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Anuj Daga, M.E.D.

, YSOA The Photographic Book Spring 2013

The Photographic Book | Prof. Carol Armstrong


Final Submission | May 10th, 2013

Charles Correa: Monograph


Anuj Daga

Traditionally, architectural monographs have been designed as visual journeys taking the reader

through the career of an architect primarily using photographs accompanied by technical drawings

of built as well as un-built projects designed by him/her. The monographs of most master architects

were compiled during the late 20th century after they were gone, when buildings were primarily

studied through their photographs and certain drawings (that either survived or documented). This

trend shifted when living architects themselves commissioned or would be requested for

compilations of their own works in the form of photographic books. In recent times, monographs

have redefined themselves to focus on thought processes that elaborate how an architect thinks,

thereby documenting the ongoing practice rather than just displaying the final built product.

In this paper, I aim to study the monograph of architect Charles Correa 1, whose built works are

often understood as representatives of Indian architecture. While a shorter version of a monograph

was published by MIMAR in 1984, a comprehensive collection of Correa’s architectural works was

introduced in the form of a full-fledged monograph in 1996. The design and production of the

present publication was carried out by the Charles Correa’s office. I want to argue how images in his

self-produced monograph became a way of asserting a stylistic architectural identity that became

synonymous to Indian. Further, I want to explore the exercise of place-making versus image-

1 Charles Correa is an architect, planner and activist born in India. He went on to study architecture at the
University of Michigan and then Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, to pursue a degree in
planning where he studied under the likes of pioneer modernist architects like Buckminster Fuller and
Gyorgy Kepes. He came back to practice architecture in India in 1955, soon after which he set up his
independent architectural practice in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1958. Since then, Correa has
executed important projects both within as well as outside the country and has been recognized worldwide
for his regionalist architecture.

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making in Correa’s work. In the present scenario, Correa’s architecture becomes a function of the

images that he produces in the form of drawings and photographs of his projects over time.

Although it contains both, national & international projects of political importance, large-scale

urban projects and a few other small projects by Correa, their arrangement subtextually hints

towards an architecture that considers itself in continuum with the building practices of the past,

and thus regional. The monograph is primarily visual, bringing together architectural drawings &

diagrams, photographs of built projects and brief explanatory texts for each. These projects are not

necessarily arranged in a chronological order.

1. The entryway of Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur that uses symbolic imagery of the 9-square mandala is a
double spread image marking the beginning of the book.

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The initial images one encounters in the book are Correa’s most recent projects 2, distinctly using

mythical symbols on building floors or facades. The opening pages for different sections of the book

contain photographs of entryways from his projects like the Jawahar Kala Kendra and the Inter-

University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) that distinctly use motifs or patterns of

mandalas or cosmic diagrams. By presenting these icons appearing in his buildings, a distinct sense

of regionalism is evoked within the minds of the reader.

The book begins with an essay by the architectural historian Kenneth Frampton ‘The Work of

Charles Correa’, who frames the regional context within which Correa primarily operates Frampton

explains the “open-to-sky courtyards,” which Correa uses in most of his works, as a response to the

native climate. Further he analyses Correa’s work as analogous to traditional architecture in India -

that which uses local material and techniques. Frampton’s description is more formal than

phenomenological, in that he stresses on sectional displacements, tectonic organizations and

arrangements (clustered, cellular, etc.) more prominently visible in the subsequent drawings of

projects covered in the book. The essay chronologically traces Correa’s works in distinct phases of

his career and treats his work as ‘critical regional,’ something that belong to the native land, in

opposition to ‘Post Modern’ architectural style – contemporary buildings that apply historical

symbols in order to claim their association to the past.

On the other hand, Correa’s essay “Blessings of the Sky” that follows Frampton’s foreword presents

a non-linear journey through his own works, adhering to the ‘critical regional’ framework, but often

weaving it through traditional typologies and mythical symbolic images of the past. He uses his

works as examples to point out the continuity of traditional Indian architecture in his works by

adapting spatial typologies as well as borrowed metaphors locating them in the metaphysical

2 Projects recently finished by Correa by 1996.

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aspects of the ‘non-manifest’ world. It may be worth noting that while Frampton’s essay is not

supported by any pictures, Correa’s essay uses snippets of images from across the world, including

some of which were presented before in the ‘Vistara’ catalogue - a comprehensive brochure that

was prepared for the ‘Festival of India’ Exhibition that took place during 1985-86 across the United

States. 3 It was the images produced for the Vistara catalogue through which Correa confirmed, re-

interpreted and claimed his architectural vocabulary as embedded in its land.

2. The variants of mandla diagrams that were used to programmatically structure buildings in the past
included in the Vistara catalogue.

