bay and that idea would be repeated in the rest of the space. In his early days, he would never make up his mind, like most architects I have worked with. Each day there would be a new proposal or plan but behind all that was a thinking mind. His thoughts ran before his words. We worked on many other projects after that including the Crafts Museum and Tara Apartments.
Jasbir Sawhney, Architect, Delhi
Charles was a unique individual. I have known him for over 50 years. I worked with him from 1964-69 and I was a member of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission when he was Chairperson. To me, what Satyajit Ray is to films and Tagore to poetry, it is Charles Correa to architecture in India. He brought new vision, keeping the needs of the country and the expression intact. He was Chairman of the National Commission of Urbanisation during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure and he brought together some of the best people to advice on urban planning during the mid-80s. His buildings in Toronto, Portugal and at MIT are landmark projects.
Jaspreet Takhar, Architect, Chandigarh
Charles Correa was someone who was amazing, inspirational and beautiful. While he kept the child in him alive, he approached his work with sensitivity and humility and went beyond the material in his design. A brilliant man who had a brilliant journey, he left lasting impressions, and urged us to not be judgmental, but gain clarity on the self, our own realities, the work and environment. With him, it was all about learning and embibing. And I will leave with a quote from Charles, from the book, Celebrating Chandigarh, 50 years of the Idea, 1999, which says it all – “ For us Corbusier’s work opened a door to another landscape. He showed us that we were free to invent our own future. Thus, even if you think that Chandigarh was a mistake, it was clearly the right kind of mistake to have made in the fifties. We had to create our own future. Not, of course, by slavishly following his language – in fact that would be the anti thesis of what he stood for. But, through his example, finding the courage to discover our on voices.”
Jagdish Sagar, Former UT Advisor, Chandigarh
It was 1997, when I joined Chandigarh as the UT Advisor, that a proposal came from Charles Correa, on holding an international conference to celebrate the 50 years of the city. I was impressed and pleased, and drawn to modern architecture, I was more than happy to have something like this take place in the city. “Celebrating Chandigarh, 50 years of the Idea, 1999” was a huge success, and I give the credit to Charles for this incredible idea and city-based architect Jaspreet Takhar for working tirelessly on it. In my interactions with Charles, I found him to be extremely friendly, warm, informal and pleasant personality. He would respond to every question with such sincerity, and give useful and educative answers. In that conference, I remember, he made some provocative remarks about Corbusier’s work, the gap between architectural and town planning, how Chandigarh was a ‘purdah city’ with the Britishers’ bungalow tradition, the look of the Secretariat and the missing Governor’s Palace which was on the papers but never got made. It didn’t go down very well with those still in awe of Corbusier, but I guess, in present times have understood and appreciate Charles’ insights. As for me, my time with Charles was and will be a happy memory.