When Charles Correa was designing the hotel Cidade de Goa- an explosion of colours and an exploration of rich imagery- Sanjay Mohe, who was working with him at the time, recalls the childlike excitement with which Correa looked at the first set of photographs of the project. “He spread the postcard size photographs on a table, and there were colours splashed everywhere and it was like the whole form coming to life. And Correa said, if one building can give us so many photographs, it has to be a good building,” recounts Mohe, the day back in the early 80s as fresh as if it were yesterday.
As Correa‘s project brief describes the facades in the hotel, ‘…a kaleidoscopic series of visual sensations and architectural spaces. What is real? The object? Or the image? Awakening subconscious responses in the memory.. the bittersweet saudade of nostalgia.. like the facades of Alfama.. a sardonic art.’
Correa was known for his articulate speech and flawless writing, but never getting carried away with just the romantic idea and never losing track of the root cause. “He did not mystify, he simplified. He was that rare combination of thinker, creator and orator. He was always thinking, faster than all of us,” Mohe says, speaking about how each of his projects were at a higher plane by just using that one simple idea that stood out.
He recalls a time when he visited Correa’s Bharat Bhavan at Bhopal, a arts and museum complex that was designed with multi level terraces leading to a lake.“There was a small boy there, who asked his father ‘Is this a playground’. I thought this is the success- he had succeeded in making the building a non building.”
Every project had a story, and the solutions a prototype to the building type. He resolved designs with mathematical precision, says Mohe, with the aspects of climate, technology, culture and aspiration. “The last two aspects are immeasurable, and these are what many architects struggle with. But Correa understood aspirations of people. Like planners, he always had the bigger picture in mind,” he says.
Correa was fondly looked at by architects as one who would represent and protect India, its ethos and culture. “While everyone was busy critiquing our culture, Correa always stood by it despite his Western education. Many people who go abroad and return get disoriented. But Correa’s clarity of thought was strong and he has no confusions. He knew how to work with Indian conditions, with not much sophistication in technology. He would use simple brick and plaster and work with the PWD contractors. But in his projects abroad, we can find him using more sophisticated technology that he would not have done in India,” says Mohe.
The preface of Correa’s book A Place in the Shade states- For the Ekalavya in each of us. And true to this, Mohe says, he did not need to go to colleges and teach in order to inspire students, he did it by demonstration, which is possibly the best way of teaching. The phenomenal range of work Correa has left behind from houses to offices and hotels to the township of Navi Mumbai, Mohe believes, is something no other architect could have so skillfully handled.
The influence Correa had on Mohe is evident in the way he remembers tiny details from a conversation years ago, elements of every project, and the magnetism of Correa’s personality. “If a person can inspire someone so consistently for 40 years then there can be no doubt that he is a great man,” he concludes.
(The article first appeared in the Hindu Property Plus, 19 June 2015, written by Archita S)