3 In the summer of 1982, President Ronald Reagan of the United States and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of
India decided that their two countries would collaborate on a massive cultural exchange, and the Festival of
India in the United States resulted – a unique cultural encounter. (Festival of India catalogue). The Festival
was to be inaugurated in Washington in June 1985, in New York in September-October 1985 and the West
Coast in 1986. The festival would then continue across the United States for a year and over. Charles Correa
chaired the architecture section of this exhibition, as a part of which his team compiled the ‘Vistara’ catalogue.
It brought together documentation drawings of traditional Indian settlements along with diagrams of ancient
building principles known as ‘Vastushastra’ for the first time.

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3. Correa’s Essay “Blessings of the Sky” borrowing images from the Vistara catalogue and all around the
world.

The projects:

The main section of the monograph traces a map of Indian-ness using the projects selected for the

book, the representation techniques used and the reference images & text. Correa’s architectural

journey took off with the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya – a memorial museum he designed in

homage to Mahatma Gandhi 4 in 1958. This is also the first project that appears in his monograph

and is presented using black & white photographs that show features like the water body and an

open court-layout. One can see the surrounding site framed through the open pavilion-like building.

Sloping tiled roofs, brick structure and wooden doors suggest a strong connection to the rural

building techniques in India, an aspect of similarity that has been merely related to “other buildings

in the ashram [inn]” in the textual explanation. The connotations of the ‘rural’ are emphasized by

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian freedom fighter who led the country to fight against the British
through the principles of nonviolence and peace.

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the accompanying hand-sketched layout plan of the building, which is put against a patch of beige

background – a colour predominantly relating to the rustic landscapes of India. Such representation

also relates strongly to Gandhiji’s philosophy of the swadeshi 5 and self-sufficiency that echoed a

minimal rural aesthetic. The only colour photograph for this project shows village women in their

traditional attires visiting the ashram. Other photographs emphasize how shade is created amidst

the harsh weather of Ahmedabad.

4. Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Ahmedbad. The hand drawn layout plan of the building against a beige
background (left). The only colour image of the project showing village folk in traditional attires

The idea of the rural is immediately taken forward through a project executed during 1975-90 – the

National Crafts Museum in Delhi. It is apparent that the project uses similar vocabulary of

construction like the earlier one, but here the ‘rural’ character is emphasized through deployment

of courtyards and open to sky spaces. The layout plan that claims to be the “metaphor for an Indian

street” is ordered through a series of the square courtyards – a schematic diagram of the

5Swadeshi movement involved boycotting British products and the revival of domestic products and
production processes during the Indian freedom struggle.

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organization of these spaces emphasizes experiential movement through covered and semi-open

spaces. Glimpses of what one could expect in these courtyards are shown as vignettes of Indian art

and artists to present to the viewer a journey through a typical Indian village. In addition, the

photographs create a spatial narrative passing from a temple to a palace that occur within a typical

village. Most photographs are taken from a height below eye level – these suggest a strong relation

of the building to the ground as well as its human scale. They try to re-create a quasi-village

atmosphere. Different courts adopt different elements from various villages across India and are

strung together through a universal language of the square.

5. National Crafts Centre, Delhi. Graphic diagram (top right) showing the metaphoric translation of the ‘village
street’ into a series of sequenced courts. The photographs around showcase what one encounters while
moving through these courts.

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6. Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal. The aaxonometric drawing expresses the features of the building merging with its
surrounding site.

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A concurrent project for a National Art Center in Bhopal, Bharat Bhavan (1975-81) is also

organized around sunken square courtyards which are emphasized through an axonometric

drawing. The sketch becomes vital to explain the topology of space within the building which has no

image, since it is submerged within the contours of the site. This is reflected in the nature of the

sketch which uses no outlines, but only grey planes forming the space, melting away with the white

space of the book. The sketch significantly conveys the idea of the building without a defined

boundary, united with its site.

Much of the book illustrates works of the architect using their architectural plans and cross sections

of buildings, which are simplified versions of actual drawings. Unlike his earlier publications where

actual hand-drafted project drawings were presented, most drawings in this monograph are hand-

sketched. The undulating drawing lines not only relate to the older Indian artistic representations

but also the traditional village building forms which are never a perfectly straight line; and impart a

native character to the built forms. Correa believes that, “Even the Indian khadi fabric looks

beautiful because it does not form clean straight lines. The undulating warps and wefts give

character to the cloth, it echoes our culture.” 6 Thus, these drawings were reproduced by employees

in his office, by tracing over drawings which were technically drafted by hand or computer to

produce an effect that not only allow a simpler reading, but also strongly relate to the theme of the

rural and minimal. Harshraj Mane, one of the contributors of such drawings explains: “When you

have to re-draw and abstract the design to re-present it, you focus your mind on the essence of the

design - it is planning, navigation, proportions, shadow pattern and then accordingly make the

drawing. Also there were parallel artists like Mario Miranda, R K Laxman, warli painting style, to

6Conversation between Charles Correa and the author. Mr. Correa was referring to the hand-plastered walls
of villages that do not have machine-finished crisp edges, instead evoke a sense of human involvement.

