For well-known architect Charles Correa, the idea of processional movement in temples lends itself to open-to-sky spaces. It was one of the cardinal principles of his housing design. Lovely Villa — Architecture as Autobiography, a 30-minute film directed by Mumbai-based architect and urban designer Rohan Shivkumar and filmmaker-cinematographer Avijit Mukul Kishore, is a conversation around Correa’s LIC Colony in the coastal suburb of Borivali, a housing project in the early ’70s in Mumbai. It stages the quotidian rituals of life, of kneading relationships and the memory of home. Through old photographs, drawings, film clips, and a rather personal narrative, it weaves in the larger imagination of the city and state. Shivkumar dwells on the “home as a witness”, where between whispers and embrace lie the infinite moments of life. Excerpts:
How is Lovely Villa different from your previous film Nostalgia for the Future?
In Nostalgia for the Future (2017), Mukul and I were interested in the way that the imagination of the ideal citizen resonated with the imagination of the nation and the homes that were conceived for those citizens. In Lovely Villa, we were interested in how those imaginations were inhabited.
The film echoes what Correa called ‘cities as places of hope’. Why was it easier to do affordable houses then and what has changed now?
The socialist state saw itself as the one responsible for providing housing for its citizens. It created schemes and projects that allowed for experiments. Architecture was integral to this and was seen as an essential part of nation-building. The early architects in modern India, such as Charles Correa, BV Doshi, Achyut Kanvinde and Habib Rahman, experimented with the possibilities that this afforded. After liberalisation, these opportunities began to disappear. With profit being the primary motive of private developers, the possibilities of different approaches to housing seemed to reduce, with the typical apartment block becoming a default mode. Housing projects began to cater to the aspirations of the middle class for ‘exclusive’ apartments, which distanced themselves from the city and its differences, be it caste, class or religion.
What were you looking for when you conceptualised Lovely Villa?
We are all marked by the architecture of the homes we live in. Lovely Villa was the name of the apartment building where I grew up. Designed by Correa, the colony was around a hill with a grove of mango trees. I was interested in the way that the modern Indian state imagined its citizenry through the architecture imagined for them. The film was meant to be an exploration of the architecture of the colony as someone who had grown up in such an imagination. I was interested in the way that space stages narratives, and how narratives transform space.
‘Architecture’ in the film is not merely the built spaces that we live in, but also the ‘architecture’ or the structuring of family, and by extension of society itself. One of the key concepts of the film is the relationship between architecture and its power to structure life.
We hoped that through the telling of a story that was personal and intimate one could also tell a story of larger transformations, of home, architecture and citizenship. This is also a story of fathers, my own father, Correa and by extension, perhaps the ‘paternalistic’ state.
For Correa, architecture was a tool for a better society. In LIC Colony, what values do the spaces afford?
Many of Correa’s imagination of ideal living can be seen in the design of LIC colony. It was built by the state as part of their ‘Own Your Home’ initiative. From the varying apartment types within one building that allowed for different income groups to share the same space, to the open-to-sky terraces, and courtyards that allowed one to live in a more intimate relationship with nature. Since I trained as an architect, many of these ideas were important in the way I thought about ideal living. Some of these influences found their way in the design projects I did in school, and continue to influence me today.
The technique of going back and forth in time is present in both films. At a time, when our past is being erased, how important is the past to the understanding of our future?
Every house is haunted by the spirits of those that are yet to come, and of those that came before. As architects we always design for the former, a projected idea of how the spaces are going to be lived in, how families will set up homes, how people will cook and sleep. As time goes by, the spaces are inhabited with other ghosts — the corner where a conversation took place or where we keep the mementoes from our trips. These ghosts are always around in our memory and our desires. The film allows us to explore the presence of these hauntings.