Charles at the Urban Age conference on governance in New Delhi, November 2014.
[all of the pieces mentioned below are available online by clicking on the embedded links in their titles]
The website for Charles Correa Associates
Two pieces I wrote in reaction to Charles’s death in Bombay on 16 June 2015:
In Memoriam Ulteriore: Charles Correa (including press coverage of his passing, along with some personal comments I have received and a couple of extra images of his work...and the picture of Charles below that adorned the cover of the book of portraits by Lord Snowdon:
Volume Zero: The Works of Charles Correa, a 2008 documentary by Arun Khopka, now available online about Charles’s work, “using live footage, extended interview with the architect, diagrams and animation. It deals with ideas of architecture and cosmic views of the culture of the architect. It deals with both the physical and spiritual aspects of architecture.”
Other pieces I have written about Charles and his works:
Charles at the Urban Age conference on governance in New Delhi this past November:
“India: Accountability and Governance” -the piece Charles wrote for the Newspaper for the conference
Charles Correa (Architect, and my dear friend from early in the Urban Age program) [As I said earlier, I call your attention to the video of our friend Charles Correa, which I suggest you watch to get a sense of the power and elegance of Charles and his thinking. His brief talk begins at minute 31:30 of the panel available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dloCPkws8i8&t=26m15s.]
Charles said that we have democracy in our country, but not in our cities. In a model left over from the way the British governed in colonial times, India’s cities are run by chief ministers and cabinets, not elected by the people whom they are governing. They make all the crucial decisions. In his excellent article, “Accountability and Governance,” Charles wrote that
There are two crucial aspects of urban governance that our cities desperately need…: Accountability…and proactive governance.
Around the world, more and more cities are being run by political leaders who are directly elected by the people of that city. So they champion the interests of the citizens - or they will not get re-elected. That is the essential mechanism by which Democracy ensures the accountability of our political leaders. It’s as simple as that.
To install this system of accountability, we need not convert our cities into independent city-states. …That is what democracy is about: confrontation resolved through a process of negotiation.
This unfortunately is not what happens in our Indian cities. Instead of this system of tough negotiations, with each side trying to protect the interests of their respective electorates, our Indian cities are run by a State Chief Minister who is not elected by the citizens of that city – and who can therefore be completely oblivious to their wishes. …Our Chief Minister has no accountability whatsoever to the citizens of this city because we do not vote for his re-election. In that sense, we have no democracy in our cities! What we have instead is a carry-over from the British Raj, where the Governor of Bombay Presidency had complete power over Bombay – as well as all the other cities along the west coast, right up to Ahmedabad, Karachi and Quetta.
In recent years, Delhi has become the one conspicuous exception. But even this is not exactly true, because the Chief Minister of Delhi does not have jurisdiction over several of the most important civic bodies and government departments which constitute that city.
When Arvind Kejriwal became CM, this conflict came vividly into focus. He stood up for the city government of Delhi, against the larger political context, i.e. the Central Government. There is nothing wrong in doing that. In fact, it is an essential part of his job. And let’s not forget, it was the confrontation between Ken Livingstone and Margaret Thatcher, with their conflicting agendas, that re-energised the city of London.
The other crucial ingredient missing in our cities and towns is pro-active governance. …That sense of urgency is totally missing in our urban governance – although the problems facing Third World cities are among the most fast-changing and lethal we know, and crucial to our very survival.
This is of crucial importance when it comes to the staggering problem that lies at the heart of the crisis that most Third World cities face, viz., the distress migration from villages to towns and cities - with squatters on pavements and other crevices all over the cities. This has invoked two diametrically opposed attitudes. There are those that say: ‘Throw them out!’ and others that say: ‘No, they have the right to stay where they are’. Neither attitude helps. Letting them stay where they are, living in bestial conditions, insults our own human values. Throwing them out misses completely the underlying problem, viz: the dehumanising living conditions and viciously skewed land-holding patterns that prevails in our rural areas.
