The natural Correa
Correa’s buildings evolved from the local climate and context, the way any sustainable architecture should evolve.
For a passer-by driving down the roads of our expanding cities, modern architecture in India today is replete with international styles, never seen forms, complicated structures, imported materials, glass boxes and such others. Those who have travelled abroad would feel proud how India is catching up with the west, not realising what we are doing is mostly a poor imitation of the western ideas, some already discarded there. The fact that many such ideas are inappropriate in our cultural and climatic context gets largely ignored.
However, modern architecture did not start this way, aping the developed nations, in post-independence India; instead it explored many paths to find what should be the essential ‘Indian Architecture’. Among those who led this from the front was the well-known architect Charles Correa.
Just as the un-ecological, energy guzzling mall culture started sweeping across, Charles showed the sustainable way in his designs for the City Center at Kolkata, which is an exemplary case of synthesising Bengali habits, city patterns, local climate, life cycle costs, day lighting and low resource building technologies. We have many architects who create wonderful forms which then demand power and resources to keep them going, but he could design world famous buildings like Bharath Bhavan, Bhopal, which lives largely within its open spaces providing natural light and ventilation. Cultural appropriateness and climatic conformity go hand in hand. Correa expresses it best with his modern interpretation for our design culture, in his Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur.
Today, it is the age of iconic buildings and advanced construction systems. They come with great slogans, compulsive attraction and many claimed advantages, but are disastrous for sustainability.
It is curious to see even during his peak fame, Correa did not experiment with innovative structures or international styles, which possibly helped him perfect his ideas across varied building locations and types.
This meant his buildings evolved from the local climate and contexts, the way any sustainable architecture should evolve.
Climate and context friendly architecture can never appear the same across sites and projects. Most architects fail to realise this and design “same signature” architecture everywhere.
With Correa, variety was the essence. To someone who does know of Correa, Bay Island resort in Andaman, Cidade De Goa, Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad, Kanchanganga Apartments in Mumbai and LIC Tower, Bangalore, would surely appear as designed by different architects, but they all are the creations of Correa – functionally, aesthetically and contextually.
Correa was not dogmatic either about tradition or modernity, attempting a fusion of both. Hence his buildings have vernacular elements like courts and verandahs; yet exhibit clean lines and materiality of modern architecture.
It is needless to emphasize that his projects added a new dimension to the history of modern architecture in India. Instead, what we need to emphasize is that we need the Correa approach, to balance the diverse demands of modern development and traditional sustainability.