"I wanted to see what happens when you break the orthogonal compass, the four directions that define our world: north, south east, west. Though the project was quite small, inside you lost all sense of orientation and scale ..."

RW: One significant aspect of your work is its engagement with climate. You’ve said that “the wellspring of the imagination comes from the climate.”
CC: It is wonderful how climate can generate architectural form. This is true of the igloo, it’s true of the Pacific islands. It’s true everywhere. You have to respect climate. You have to look at local materials, local technology, and then you can come up with elegant, surprising architecture.

RW: You’ve been critical of Le Corbusier’s response to climate.
CC: Well, Corb did respond to climate with his invention of brise-soleil. But unfortunately brise-soleil was more of a visual proposition for him. When you actually use those concrete louvres, you find firstly that they get full of pigeons—in India at least—and secondly, that they heat up during the day and then act like a radiator in the evening. It would have been better if instead of concrete, he had used a lighter material like wood, which cools much faster. Or smartest of all: build a verandah, which shades the main living area, provides circulation—and cools down right away.

RW: The Tube House, a significant early housing project of yours, was shaped by its use of ventilation.
CC: Yes. I love those wind-catcher houses found in Iran and Hyderabad, Sind. Those really are machines for living! In the most romantic sense: the way Le Corbusier meant it. He didn’t say “a machine for living, how prosaic”—but rather, “how romantic, how fantastic!” Like a ship is a machine for crossing the ocean.

RW: You later applied this idea of housing shaped through its ventilation to a high-rise, the multi-storey Kanchanjunga apartments. Both these and the Tube House are now seen as ahead of their time. Did these set a model for other developments?
CC: Not really. Back in the 1960s and 70s, when India was socialist, we didn’t have enough electricity for air conditioning—and that was a big challenge to the architect’s imagination. Today you not only have enough electricity, you have mechanical engineers who can solve any problem. So you don’t have to shape a building in response to climate: you can build a glass tower and just use low-e glazing. It’s so sad. It reduces the architect’s imagination to fashion.
Architecture is a three-legged stool: climate, technology and culture. Together they generate the building. This can be seen clearly in the Borobadur shrine in Java, which represents the seven levels of Nirvana. And in the great cathedrals of Europe expressing the Christian mindset. So in my later work, like the Jawahar Kala Kendra cultural centre in Jaipur, the design has been shaped by climatic factors—like open-to-sky space and air ventilation—but it is also a metaphor for other values.