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draw influence from.” 7 Correa’s own style of drawing (as seen on pg. 66 or 89) could not

encapsulate the complete essence or the “abstraction” of his designs as Indian. The sketched

drawings taking inspiration from traditional art forms in India undoubtedly makes the works

appear more rooted in the place.

7. The large sketch drawing showing the features of the curved wall in the JN Centre for Advanced Research,
Bangalore.

Although orthogonal forms dominate his architectural vocabulary, The JN Centre of Advanced

Scientific Research, Bangalore (1990-94) uses a distinctly curved wall that ties the entire design of

the building. Correa explains in the accompanying text that “The traditional renunciation of the

world by the rishi (holy man) is here symbolized by a long curving wall, built of granite blocks,

which encircles a forest in the centre of the site.” The large axonometric drawing of the entire

complex explains the way in which this curving wall establishes the relationship of the offices that

7 E-mail interview with Harsh Mane, former employee at Charles Correa Associates. Mario Miranda was a
famous Indian cartoonist based in Goa; R K Laxman is a well known illustrator and cartoonist from Mysore,
India and Warli paintings are made by folk-artists from a tribal settlement in Maharashtra called “Warlis.”

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are arranged on one side to the ‘forest’ that is constructed on the other. The wall is punctured with

large openings through which the outside is composed like picture frames. This framing of the

outside from the inside is demonstrated through smaller photographs that are dispersed around

the drawings on the page as if they would be seen in a journey. The photographs are not

particularly aligned to each other, but present a casually captured picture while wandering through

the interstitial space along the curved wall, that is highlighted with grey. One notices for the first

time, the use of squared windows and openings on the elevations of the building of JN Centre.

8. The use of earthy colours, square cut outs and the master plan based on Hindu temple plans.

The use of certain Indian spatial typologies like the kund (a sunken stepwell) is seen to graphically

influence the layout of the JNIDB project in Hyderabad. The plan forms of Indian temples that are

derived from fractals of squares seem to reflect strongly in the site plan of the housing complex. We

understand through the small drawing the axial and symmetric planning of the hostels, the

courtyards of which have columns graphically treated like those seen in south Indian temple

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corridors. The use of earthy reds and oranges, warm yellows and white colours in his buildings give

them a tropical feel. There is always an emphasis on the ‘in-between’ space that occurs between

clusters of buildings, expressed laterally as well as volumetrically using two and three-dimensional

diagrams.

The three grades of spaces – open, semi-open and closed are highlighted in different shades of grey

for most projects. This may be for two reasons: modernist planning principles distinguish between

served and serving spaces within a building distinctly. The in-between space is a response to the

local climate of India, and hence needs to be spaced between the served and serving space. In the

Indian context, the serving space is assumed to be the most active space of the building where much

movement and intersection of people occurs. Therefore, the flow of this space is extremely

important. The demarcation of the flow of this space thus also brings out the continuity of

experience within the building which otherwise gets frozen in a static photograph.

The next few projects in the monograph are dedicated to hotels, offices and residential towers.

These are urban projects in which the earlier learnt interstitial space techniques are applied on

larger scales. The use of the pergola or the space-frame forming this interstitial space in an urban

context is given importance in the pictures. Several new typologies of spaces like the ‘atrium,’

‘balconies’ or ‘terraces’ begin to appear as variants of the open to sky space, as also indicated

through specially crafted drawings.

An important section in the book deals with his planning projects – the New Bombay project being

the most significant in his career. Accompanied by a text that charts the growth of the city, the

photographs show contrasting landscapes of high rises and squatters pressing the need for setting

up a new city. The system of spaces for housing in the new city is based upon a typical village

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section which sees a courtyard, doorstep, water tap and community spaces occurring in series – all

supported by images. Incremental planning, typological climate conscious space and housing

typologies are studied through diagrams and validated through photographs. The images presented

here are from different parts of the country that show the way in which people use space as a

resource. The photographs thus become a proof of the study, giving legitimacy to the zoomed out

city plans which give an abstract top-view idea of the city. Based on these mappings, new proposals

are structured through a formal vocabulary accommodating a variable transitional space. The

master plan for New Bagalkot in Karnataka is placed amongst a graphic of ancient town centre and

temple town of Srirangam. It carries no labeling or index, but makes a strong visual connection to

old town planning layouts.

9. The master plan (below, right) as a graphic layout derived from the study of old temple kinds and city
plans.

In his subsequent projects, Correa overtly displays expressions taken from Mughal, Hindu and

Buddhist buildings. A sculpture of Shiva, a water fountain from the palace complex in Mandu,

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Madhya Pradesh, the Vastupurusha 8 grids and the concept of axis mundi 9 repeatedly occur in the

expressions on his buildings. The drawings of his projects help in presenting these disparate

features (since they originate in different ideologies) as something that belong to one homogeneous

culture. The bring coherence to ideas which otherwise do not belong to a single ideology.

