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Any habitat or city should be designed to respond to climate, culture, energy resources, notions of inclusion

and diversity, suggests iconic architect Charles Correa in his book, 'A Place In Shade' (The New Landscape
and Other Essays). These ideas can go a long way in restructuring our lopsided cities, discovers Reema
When an architect builds a glass tower in the middle of the Arabian desert, he justifies his design with a 100 different
reasons-except possibly the real one, viz., that he is trying to (unconsciously) recreate for his clients, the mythic
imagery of what to them is the quintessential city of the 20th century: Houston, Texas, writes architect Charles Correa
in an essay about the contextual detachment prevalent today in Indian contemporary architecture.
Look around your city and you will see Correas observation exemplified in awkward replicas of Manhattan's landmark
buildings. You will see glass, steel and concrete projections reaching towards something that vernacular architecture
never aspired to, because it always had a rooted sense of self, a context that recognised weather, acknowledged
locally available building materials and respected a self-sufficient design idiom.
A Place in the Shade (The New Landscape and Other Essays), Correas updated compilation of timeless essays,
published by Penguin India makes similar insightful observations about Indian cities. Cities, he believes can transform
this country because they are modern Indias most crucial mechanisms for social engineering-more powerful than
anything we have seen before.

The essays however also comment with some regret on how Indian cities have been politicised and bastardised to
fulfill agendas that have nothing to do with the ordinary people living in them. He quotes Churchill(not one of his
heroes, he is at pains to clarify) who with devastating insight commented, We shape our buildings and then our
buildings shape us. So who are we becoming as we inhabit aspirational cities tottering between too much and too
little, suspended between people who live in hovels and slums and those in multi-storied buildings pretending to be in
New York or Dubai? Correa does not have all the answers but he has all the right questions that we should all be
asking town planners and architects and builders and politicians.
He writes, We are only as great as the questions we address. And this, to my mind is the central rivetting fact of life
for architects in the Third World. Not the size or the value of the projects we are working on but the nature of the
questions they raise-and which we must confront.
Questions about how the increased urbanisation has left one half of India on the fringes of our cities where they squat
and gasp for space? How the holding capacityof rapidly growing cities can be increased?
He observes, Visiting a city like Mumbai or Kolkata, the first thing that strikes one is poverty all around. This urban
poverty is perhaps the worst pollution of all. Way before you see smoke in the sky or smell sulphur in the air, you see
people all around, living and dying on pavements. Is it inevitable that poverty should degrade life in this manner?
If space itself is a resource, how can we maximise it to the benefit of not just a few but all?
But even beyond these questions is Correas love for design, pure and unsullied be it in the form of tin railway plates
he manipulated as a child or his rousing essay on Le Corbusiers design in Chandigarh where he exults, Corbusier
has sought to create an architecture of passion. His buildings-both in concept and visual language-have always been
presented at a certain decibel level. No sotto-voce, no politeness but like Wagner-thunder in the concert hall.
He also comments on the irony of how a Swiss-French architect like Corbusier was able to invoke in his seemingly
global architecture, our history..where Chandigarh finds echoes in Fatehpur Sikri, in Jaisalmer, in Mandu. Surely, this
is why a building of Corbs sits so well on Indian soil.
Building for India
Being an Indian architect in India is Correas major concern and his understanding of what should drive our buildings,
is clean and uncluttered like his architecture.
Climate for example should play a big part, says Correa in determining how we build and his book derives its title
from the basic need of every Indian for shelter and shade from the elements.

He also emphasises upon the need to build with an eye on energy consumption and says, In a poor country like
India, we simply cannot afford to squander the kind of resources required to air-condition a glass-tower under a
tropical sun.
And as he takes us on a fascinating journey through slums, forts, Corbusiers exuberant though tad ill-ventilated
architecture, he drops priceless jewels of trivia like how the public, the private and the sacred melded together to
create Jaipur, a city founded by Maharaja Jai Singh and based on a nine-square mandala corresponding to the
Navgraha, or the nine planets. Also amusing and enlightening in equal measure are his observations on how the idea
of aspirational architecture permeates even the sets of Bollywood where the villain, almost always lives in a duplex
apartment, or a house with several double-height spaces so that he can come prancing down the stairs to deliver a
particularly cruel line.
But the most important aspect of the book is the question, How does one create an architecture that is relevant to the
millions upon millions of Indias poor? We need not only economical construction that provides basic shelter but a real
habitat that allows them to live with their own mythic imagery, their dreams, their aspirations. And in todays India, what
would these be? The TV antenna? The neon light? The nylon sari? These for a majority of our people are powerful
and legitimate symbols, co-existing with in their lives with the yantra on the wall, the bindu on the forehead.
What Correas essays return to is a core belief that, Our habitat is not created in a vacuum.
He also questions our need today to emulate the West rather than creating architecture which is contextually,
meaningfully ours.
Writes he, Architecture is not a queue in which we have to line up, with perhaps the Americans ahead, or the Chinese
behind. No each of us has the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of where we live.
Architecture for Correa is an almost sacred enterprise that is rooted in reality and also suspends a bridge between two
seemingly disparate ones. A quote he borrows from another great architect Louis Kahn sums it all up for him,
Architecture is magnificent because it deals with the recessions of the mind...with that which is not yet said, and not
yet made.
He also makes many astute, minute observations regarding the changes that make or mar skylines when context
moves away from construction in our cities and the pretty, sloping tiled roofs in Goa are replaced by a jumble of
modern buildings which stick out like sore thumbs.
Welcoming a gentler change
Correa is not against modernity or contemporary gestures in building. Far from it. He writes, Much of history is the
story of interventions-the consequences of which are extremely difficult to predict. Every change, small or big, gradual
or sudden, causes hurt-but the wound heals, eliminating the negative aspect of each intervention and capitalising on
its positive advantages. That is a process intrinsic to the nature of human beings. Yet, it is seldom understood.
Did we not a century or more ago, oppose the building of railways? Change is inevitable, according to Correa but he
advocates that version which is gentler on the environment and more resource-efficient.
The architect also addresses key issues like public transport and argues that in no city, can the public transport be the
last to enter the scene-in fact, given the scale of growth that lies ahead, there are crucial advantages in making sure,
it is one of the first.
The essays are woven around Correas personal manifesto that, Like the wheat fields of Punjab, and the coalfields of
Bihar, cities are a crucial part of our national wealth. He believes that cities generate the skills we need for
development and are the engines of economic growth. And ironically for all their failures and shortages, cities are for
millions of migrants, their only hope to a better future.
Some essays address diverse though equally inspiring issues like why it is important for not just young architects but
young students in any discipline to choose the work they really love, to get on the right train that is theirs because
the wrong one will take them to perhaps more success but less fulfilment and will atrophy their talents. Another essay
comments on Gandhis journey from the mundane world of survival to the highest plane of human thought and

What comes across through each piece is however a common idea that life and architecture are both gestures
towards something bigger than everyday survival. That they can be noble, have integrity of purpose and achieve
something few human-beings and buildings can. A footprint across shifting sands that says, I came this far. I amount
to something. I am meaningful. I matter.