An event started by the architect continues to be a catalyst for projects that ‘improve the condition of human settlements in India’.

That admission came in another essay titled Great City, Terrible Place, which eventually became the theme of the first Z-Axis conference in 2015, an initiative hosted in Goa by the Charles Correa Foundation, ... from inception the initiative aimed high: “to connect the fraternity of thinker-doers in the domains of architecture, urban design, planning, social projects and conservation to an audience of influencers, professionals and students…thus creating a consequential community of intellectuals who will invariably influence the future”. 

Charles Correa warned about the disastrous consequences of the 'criminal indifference to cities'.
Charles Correa warned about the disastrous consequences of the 'criminal indifference to cities'. © Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics

Now officially biennial, Z-Axis is steered by the foundation’s director Nondita Correa Mehrotra, who is Correa’s daughter and a Principal at RMA Architects, alongside her husband Rahul Mehrotra, the current Chair of the department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She chose to theme the 2018 edition, which started on September 6, Designing Equitable Cities

Systemic flaws

“With this edition of Z-Axis, we have invited speakers who are social scientists [and] whose work has been on Indian cities,” said Correa Mehrotra. “We’ve also invited architects and urban designers, many from the global south, who have worked in similar conditions as those in Indian cities. Fundamentally, equitable cities are about creating the channels of communication for everyone – the public and semi-public places where we congregate, the environment where we all can share. A conference like this is really for civil society as it engages all of us in our concerns for better cities. The more equitable our cities, the more diverse are the people that participate, and the better for all.”

The 2018 line-up of Z-Axis includes a number of intriguing twists such as a presentation on The City Betrayed by Gautam Patel, a judge of the Bombay High Court, who has developed an avid following for his compellingly readable judgements, written with great dramatic flair, and a penchant for poetry.

Other than Correa, few have summarised the plight of Indian cities as incisively as Patel. At a symposium on Safe Cities in August 2013, he said: 

“This fracturing of urban communities is a result of our chosen forms of urban architecture and town planning, and is itself a consequence of the distortions in economic policy and development over the last several decades. Warped definitions of progress – fancier cars for the few, little or no attention to mass transit and public transport, public infrastructure and open spaces – lead to urban-built forms that are incongruous and inappropriate…It is the architecture of impatient social imperialism, the architecture of individualism, the architecture of exclusion. The built form reflects a change in perception and attitude, where the individual and his needs are not only paramount, but where the needs of the community are reduced to irrelevance.”