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Charles Correa: Cities as agents of change

Charles Correa is arguably India’s most renowned architect and urban planner. From the Mahatma Gandhi Museum in Ahmedabad to the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Centre in Boston, his buildings have covered a wide spectrum. On the 50th anniversary of setting up his office in Mumbai, Rahul Singh spoke to Correa about his career and concerns:

Everybody who watched the Beijing Olympics was enthralled by the Bird’s Nest stadium. Why doesn’t India have such iconic buildings?

Chinese artist was the inspiration. Then, a Danish structural engineer, Ove Arup, who lives in England, did the actual interweaving structure (he also did the Sydney Opera House). For great buildings, you need a client with imagination, whose objective is excellence. In the 1960s and 1970s we had a lot of good buildings through government patronage of architects like Le Corbussier, Raj Rewal and Balkrishna Doshi. We need to find a way for public agencies to involve more private architects.

Tell us something about your career and your success.

I returned from the US when I was 25, became a partner in a firm. Then, at 28, I started on my own. I did not imagine I would last so long! I believe that if you enjoy what you do, you will do it well. After the Gandhi museum, I won a competition for low-cost housing. I was also invited to teach at MIT and the president of Peru, who was an architect, asked me to design some housing for them.


Why has real estate become associated with corruption and crime?

Earlier industrialists and then defence contracts financed political parties. Now real estate does, especially in the states because chief ministers have easier access to it. The kickbacks are huge. But I also feel very positive about our cities. They do three vital things. One, they produce skills which help develop our country. Even small cities like Jalandhar and Coimbatore do this. Two, cities are engines of economic growth. They generate funds, like Mumbai does for India and Hong Kong for south China. Three, they are places of freedom: they provide hope for the have-nots, they are their last chance for a better life. Villages are vicious places, people are killed there for being Dalits. In Mumbai, a chamar and a priest travel in the same bus. What Buddha and Gandhi could not achieve, the BEST bus has done! Our cities are creating a new India; they are agents of change.

How can our cities be improved?

An elected person should be responsible for a city, like mayors are in the US. He should be like an elected chief executive, not part of the state cabinet. He would stand on his performance for his city. Like Sheila Dikshit in Delhi, though she has certain constraints. Chandrababu Naidu, if he had been the elected mayor of Hyderabad, not chief minister, would have won hands down.