Charles Correa, face of contemporary architecture in India, dies

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 17, 2015 17:38 IST

Charles Correa, who passed away in Mumbai late Tuesday, was not only the face of contemporary Indian architecture but also a fierce critic of modern urban planning and was concerned about living conditions of the poor.

His pioneering work in low-income mass housing projects and vision shaped Navi Mumbai, the city that came up across the harbour from India's financial capital in the 1970s. He cared about cities, calling them places of hope in an interview to Guardian but was increasingly critical of the way they were being planned.

"Market forces do not make cities, they destroy them," the iconic architect told the audience at an HT For Mumbai event in January 2015 after receiving the lifetime achievement award.

Correa, who died after a brief illness, was deeply invested in cities, said Sarita Vijayan who often featured him in Indian Architect and Builder, the magazine she edited. "He was vocal about urban issues," said Vijayan.

His signature open-to-sky style flooded his creations with natural light, vastly improving living conditions especially for lower income groups, housing for whom was often dingy and claustrophobic.

Correa, who defined post-independence architecture in India, designed Mumbai's first high-rise residential building - Kanchanjunga. "It is still rated among the top buildings in Mumbai, decades after it was built: this was the impact of his architecture in Mumbai. He put the city on the architectural map of the world," said Vijayan.

But when the satellite city of Navi Mumbai finally took shape in the eighties he wasn't impressed with the government's final plans for the redevelopment of Mumbai's former mill lands. "He was saddened by the way the government took his advice (on the redevelopment of the mill lands) and the way the lands were finally used," said architect Pankaj Joshi, who heads the Urban Design Research Institute founded by Correa in 1984.

His stamp extends far beyond the seven islands, encompassing imposing public buildings such as Pune's Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics and Jaipur's Jawahar Kala Kendra and Delhi's Crafts Museum that mirrors a co-dependent Indian village.

He also re-built Mumbai's centuries-old Portuguese Church in a flamboyant new design that used a spectacular mural by the famed painted MF Hussain to imbue the place of worship with light.

His last work was in Canada, where he designed last year the Ismaili Centre in Toronto, a striking building that responded to the traditions of Islamic architecture in a contemporary design.

Born in 1930 in Secunderabad, he studied at St. Xavier's College before moving to the University of Michigan and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

His friends said behind the serious demeanour lurked a man who was incredibly mischievous with a child-like irreverence for norms. In an essay, Correa said the lure of toy trains drew him to architecture, displaying the same sparkling wit actor Rahul Bose talks about in HT.

In 2013, Correa was named 'India's Greatest Architect' by the Royal Institute of British Architects and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the country's second-highest civilian award, in 2006.

His funeral service will be held at 11.00 am on Thursday at the Our Lady of Salvation Church, Dadar.

READ: Actor Rahul Bose remembers Charles Correa, the coolest guy

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