Charles Correa, who was widely acknowledged as India’s pre-eminent architect, has died at the age of 84. In recent years, his commissions have included such grand projects as the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon (2010) and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto (2014), and he is perhaps best known for the British Council building in New Delhi (1993). His many awards include the RIBA Gold Medal in 1984. However, working abroad or designing iconic buildings was a very small part of Correa’s working life. He belonged to a generation that came of age in post-Independence India and despite his training in the US (at the University of Michigan and then at MIT), Correa consistently sought to create a modernist architecture that would suit India and he was keenly interested in urban planning and low-cost housing.
After working in the Detroit office of Minoru Yamasaki (architect of the Pruitt-Igoe housing scheme in St Louis, Missouri and also of the World Trade Center towers in New York), Correa returned to India in the mid 1950s and set up his own office. The project that made his name, the Mahatma Gandhi memorial museum in Ahmedabad, Gujarat (1963), was an early example of his interest in local materials and the effects of light and space. Between 1970 and 1975, he was the chief architect for Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai), the city built across the harbour from the main city. His visions for this satellite city, however, were only partly realised, and he was publicly dismayed by the effects of land speculation and a lack of interest in public space in the ever-more sprawling old city. Correa was always happy to talk about symbolism and meaning in his architecture and he was particularly interested in what he called ‘open-to-sky’ spaces: he regarded courtyards as another room in the structures he designed. His idealism, sense of public service, and criticism of ‘carpet-bagging architects’ who travelled the world made him an unusual figure among architects of his stature.