‘Architecture has become too mundane’ says Charles Correa’
‘India’s greatest living architect’ on environmental design, cosmic principles and why architecture is not like music.
Oliver Wainwright. 15 May 2013
“When the hippies first came to India in the 1960s, people got very upset,” says the 82-year-old architect Charles Correa. He is standing in the art deco surrounds of the RIBA in Portland Place – an institution that has declared him “India’s greatest architect” – where a retrospective of his life’s work opens this week.
“The rich Indian, driving his new Mercedes, just couldn’t understand why a white person would be sitting in the road with lice in his hair. A friend of mine used to say that the hippy is sending us a signal: ‘I am coming from where you are going,’ he is saying. ‘And it’s not worth going there.’”
It is a fable that neatly sums up Correa’s own journey. Trained in the US in the early 1950s, on a monotonous diet of Mies van der Rohe, he glimpsed the future and decided it wasn’t for him. Instead, he returned home and has since built a body of work grown out of a deep understanding of his country’s vernacular. As the simple product of climate, landscape and local techniques, his buildings have always stood out against many of his contemporaries’ pursuit of exotic western forms – which continue to erupt across India’s booming cities.
“We have all come too far away from the fundamentals,” says Correa. “We have surrendered more and more to engineers, who manage to prop up any design and manage to heat and cool any kind of shape. Ultimately we are the losers: everything has left architecture, except whimsy and fashion.”
Photo: ‘Architecture is a diagram of the cosmos’ … Jawahar Kala Kendra, an arts centre in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Photograph: Charles Correa Associates