Looking Back, Looking Forward. This phrase perfectly describes Charles Correa’s body of work. He deduced architectural solutions for today’s problems by consulting the past and keeping the future in mind. His vision for the country was that architectural solutions would help us sustain a good quality of life, allowing people to thrive and prosper.
One of the most striking feature of Correa’s work would be that they embody these ideas. They have been carefully ideated to be contextual; context here has a multitude of meanings – economical, climatic, social, physical and lastly, time. His articulate understanding of context specific resources – and how to effectively utilise them to achieve spaces which are efficient economically and climatically (amongst other aspects). I think that a strive for a balance between economics and climate is an idea that resonates with me on a personal level.
Architecture has to be responsive and responsible.
It has been a long running societal trend where this balance has been compromised. To maximise monetary profits, climate is left unconsidered; or money becomes just another resource being used whimsically. Charles Correa seemed to have an innate understanding of this imbalance and pursued balance throughout his projects.
The Kanchenjunga apartments, responding to its Indian context; source: Google
The act of balancing context and its various attributes all contribute to a holistic idea of sustainability. A project needs to “sustain” not only itself, but the people within and the land it sits on. In this respect, I would say that his works were never immediate solutions to any of the problems we faced, but rather solutions for how we ought to function in the long term.
Navi Mumbai proposal – an example of Correa’s forethought; source : Google
His passive approach to climate drives home the idea that one needs to confront problems at its roots. Active climatic control, as opposed to passive, does not get rid of the underlying problem of poorly managed resources. It only aids as patchwork to sustain in the immediate future.
A common example of this would be the “glass box”, a notion Correa was expressively against. Post globalisation, a glass clad skyscraper has become a stamp to portray economic prosperity. Glass, the generic skyscraper and the Tropical Indian sun is not a cohesive mix of ideas. Not only does it create new climatic issues to be resolved, it also has no relevance to the way Indians use space. Correa was mindful of such generic societal trends and strove to eliminate a problem at its roots.
Glass city of Gurgaon; Source : Google
Another important aspect of sustainability would be that people have the need to belong. They need to relate, be a part of a community and ‘fit in’. This brings about the idea of identity and led him on a quest for “Indian-ness”. People need to call a house a home, and Correa understood and acted on the architect’s role in enabling this.The Indian-ness of his buildings allows us to identify ourselves amongst our global counterparts and not get lost in a generic replication of the built form.
On a conclusive note, my understanding of Charles Correa boils down to his ability to confront problems at their roots. He had an articulate and multi-fold understanding of context and his visions for the country were in no way myopic. As an architect, there is much to learn from his understanding of context and ability to produce both responsive and responsible solutions.