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Courtyards in Air

Charles Correa, one of Goa’s greatest sons, has left behind an architectural legacy that is going to become more and more relevant with increasing realization by us of the dangers of getting away and away from natural environment. Modernity for modernity sake in architecture only means overdependence on use of steel and glass and air conditioning. It also gives priority to maximum use of space, resulting in a cramped environment. Correa believed in shaping buildings in accordance with the environment. One of the biggest issues in a tropical country like India is temperature. A good building is one that can protect residents from heat. Insensibly modern architecture uses air conditioning to provide protection to residents or workers in the building. Correa designed buildings that would draw in cool breeze, provide shade and have the kind of masonry that could absorb heat. One of the finest buildings shaped by him was the Tube House in Ahmedabad. It draws in cool air and sends it out through a vent close to the apex of the roof. In the high-rise Kanchanjunga he designed in Mumbai he created apartments with courtyards in the air, allowing free flow of breeze from one side to another.

He was a man who was saddened by the boom in senseless construction in the cities. He was among three leading architects who developed the concept of Navi Mumbai to decongest Mumbai. The new city across the harbour might not have exactly shaped the way he envisaged but it has many elements that have his signature. No wonder, he took up the responsibility of shaping Goa with a well thought-out Regional Plan. Native Goan architecture faced serious threat from senseless and utilitarian architecture. Land use was changing desultorily in every village and city. He devoted a great deal of his time and energy to the examination of the realities of present and future land use for the making of Regional Plan. He was a rare architect and planner in whom everyone believed: the government, the people, the civil society groups, the professionals, the associations of trade and commerce.

The reason was simple: he was above prejudice and partisanship. He was not against development. He believed that development has to take place to take care of people’s needs.  In that sense he was a complete modernist, unlike some of Goa’s nihilistic vigilantes who rise in knee-jerk opposition to any development project. He was for scrapping the Urban Land Ceiling Act. He even supported amendment of coastal zone regulations to allow low-rise buildings on the waterfront. He believed that opposition in the name of environmental protection should be rationally deal with. Change was necessary, he said, and change was always accompanied by hurt. Goan architects, planners and environmentalists, who have showered praise on Correa for his exquisite works, should follow him truthfully to strike a balance between development and environmental protection. That would be the greatest tribute to Goa’s legendary town planner and building designer.

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