Europe went through much the same process in the 18th and 19th centuries, when millions of desperate Irish, Italians, Jews, Germans, English, decided to leave – and for much the same reasons. But due to the colonial system operating at that time, they could re-distribute themselves around the globe – an option not open to Indians today. So for the rural migrant, arriving in Kolkata or Pune is a substitute for a visa to Australia. That is the functional role that our cities are playing in the development of our nation. What we have to do is find ways to increase the absorptive capacity of this urban system.
[The] National Commission on Urbanisation’s…Report identified several strategies through which this could be done… For example, in order to alleviate the pressure on our larger cities, the Commission identified 325 small urban settlements that are growing faster than the national average – despite the lack of basic amenities, like sewerage, water supply or transport. Most of these are mundi towns (i.e., market towns) – for instance, Erode in Tamil Nadu, a town of 160,000 with no sewage system, but which has evolved into the most important centre in India for reprocessing textiles. A bustling town, full of maniacal energy, it has buyers from all over the world, stepping over open drains. If the right decisions and investments are made, towns like Erode could form the nucleus of new urban centres that would deflect migration away from our existing cities – completely changing the dimensions of the daunting problems we face. And there are more than 300 other towns like Erode. This is why we need proactive urban governance – instead of the passive attitude which has now become chronic.
We need a confrontation between who runs our Bombay and who runs Maharashtra. That is the strength of other places.
We need to harness the incredible proactive force of India’s cities. Our government is faced with an enormous challenge—we have never seen such a huge change in human history: the distressed migration, all over the third world including India. In the past, colonial systems allowed for these people to redistribute themselves around the world; that is not open to us today. When someone shows up today in Bombay or Kolkata or Pune, it is a substitute for a visa to Australia! Our responsibility is to increase the absorptive capacity of our system. That is the real question we should be discussing.
We need to have an overview: the Indian people have an incredible energy and drive; but we cannot just sit back and wait for squatters to appear. I have never seen the kind of overview of analysis of India’s cities like what Ricky presented today—which are growing at what speed and why. We have cities developing where people are stepping over open sewers in their streets; this is not acceptable. The cities of India are part of our national wealth: they generate the skills we need to develop as a nation (doctors, lawyers, engineers, managers, nurses—all urban skills); our cities are engines of economic development; and they are places of hope—and, for the millions of wretched have-nots of India, perhaps their only road to a better future. What we need is proactive government.
In the final analysis, India’s cities will decide the future of the nation.
Charles at the Urban Age conference Mumbai, November 2007:
[from my write-up of my tour of Bombay]
We also saw the fabulous 1983 Kunchan-Junga apartment building of Charles Correa (a long-time participant in the Urban Age Project, and who, along with Doshi, is one of the two reigning giants of Indian architecture). It is a 28 story rectangular solid with a 21 meter square base, where the basically minimalist form of its sheer, flat walls is rhythmically punctured by its series of two-story tall alternating corner terraces—reflecting the fact that the entire building is made up of interlocking luxury duplex apartments on alternating floors. We even had the rare opportunity to get inside and see the layout of four of the apartments, which essentially wrap around the terrace of each apartment and open onto it from multiple directions in much the same way a traditional India cottage would surround and open onto its enclosed courtyard. Parenthetically, terraces work when they are two stories tall, in a way that single storied terraces simply never have worked for me. The outward impression of these terraces is also punctuated by brightly colored painted side walls that follow geometrically the angles of the sun hitting them, which gives them the look from a distance of being sculptural and three dimensional in a most interesting way.
[from the Conference]
Charles Correa gave a rather detailed exposition on what had reasonably been proposed for the expansion of Mumbai’s public transportation, and the potential positive effects these expansions would have—although acknowledging that it seemed clear that this was not going to happen.
Charles Correa, Architect in
[remarks by Cyrus Guzder, Chairman and Managing Director of AFL Group]
Mr. Guzder made some extremely important observations about his home city: Mumbai has its great points—scale, wealth, workforce, location by the sea, its cosmopolitan nature, and its minimization of caste consciousness; but it also has its terrible aspects—decent housing is unavailable, there are no quality neighborhood schools (despite the fact that there is a very comprehensive system of public education), recreational and open space is diminishing, no healthy water, poor delivery of services, and a miserable quality of life. He summed all this up by quoting Charles Correa: “Mumbai is a great city but a terrible place.”