ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Lament for Bombay

On Correa's Passing

An urban architect who was a friend of the residents of the city and the environment, Charles Correa was more than a builder of sustainable houses and offices. He was a quintessential Bombaywallah, one who put forward eminently sensible solutions to some of the problems of his favourite city. Sadly, most of them did not materialise and the problems continue unabated.

Charles Correa was a shaper of the public realm. Remembered and revered for several striking and iconic buildings, his ideas, both through writing and design, through built, unbuilt, and speculative work, foreground the community, the civic and importantly, the inclusive. As a true-blue Bombaywallah, a lot of Correa’s attention was focused on his hometown, but there are few interventions that allow us to identify Bombay as Correa’s city. Even today, Kanchenjunga is the apartment building we associate best with Correa. In Bombay, he was proselytiser, activist (sometime film-maker), academic and architect, but above all, he was Citizen Correa. His vision of the city was both broad and specific. He saw patterns and possibilities before most others, especially the government, did. And offered solutions freely. That few of these were actually taken is something that all its citizens must be held to account for. Therefore, on Correa’s passing, this lament for Bombay.

Correa set up his practice in Bombay in 1958, returning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after a master’s degree. His thesis, interestingly, was presented in the form of an animated film, You and Your Neighbourhood. He brought his concerns into his practice from the very outset. His early work can be seen in the context of the early post-independence years, where along with a few other practitioners, such as Habib Rahman and Balkrishna Doshi, an expressive internationalism defined the optimism of a nation state. Public spaces like international pavilions in the country’s capital brought him in touch with the government as client, and this relationship continued right until the turn of the millennium, but with varying degrees of success. His design for the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya in Ahmedabad (1958) is one of the finest examples of civic buildings that represent independent India.

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