Correa / Doshi
It is a matter of great honor for me to be part of this celebration of Mr. Correa’s immense contributions. Thank you to the Charles Correa Foundation for inviting me.
Growing up in boarding school in the 80s, I remember vividly my summer vacations with my grandparents in Trivandrum and our drives down to Kovalam to visit the beach. These trips almost always included fried fish at the Ashok and a dip in that amazing pool from where one saw the beaches below and the vast horizon beyond. This building was my introduction to Mr. Correa and modern Indian Architecture. Unlike anything I had seen before and yet familiar, obvious and in some sense inevitable - a series of terraces on a hill from where to survey the oceans. Moving from the intimate, nestled interior embedded in the rock, a place of refuge; out to the brazen, sun drenched terrace, a place of prospect. What a beautiful idea!
As a student of architecture, Mr. Correa’s projects and his essays helped me navigate this new world which at once seemed both tangible/real and indescribable/ephemeral. Mr. Correa’s essays were accessible - making connections between architecture and art, music, and literature on the one hand and climate, society, and aspirations on the other. They helped me understand the fundamental concerns of this practicing professional and how he saw his place in the world. They illustrated basic ideas informing architectural strategies and maneuvers (the open to sky space, the ritualistic pathway, the tube house/summer/winter sections, etc.) but also located these within larger narratives of mythology, metaphysics and deep structure, a term he often used. These larger ideas continue to require reflection and Mr. Correa’s ability to summon this ‘deep structure’, the quality of stillness and humility in Ahmedabad, a sense of the ephemeral and the great beyond in Lisbon, or the comfort of a quiet refuge in Bangalore continue to inspire our own ambitions and challenge us to consider more fundamentally what our work is about. With his companion texts and simple, clear illustrations & diagrams the underpinnings of his buildings were revealed. Buildings as ideas or rather ideas as buildings.
To me as a practitioner now, Mr. Correa’s work and practice offer up one other rather revolutionary idea. And this has to do with the nature of his practice and the way he chose to engage with the world. Practice as idea or idea as practice.
In many ways he predated by many decades what is now called the ‘radical’ architect, based on Justin McGuirk’s recent book, 'Radical Cities'- the activist/architect or pragmatist who isn’t waiting for the public authorities to initiate public works (housing, infrastructure, planning etc.) but is finding new ways to define and implement projects, like this year’s Pritzker awardee, Alejandro Aravena.
Mr. Correa was involved in this sort of proactive architecture & master planning throughout his career. His work on the proposals for New Bombay, the mill lands, the vast portfolio of public housing projects & town plans are inspirational. This active concern for the public realm, housing, infrastructure and the image of the city is a real lesson for me as a practitioner. Mr. Correa did not wait for the commission, the invitation - he was out there writing, drawing, making presentations with an urgency that seems just incredible now.
Mr. Correa wrote, “Architecture is an agent of change...which is why a leader like Mahatma Gandhi is called the architect of the nation. Neither the engineer, nor the dentist, nor the historian. But the architect, i.e., the generalist who speculates on how the pieces could fit together in more advantageous ways. One who is concerned with what might be.”
In November 2014, Monika and Mr. Correa visited us in Bangalore. We organized a conversation with Dr. Jyotindra Jain at the Indian Institute of Science. As a result of this I had the great good fortune of spending 5 days with them, ferrying them all over the city, Bangalore’s infamous traffic jams now working in my favor offering me more time for conversation! It was a magical five days. Though down with a rather severe throat infection, Mr. Correa constantly discussed the city, our role as architects, the nature of this new foundation we had set up, its focus...every discussion was detailed, thought-provoking and intense. It was incredible to be in the company of someone so engaged, curious and genuinely interested in the world.
Mr. Correa’s buildings, the seminal ideas they represent and his relentless engagement with the betterment of the world around him inspire me to be a better architect and a more sensitive human being.
Celebrating Charles Correa / State of Architecture Exhibition, Mumbai
I added this for a talk in Kochi -
I was introduced to BV Doshi much later. Working on a ‘What is Indianness?’ DY Patil Trophy for NASA I came across William Curtis’s book on Doshi. And soon I was at IIM Bangalore - encountering what in hindsight was to be the most instructive experience of my career. I still remember that first glimpse of the triple storey pergola’d connector - something archaic and yet modern, systematic and yet messy and open-ended, voluminous and yet intimate. This idea of an ambiguous, difficult to define entity seemed like such an apt metaphor for this place of higher learning...an open frame constantly expanding, able to receive any number of variations and additions and yet retaining its integrity. What a beautiful idea!
Unlike Correa, Doshi does not write much and his lectures are fairly abstract, and not easy for a young student like me. Curtis’s book is the only source that makes Doshi’s work and his agenda accessible. This mysterious process, and the varied, sometimes inconsistent and problematic projects produced, seem to reflect Doshi’s inward search for meaning, and the open collaborative nature of his practice. Rather than an architect articulating clearly the operations of his work, Doshi seems to be posing more questions, throwing me more challenges.
Right from the start Doshi’s work seeks to locate the lessons he learnt at Corbusier’s office appropriately - conscious not just of climate & building traditions, but also of mythology & cultural significance. This search for ‘identity’ seems to be the predominant theme in his work. And the abstraction of this idea of identity give his projects a quality of always being a work in progress. He rejects the idea of a ‘whole’ made up of parts or fragments and instead many of his buildings are a composition of fragments - often violent, open-ended but always masterfully balanced and proportioned. Many of the projects are best experienced first hand and do not offer themselves up well for photographs.
Doshi’s legacy though is tied intrinsically to the school (CEPT) and the idea of his office as a place for exchange. Though rooted in the modernist tradition, both the school and his office have been the breeding ground for some of the most interesting architects and academicians in the country today. He has created an environment in both places that engenders discussion and research.
It was my great good fortune that Premjit, my brother, came back to India in 2008 and agreed to make the film with Doshi. This process which took roughly 9 months, brought me close to my brother, and gave both of us the opportunity to spend an incredible time with Doshi. The shoot was completely unscripted, a serendipitous coming together of three people who, as Doshi puts it, had to settle their Karmic bank balances!
Avani One / Annual Student Exhibition, Kochi
Also see a chronology of Correa's and Doshi's projects (selected) here -