Charles Correa

When Charles Correa won the Premium Imperial (the Japanese parallel to the Nobel Prize) earlier this year, it was recognition for over three decades of work which earned him distinction far and wide and any number of awards too with it. It is an architecture of horizontal planes, of roofs and platforms, open colonnades, verandahs and courtyards with fountains that he promoted and today that has become a style distinctive for our climatic conditions, an architecture that has grown out of the existing conditions of heat, light and air in our country.

The Japanese award, which comprises a gold medal and 150 million yen is given to those who have distinguished themselves in the fields of architecture, theatre and film and Sir John Gielgard was among the others honoured this year.

The award is one more honour in his long list of prizes which include the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture (Britain – 1984), the Chicago Architecture Award (1986), member of the French Academy of Architecture (1985), honorary doctorate by the University of Michigan (1980) and of course the Padma Shri (1972) plus the First Prize for low-income housing early (1961) in his career. It is a subject close to his heart and which earned him the distinction of being designated Chief Architect to CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation), the twin city project, from 1971 to 1974.

Charles Mark Correa was born in Secunderabad on September 1, 1930. After finishing his Inter-science from St. Xaviers College, Bombay, he went abroad to study architecture, securing his B. Arch from the University of Michigan in 1953 and his M. Arch from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955. He returned to India in 1958 to start private practice which he continues till today with as much gusto and enthusiasm he had at the beginning. He is married to Monika Sequeira (since 1961) and they have two children, Chinu and Nakul.

Perhaps because of his American training, he is rarely tempted to import Western ideas. Like most architects of his generation he has been influenced by Le Corbusier (the man who designed Chadigarh), but by his response to the Mediterranean sun with his grand sculptural decisions he believes that Corbusiers influence in the colder climes has not been beneficial because these heroic gestures had to withdraw into defensible space, into mechanically heated (and cooled) interiors of the building.

In Bombay, Correa is known for his Salvacao Church at Dadar and the Kanchanjunga Apartments, in Goa for the Cidade de Goa Hotel and the Kala Academy, in Ahmedabad for the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya and the Ramkrishna House, the LIC Centre and the British Council Building in Delhi, the Kovalem Beach Resourt Hotel in Kerala and the Bay Island Hotel in Port Blair, Andamans. But these are just jewels in his crown of architectural utility and grandeur that spread far and wide over our subcontinent.

On the site of the Mandovi river in Panjim is the Kala Academy and this centre for the performing arts provides facilities for a 1000-seat auditorium, a 2000-seat amphitheatre and a special black box for experimental productions. The walls of the auditorium are painted illusions of an old Goan theatre, complete with boxes and typical Goan inhabitants, drawn by renowned Goan artist Mario Miranda. They create an ambiance that is distinctly Goan, like the street in the Cidade de Goa Hotel. At the start of the show the house lights dim gradually with the illuminated painted figures in the balconies fading last of all. It is a question of illusion and reality playing hide-and-seek and giving the viewer a near-ethereal feeling. It is much the same feeling one gets on entering the lobby at Cidade de Goa and rubbing shoulders with the three Portuguese "conquistadors."

And yet, Charles Correa does not believe in wallowing in the past. We must understand our past well enough to value it and also well enough to know why (and how) it must be changed. Architecture is not just a reinforcement of existing values – social, economic and political. On the contrary it should open doors to new aspirations. Correa also believes that if we are always going to dwell on the past and the Portuguese, we may not have any present and future.

If one could list a few cardinal principles in his vast body of work, it could be summed up an incrementality, pluralism, participation, income generation, equity, open-to-sky space and disaggregation. And yet there is a visual quality that is akin to a great creative persons in any field and where the primordial has become a fecund source of the mythic. That is why Picasso and Matisse in their paintings, Stravinsky in his music and Le Corbusier in his architecture have searched out for the primitive.

By Ervell E. Menezes. Reprinted in abbreviated form from the January 1995 issue of Goa Today.