Renowned architect and founder of CEPT University BV Doshi on a six-decade friendship with family friend, colleague and contemporary Charles Correa, one of India’s celebrated contemporary architects, who passed away after a brief illness at Mumbai on Tuesday.
It was a tremendous shock for me when I got the news of Charles passing away. I spoke to him last week when he was in Goa and had plans to meet with him there and spend some time together in August. I knew he was not well, but full of spirit. Our friendship goes back almost six decades at almost all levels — both our families were together, I was the best man at his wedding and we very often stayed together. My heart goes out to Monica (wife), his children and sons-in-law.
I met him as an architect in Mumbai, me back from working with Le Corbusier in France and he from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). As an architect, as an activist, as a friend, as a socially concerned person, a lover of arts, music, films and trains, we had discussions at all levels. Throughout the discussions one common thread came from our arrivals — his from the US and mine from France in the 1960s, searching for identity and finding appropriate solutions for the other half, the city structure, development of quality of life — in the larger context.
Our work continued to grow in planning in developing architecture’s boundaries and communicating them to the profession. Charles’ contribution to the field is immense… Navi Mumbai wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t participated in the initial conceptualisation team along with Shirish Patel and Pravina Mehta as is his work in housing in relation to climate and lifestyle.
Our concerns were with institutional buildings. He was involved with larger public buildings like the Vidhan Sabha, Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, the museum at Gandhi Ashram and similar large-scale projects. He recently did two to three such projects abroad, in Portugal where he went for his treatment. I’d consider these as his mature buildings, especially the one at MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Sciences Centre in Boston.
Charles was outspoken, frank, a critic, extremely sharp, articulate and a great conversationalist. He had a vision and knew how to put his point across, articulate it and create a pictorial vision as if he were a film director.
He was also a last-minute man but he would never miss anything. He was a great party man and always enjoyed throwing parties. He was a jovial, generous person who kept you on tenterhooks and made your life enjoyable with a few emotional ups and downs thrown in for good measure. He was ‘an artist type’ and enjoyed the friendship of people like artists Tyeb Mehta and filmmaker Shyam Benegal. Meeting him meant having a good time, going to restaurants and enjoying the day. However when it came to work, he was very fast and also a bit impatient.
However with students and professionals, he was a very dynamic speaker and critic. As a person he would always be very exciting. We would go to movies together, travel together, discu-ss every possible topic. Thriller movies were his favourite genre. It was through one of our discussions that he decided to start his own practice.
As individuals we were different. The expressions we used in work were different, however the destination was the same. He was a great admirer of Le Corbusier and his philosophies but he was also conscious of Mahatma Gandhi. His buildings always talked about scale and the possibility of change and there would be a sense of imagery to them, as if while watching a movie.
As a summary of Charles work, I would say that he used common elements like craft, folk art, Tantric philosophy, geometry very easily. To see his buildings and move through them, I’ve personally always had an impression that I am going through a movie and seeing ‘a new world’.
Through the way he modulated space, form and the way he located the building; he reflected architecture. He was extremely sensitive to his context and his sense of form was always appropriate and related. He was into experimentation in building and expression. This was a major feature of his architecture and he had no hesitation in bringing various technologies and tools in creating the right ambience. In the Cicade de Goa hotel, Bharat Bhavan, Jawahar Kala Kendra at Jaipur — he has used many such techniques that are contemporary and new; through ‘reinterpretation’ — to give th-em a contemporary meaning.
Right from his childhood, he was fascinated with trains and especially toy trains. This was second only to his love for movie-making, which he did in his first year at MIT as a student. His sense of humour and surprise, his drawings of conceptual sketches were very cryptic, suggestive, easily capturing the essence of what he was trying to do. His way of design was very simple, direct but he would create enigma or surprise through the way he would juxtapose spaces, light, courtyard and varied volumes. He was sensitive to land, the sky and climate. As an artist, he had the ability to suggest in simple ways how life can be lived or rejoiced at an urban scale or at a city scale.
At a personal level we discussed our work together and we criticised constructively and ‘grew together’. In the 70s we had almost formed a partnership, but somehow we too busy on both sides. There were all kinds of rumours of rivalry in the profession about us, but we were colleagues and contemporaries first.
With his death, I have lost a very close family member, professional colleague, a friend and someone who challenged our thinking and way of working. (As told to Lakshmi Ajay)