Today we mourn India's finest. Charles Correa was truly India's greatest architect, renowned not only for redefining Indian architecture, but also giving it the intellectual gravitas to hold its head high among international architectural developments. He stood tall, head and shoulders above the rest, an intellectual giant whose views on architecture and urbanism foretold things to come in future decades.
As an architectural practitioner, he baffled one and all with the sheer versatility of his creative genius, designing on the one hand, spectacular international projects such as the Champalimaud Centre and MIT Neuroscience Centre with their stark vision and massing and the Crafts Museum Delhi on the other, rooted in Indian vernacular traditions, with its modest, low rise structures in mud and wood weaving the story of Indian crafts. He was a master storyteller, using voids and spaces to weave a narrative of architectural experiences, threading a storyline through descending courtyards and steps in the Bharat Bhavan Bhopal, re-inventing ancient mandalas in the Jawahar Kala Kendra Jaipur, exploring and exploding the circle in his design for the Vidhan Bhavan in Bhopal and celebrating Gandhi through a masterful play of light and shadow in the Gandhi Museum in Ahmedabad.
In a way, the city that he loved and made his home, let him down, perhaps by being too diffident to accept his visionary ideas. Thus, while his vision of Navi Mumbai was developed, its transport links and water transport remain sadly unrealized. Mumbai lost out on an amazing opportunity to reinvent itself by ignoring the Correa Report for land-pooling to create urban greens and pedestrian linkages in the Parel Mill Lands. We can only lament in hindsight, what a terrible toll this has taken on our city, losing out on the opportunity of using hundreds of acres of public greens to what are now isolated towers of wealth and high rise towers fighting for elbow space with slums. Whereas he was feted with the Padma Vibhushan and other cities such as Delhi invited him to chair the Urban Arts Commission, we in Mumbai failed to adopt his brilliant design proposals for Gateway of India and the Parel Mill Lands.
A few months ago, Charles had called me, his once booming voice now frail and rasping, but infused with a sense of urgency. I went to meet him at his home and was met with that amazing warmth and hospitality that Charles and Monika are famous for. He was deeply disturbed that original Corbusier furniture pieces designed for buildings in Ahmedabad and Chandigarh were being auctioned to private bidders. He was equally concerned about the need for conserving the Gandhi Smarak in Ahmedabad and the lack of a policy on listing and conserving modern Indian architecture.
He left as a gift to the city, his web archives of images, drawings and sketches for students to refer to at the JJ School of Architecture, having worked the last few months of his life in painstakingly putting together this web portal. For all that you have done for architecture and our city, we can only say "Thank you Charles!"
(Abha Narain Lambah is an architect)