Icons: Charles Correa

For an entire generation of architects, Charles Correa has left an indelible architectural legacy

A structure I remember distinctly from my childhood was the British Council building in New Delhi’s Connaught Place. It stood next to my mother’s office and I could see the pale peach coloured building with the striking mural clearly from her office window.  I was too young to know anything more except that it was made by a certain Mr Correa, and that “he was a very famous architect.”

Years later, as I started to write on design, Charles Correa’s influence on an entire generation of architects and design thinkers makes me consider the impact that his building had on me as an 11 year old.

Born in 1930 and having studied architecture, first from the University of Michigan and later from MIT, Correa has influenced an entire generation of architects and urban planners. Known for treating urban planning as an essential part of a city’s growth plan, versus the traditionally held view by designers of urban planning being a necessary evil, and the need for creating affordable, low income housing, Charles was also one of the prime architects for the planning of Navi Mumbai’s township, which sought to ease the pressure off North and South Mumbai. Charles was of the view that a deeper sensitivity to local materials and needs was key to creating architecture that was relevant and contextual. This also meant that his designs were always informed by the site’s climate.

Correa’s contribution to Indian architecture makes for the longest list of buildings one would have the privilege of observing. The Kanchenjunga Apartments (Mumbai) Jawahar Kala Kendra (Jaipur), Bharat Bhavan (Bhopal), National Craft Museum (Delhi), MRF Headquarters (Chennai), the Islamic Centre (Toronto), the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (Lisbon), Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalay (Sabarmati) among many more are just a few of some of the best designed modernist structures to his name.  He has been the recipient of some of the highest accolades ever received including the Padma Shri (1972), the Padma Bushan, Padma Vibhushan (2006), the Australian Decoration for Science and Art, the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects ( 1984); the Aga Khan Award for Architecture (1998) and the Gomant Vibhushan (2011) one of Goa’s most prized awards, awarded to people who have demonstrated extraordinary contributions to the public and that state.

While he may be no more, his work has come to make a statement on architecture in the sub-continent, which has far-reaching implications for how cities in this country will continue to grow and thrive.

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