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One of the most important conditions for him was to rely on natural, passive techniques of heating and cooling a building that would reduce costs substantially.
Learning from the local vernacular architecture, Correa strongly believed that architecture had to be responsive to the particular climatic conditions in which it was built. The room, the cell, is only one element in a whole system of spaces that people need. This system is generally hierarchal. For us, under Indian conditions, it appears to have four major elements: First, space needed by the family for private use, such as cooking, sleeping and storage; Second, areas of intimate contact, such as the front doorstep where children play and adults chat with their neighbours; Third, neighbourhood meeting places, such as the city water tap or village well, where people interact and become part of community; and fourth the principal urban area, such as the maidan, used by the whole city.
Evoking the Indian village as the epitome of Indian living, in this project for families close to the new central business district of the city of New Bombay, he evolved a modular and geometric system that would create a hierarchy of spaces evoking the spaces of the traditional Indian village.
Three of these clusters were then arranged around a larger courtyard which in turn was connected to other such spaces. Each home too, had within its compound an open space that could be used for a variety of purposes. Each of these spaces was given a particular meaning in the way it made relationships to the street and to the home. Some of these became backyards, some front yards with otlas or stoops for everyday interaction between families.
In some of his later projects he even tried to create such a hierarchy of spaces in high-rise housing projects like his proposal for slum rehabilitation projects for MHADA or the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority. From these amenity spaces one may ascend or descend to the homes themselves. Often covered with a pergola, the open-to-sky terrace space is seen as an extension of the interior space when the weather allows.
For the multiple housing projects that he designed for the Life Insurance Corporation in Bombay and in Bangalore, Correa developed an interesting building type that incorporated these terraces in a step-back section.
In these colonies as the profile of the building steps backwards the apartments have flower beds that can be used for terrace gardening. A concern for terraces as living spaces can be seen in homes that he designed for wealthy clients as well as his proposals for housing institutional employees, including the Parekh House in Ahmedabad and the housing for the IUCAA in Pune.
Correa designed the section as a series of spaces that had no demarcating interior walls. Instead spatial differentiation was created by creating levels within the house. The roof of the house was also designed such that it creates a convection current in the house. While he uses the open-to-sky space as a climatic strategy for his houses in hot-dry climates, in the hot-humid climate of Bombay he deploys another strategy. These spaces can provide covered, but yet open spaces for much of everyday life to occur.
He re-interprets these as wraparound balconies in some of the housing projects that he designs in the city. These include the famous cross-section for the high-rise high-income housing project Kanchanjanga. A similar concern with cross-ventilation can be seen in his design for the LIC apartments. The Master Plan of the LIC Colony in Borivili in the northern suburbs of Bombay involves a circular ring road that encloses within it a hill and a grove of mango trees.
Feeder roads lead inwards from this ring road and end in cul-de-sacs creating a completely pedestrian zone within. Strings of different housing types are laid along these feeders. There are also pedestrian cross-connections between the various streets through the buildings. An important aspect of the LIC projects is the way in which they combine different house types and income levels.
He illustrates this through an illustration of a row house in Amsterdam and compares it with a mud hut in Rajasthan. Thus in his projects he attempts to accommodate a mix of income levels within a neighbourhood, towards creating a pluralistic community. Recognising that in the third world context the house is a constantly evolving entity, he tries to create a system through which this house will grow as the family and the income of the family changes.
The houses are designed to occupy only part of the plot, and there are ways in which each home can expand.
He specifies two party walls along which the houses can grow to meet growing needs but still allow for the open space structure to stay intact. According to him, this allows for local masons and contractors to be involved in the development process.
It ensures the participation of the end user in the design process and generates income at the local level too. This can only be possible in a low-rise, high-density morphology. In much of his work he also proposes that the construction materials used themselves could be of varying durability—from a box in RCC and brick infill to a bamboo enclosure.
This, he believes, can allow for ease in reconstruction and change. He also claims that the housing would be more sensitive to the local social and cultural dimensions of communities as it would be more responsive to the various needs. The construction would be faster and the low-rise building would have a shorter construction period than a high rise.
He also says that the nature of the materials used also need not be expensive and long lasting. He says that this is distinct advantage as the house may then be easily maintained and renewed. Most of what Correa predicted would happen has actually occurred. The project though has been seen as a mixed success. Most of the original buildings with their lean-to roofs and white walls have been demolished completely and replaced with new RCC frame construction.
However, since the construction is still contained within the plot boundary, the larger spatial structure continues to appear intact. One of the major problems that Correa identified with the housing delivery process within modernism is its emphasis on mass production as a way to achieve mass housing. He believes that this leads to extremely inhumane environments. His solution was to disaggregate the numbers so that many more people could be involved with the design and building process.
He had a unique ability to create simple, yet profound ideas to address the unique needs of the Indian city. However, for his ideas to be made concrete they had to emerge within the Nehruvian mode of state-controlled enterprise and industry. Correa realised that some radical changes need to take place in the politics of land and the way in which housing is imagined by the State. Then he imagined that key market towns in each district might be identified as new growth centres, and major offices and industries located in small and medium-sized cities, away from the major metropoles.
He was involved in setting up the Urban Design Research Institute in Bombay as a space that till date continues its research and activism on architecture and urbanism in Bombay.
He was involved in projects like the first proposals for the defunct mill lands of Mumbai in collaboration with Sen Kapadia and the Kamla Raheja VIdyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies. Later in his life he set up the Charles Correa Foundation that is currently based in Goa.
His interest in urbanism continued till the last years of his life when he was instrumental in organizing conferences and workshops on housing and urbanism. He continued to believe in cities as the cradles of culture and civilization.
He recognized that they were spaces where migrant labourers could find opportunities to transform their lives, yet he rued the fact that so many of these cities were overburdened and unable to create positive physical environments for their inhabitants. Yet, he never lost faith in the redemptive power of cities. Like the wheat fields of the Punjab, and the coal fields of Bihar, they are a crucial part of the national wealth.
Charles Correa. London: Thomas and Hudson. Correa, Charles. Housing and Urbanisation. Mumbai: Urban Design Research Institute.
New Delhi: Penguin Books India.
Housing and Urbanisation
Charles Correa : housing and urbanisation.
Housing & Urbanisation – Charles Correa