“Certainly architecture is concerned with much more than just its physical attributes. It is a many-layered thing. Beneath and beyond the strata of function and structure, materials and texture, lie the deepest and most compulsive layers of all.”
Architectural development post-independence was very important for India as it served a growing and developing population. One of the pioneers of this modern architecture movement in this country was Charles Correa. He completed his education at Mumbai University, the University of Michigan and MIT. He has worked on over 100 projects across his 5-and-a-half-decade-long career.
Charles Correa’s Style of Architecture :
Form follows Climate: Charles Correa firmly believed in the approach of ‘form follows climate’ which is evident in the structures that he designed. His realization of designing climate-sensitive designs came from his visits and studies of Mughal structures and indigenous houses. One of the main features he studied and incorporated into his designs was the courtyards. ‘Shells’ atop the roof bring light and air as seen in many of his structures such as Ramakrishna House, Hindustan Lever pavilion, and Bharat Bhavan.
Cosmos: Many of his works also highlighted his interest in the cosmos from a cultural, spiritual and scientific lens. British Council, Jawahar Kala Kendra explored the cultural and spiritual route. In contrast, IUCAA, Pune was the result of him asking how he can represent the scientific model of the universe through architecture.
Visual Arts: Art is another sector that defined his architectural style, often depicted by famous artists. He worked with Howard Hodgkin on the mural on the front of the British Council building. He had also worked with his wife Monika Correa, a renowned textile artist. Cidade De Goa and Kala Academy extensively showcased art that in a way completed his designs.
Charles Correa’s Notable works:
Gandhi Memorial Museum, Ahmedabad
The museum is built in the ashram where Gandhiji lived for about 13 years. It was built with the intent of housing Gandhiji’s books, letters and photographs. The project was completed in 1963 and was one of his most essential works in the early stage of his career.
Charles Correa designed a modular structure where the individual units are 6 meters by 6 meters open from the sides and just covered from the top.
The plinth beam is raised a foot above the ground to create a floating illusion in the visitors’ minds. The u-beam channel running across the structure, supporting the wooden roof frame and clay tiles and also draining the water is supported by the 4 corner load-bearing brick columns.
The reason for this open modular design was because of the potential for the future expansion of the museum. The architect got the idea of including internal courtyards and a water body from his professor when he suggested that museums should have spaces where the eyes can rest. Hence the spaces act as resting points.
Charles Correa designed the museum in such a way that the user makes the journey through it and experiences it as if they are walking in an Indian village. He wanted to design a building that would reflect Gandhiji’s simplicity and house his belongings that would connect the present and the past.
British Council, New Delhi
The British Council in New Delhi was a collaboration between Charles Correa, Howard Hodgkin and Mahendra Raj. The project was worked on from 1987-1992.
The functions of the building were a library, an auditorium, an art gallery and the headquarters of their offices in India. But Correa wanted to expand upon his and the client’s ambition of doing something more than just designing the requirements.
The architect’s collaboration with Howard Hodgkin brought up an abstract mural of the Banyan tree on the front face of the building, symbolizing the tree as India: a great protector.
The internal space was also balanced with 3 axis munis that represented 3 different interfaces that existed between India and Britain for the last several centuries: Bindu from Hinduism, the traditional Islamic Char Bagh and Renaissance.
Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal
It is a multi-arts center in Bhopal, designed as a part of a Government program to have an institution in every state representing its culture.
Charles Correa describes the building as a ‘non-building’ because it was built into the hill and the lake adjacent to its border. One could barely see the built structure whereas the sunken courtyards dominate the landscape.
As part of his ‘form follows climate’ practice, the architect wanted to break the boxes and introduce open-to-sky spaces. Taking the design through a spiritual lens, he wanted to connect the sky to the ground that eventually leads up to the lake through a series of steps representing the sacred ghats of Banaras. The sky here represented the abode of gods and the source of light. The list of programs contains a museum of tribal art, a library, galleries, a studio, a workshop, an indoor auditorium and an amphitheatre.
The shells on the roof and slots along the parapets provide light and ventilation to the structure.
The structure is best described by Bart Bryant Mole who wrote, “Correa produced a building for the modern era which manages to also remain firmly rooted in the vernacular traditions of India’s past.”
The structures built by Charles Correa are not only a representation of the love that he had for this craft but also a source of inspiration for practitioners who want to explore user-oriented climate-sensitive designs.