Charles Correa, pioneer of modern architecture in India, died late last night at the age of 84. I heard the news early this morning on an e-group of Bangalore architects, and share below the spontaneous reaction that I posted:
The news leaves me shaken….
A few years ago I was asked to introduce Charles Correa at a lecture he gave in Bangalore. I said that I did not want to introduce him by reading out his bio-data, as that is available on his website for anyone who wishes to know about it - and it is a very impressive bio-data indeed. But what I wished to speak on by way of introduction, as a member of the generation of Indian architects who immediately followed his generation, was the impact he had upon me. While we were in architecture school, there were many architects whose work we discussed; but there was a “big three” who dominated our attention: Kanvinde, Doshi, and Correa. All three did compelling work, but beyond that each had a different influence.
Kanvinde, soft-spoken and humble, had a very direct personal influence through the encouragement and inspiration he passed on to those fortunate enough to have direct personal encounters with him - and it is amazing to come across the number of people who say their lives have changed because of their connection with him. Doshi, with his infectious passion and energy, was the institution builder, and the legacy he left through the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad is truly remarkable.
But the difference with Charles is that he wrote about his beliefs, to clearly articulate principles on architecture and urbanism that he had discovered in order to share them with the wider community. So for the members of my generation, If we have clarity on the connection between architecture and climate, it is thanks to Charles. If we have come to realise that cities need to be spaces of opportunity that are both vibrant and equitable, it is thanks to Charles. If we have become aware of the powerful role that open-to-sky spaces play in Indian architecture and urbanism, it is thanks to Charles.
And to hear him lecture….one was treated to powerful images and illustrations laced with a commentary that wove together clarity, commitment, courage and wit. Wherever he was he would speak frankly and fearlessly, and he was a major source of inspiration to acquire the courage to remain publicly true to one’s principles.
What added delight was the humour that he would weave into his talk (with a glint in his eye). At the lecture where I introduced him, he began by saying, “When Prem said ‘soft-spoken and humble’, I first assumed he was talking about me, but only later realised he was talking about Kanvinde”. Recently in Bangalore, we were privileged to hear him in conversation with Jyotindra Jain at the Vimal Jain Memorial. His illness had already begun to affect his voice, but that did not hold him back, and he commented that at least he sounded like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and went on to say in a Mafia accent, “You gotta give me respect..”
Charles has further concretised his legacy by creating The Charles Correa Foundation, and earlier this year in March they held their inaugural event - an international conclave on the theme “Great City, Terrible Place…” (the title of an essay by Charles). For those of us fortunate enough to be there, it was a wonderful event and the greatest moment was the climactic event to the conference - a conversation moderated by Riyaz Tayyibji with Charles Correa, Raj Rewal, and Mahendra Raj (Doshi was also scheduled to be there, but could not attend due to some last-minute health problems). The three of them spoke movingly about what it was like to to work in that early phase of Indian modern architecture that began in the late 1950’s. It was a powerful and historical moment, made more poignant by the realisation that this was probably the last time we would see them together on stage - I think most people in the audience had a catch in their throat listening to the conversation.
For the generations that followed, the path to modern architecture was made relatively clear. But to this generation it was not so easy, and theirs was the struggle to introduce change, to lead the first explorations on what the modern architectural identity of this newly independent nation of India could be. We rarely appreciate how easy our life has been made by the battles fought by these pioneers. Charles was one of those rare individuals, who could simultaneously be a soldier charging in the front lines as well as a general who could make clear to us the battle we had to fight and teach us how to fight it. Charles is no longer with us, but his legacy still lives within each of us, and it is our sacred duty to keep this legacy alive.