Charles Correa – An Elusive Image

          “The complex and ambiguous relationship between man and nature is central to Indian Architecture.”

Charles Correa (1930 – 2015)

Bold openings introducing you into the mind of a Master whose simplistic approach to finding contextual answers for urban issues, challenges our very own understanding of spaces. The way one Hall leads you to a stepped-central courtyard impacts the way you perceive things – his work moves you; pushes you and at the same time defines the program with a form, flawlessly. Sensitivity gives character to an Architect’s work. Capturing this feeling in built form is one the many talents Correa possessed.

Intangibility – the entire idea of it consumes the mind as it finds a way to trap it within the physical realm so it can be revealed to another. This trapping is an art-form wielded by the Master to bring life into his buildings. One such element is Light.

Light in its myriad of playful forms – the harbinger of sight- is one the most intangible elements in Architecture. If scanty it blinds us and on the other extreme, it glares. To keep it from scorching us in its entirety- channelling its beauty into a spatial form- activating its ability to make someone feel is a ruse that Correa applies in many of his creations.

Close your eyes, expecting nothing, stand underneath the pergola and let time pass you by. As the sun makes its journey across the cone, the way light falls upon you in a pattern heating a portion of your skin while the next is a shaded strip, brings your senses alive. The alternative bands of sensation make you see even though you have closed your eyes to light. That is the magic of arresting the intangible.

To evoke emotions similar to the ones ebbing within you is a talent of its own. This sets apart the Actor, the Artist, the Performer and the Architect – the Director of space- from a common observer. Beams of sunlight that filter through the gaps between the thatches and the morning sunlight entering the kitchen window inciting the tendrils of smoke rising from the boiling-milk into a smooth waltz, have a natural splendour of their own. Sun light has always been a focus in traditional architecture -be it purifying water tanks in Agraharas; bringing life to membranes by turning them translucent or as a means to portray symbolism. Charles Correa brought dynamism in the Static by bringing light into play- in all of the element’s forms translating traditional motives into contemporary milieu.

Exposure- the very word launches in your mind images of doors opening as two districts conjoin via the Threshold – the element of transition. Exposure creates form, creates movement just like your pupil dilates as you recede away from light and contracts as you bask in it.

Correa’s spaces are characterized by the experience they provide you as he varies the level f exposure from open-to-sky spaces to shaded porches and pergola-covered terraces. The shadier, more intimate corners ease you as you feel protected by the scale of them- the walls backing you up. A mezzanine platform that you’re perched upon- turns into a realm of your own as you personalize it because of its exclusivity in spatial terms. But as soon as you walk into vast, open courts- where the lightest breeze can rouse a tingle in your spine- the space affects you according to your persona. You’re either intimidated by its agoraphobic scale or stimulated so that your mind breaks through the shell and a barrage of thoughts rush past you- consume you­. Or you recede into a pocket of your own- customizing a haunt of your own to reflect deeply.

When you look around the Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur, a playful Lord Krishna playing his  basuri– painted in hues of black and white- on a boldly coloured wall is a sight you see after climbing a railing-less staircase edged to a wall. The vitality in such art- the Vastu Purusha stretching over the concave curvature of a dome or the stripes adorning the British Council building at various levels and staggered faces of the facade- have a language of their own. They speak to every viewer in a tone suited to their liking, under the broad umbrella of Correa’s objective of their creation.

Art in Architecture is a phrase that comes into play not only in two dimensional manifestations but are also ingrained multi-dimensionally like the way the spiral staircase is articulated  in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Centre in Pune. Materials bring unity while the colours he chooses mirror the intended vibrancy of the spaces. Colours activate a stimulus in our system that we respond in insentience. Our mind has pre-associated generic colours attached to nostalgia. And when they show up, our environment transforms within our mind frame.

Correa provides spaces that mean different things to different people through his artistry. And that is how he complements the multi-faceted yet unique nature of the humankind.

Visual connections transcend physical barriers. You can lunge forward into a space just by looking at it. Your conscience can be hauled from where you stand to where you want to be if you can simply see it.Correa’s Levels do that to their users. Being present but at the same time, detached from the activity around you just because you’re at a different pedestal is a bequest Correa offers to you.

The ethereal elements that he believed connect humans to their surroundings as life progresses – the Light, the Exposure, Colours, Visual Play and the plethora of emotions that they stir up in us evolving our capacity to experience spaces as they are subtly intended to- are elements that Correa’s Architecture is conducive to.

His will to defy norms where he believed they needed tweaking; inspire change, to respond to multi-layered contexts both climatologically and culturally, keeping in mind the larger scope of things led him into being the phenomenon that he will forever be remembered as. He is the personality Our Architectural Era will be remembered by.

The gems he has left with us will be sewed in the tapestry we, as his successors, create and pass on as our collective legacy.


(Article for The Indian Arch Magazine 2016 by NASA, India)



2 thoughts on “Charles Correa – An Elusive Image”

  1. I expected a simple article on Charles Correa. Didn’t expect a complete dissertation! I always was a fan of Mr Correa and BV Doshi. Charles Correa, just like Balkrishna Doshi and Ratan Batliboy was not a cosmetic architect like Hafeez Contractor, hence was lesser known.

    Loved and was pleasantly surprised to read an article on such an offbeat subject! 🙂


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