When reorganized chronologically at the end of the book, one can trace a gradual shift in Correa’s

experimental architectural vocabulary into a more stylistic one. This can be seen in projects he

executed during the ’60s and ’70s where a slow settling of the square form can be seen in his

drawings, although only in the layout plans. It can be noticed that while the photographs of his

earlier projects show us stretched and horizontal openings, we see a gradual change in this

vocabulary in the subsequent projects where cut outs, openings and the way in which building

frames the exterior are through square frames. The projects over the ’80s and ’90s distinctly seem

to draw metaphors from traditional symbols unearthed through the ‘Vistara’ exhibition that reflect

in his subsequent works. Buildings like Kanchunjunga Apartments (Mumbai, 1983), Jeevan Bharti

(Delhi, 1986), Permanent Mission of India to the U.N. (New York, 1992), L.I.C. Center (Mauritius,

1992), and Alameda park Project (unbuilt, Mexico City, 1996) show a distinct use of the square

form on their elevations. Apart from the shape, the use of colour and traditional art forms on

building facades like the rangoli assert a certain Indian character in his international projects, like

the one in New York, where red granite base is topped by a canyon red aluminium curtain wall that

is suggestive of the red sandstone architecture dominating the old architecture in Delhi.

8 Ancient diagrams through which religious buildings in India were structured.


9 An invisible column of light connecting the earth and the sky.

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10. Projects overtly using mythic imageries in the derivation of their planning and layouts. Different motifs
and traditional patters come back on the floor or walls after the completion of the projects.

The Jawahar Kala Kendra (Jaipur, 1986-92) becomes an important case to discuss the influence of

traditional diagrammatic patterns on his design sensibility. This Arts Centre uses the 9-square

mandala as a basis for planning the entire building where one of these squares is detached in order

to make a reference to the old city plan of Jaipur – which could not be extended due to the existence

of a hill. Correa calls this layout ‘double-coded’. The nine squares of the building are painted with

images of Jain cosmological diagrams, Hindu figures of deities and tantric drawings. It makes overt

co-relations to mythological meanings in deriving the logic of its program. It is here that the once

modernist notion of Correa’s buildings becomes absolutely symbolic.

Correa brings mythological associations in the buildings commissioned or executed after the

Vistara exhibition time and again. The British Council Building in Delhi (1987-92) is organized on

the basis of “3 axis mundi…placed along the length of the site,” the Surya Kund in Delhi (1986) is

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“derived from the vastu-purush-mandalas, those ancient Vedic diagrams which conceived of

architecture as a model of the cosmos,” the IUCAA in Pune (1988-92), an astronomy and

astrophysics institute makes the introduction of the metaphor of cosmos almost obvious. Such

metaphorical conceptions are not seen in Correa’s earlier works at all.

The constant interplay of two dimensional representations and three dimensional work that

architects engage in subconsciously inform an architect’s practice. In the present case, it is clear

how Correa’s representations in the form of architectural drawings came to inform his choices of

building forms.

This writing has explored the shift of Correa’s non-image oriented architecture into one that deals

with image over time through re-organizing the works presented in his monograph chronologically.

We see how the “courtyard”, the “rural” and the “square” form begin to define “Indian” in Correa’s

works. I want to argue here that through his monograph, Correa created a strong Indian identity

that glorified a specific architectural typology, which came from an imagic understanding of

references from the past. On the other hand the monograph became a ready reference of his works

to be consumed as the image of Indian architecture. This can be proved through the ways in which

subsequent architects responded to the architectural imagery present in Correa’s published work

and the way it was used for instructional purposes in schools of architecture across countries

including India. His architectural language became an imagic function of his own apparatus to an

extent that drove the formatting of the book (which is square in shape).

The book became an important instructional device within schools of architecture in India. Correa’s

monograph framed through the theory of ‘critical regionalism’ by Kenneth Frampton, released in

the context of globalization that began to re-mould the issue of identity in the 1990s India helped

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create an image of preserving notions of place and tradition in India through mythic forms.

However, one wonders if regionalism can be claimed through images and if architecture thus driven

by images helps us understand or demonstrate the ‘identity’ of a place? Correa’s work is substantial

and valuable as it remains extremely sensitive while intervening in most landscapes, however, if it

were a function of the image, what possibilities could it open up for architectural processes of the

future had it jumped out of the square?

Bibliography and References:

Correa, Charles. Charles Correa Monograph. Great Britain: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Correa, Charles. ‘Vistara: The Architecture of India’, MIMAR 27: Architecture in Development.1987
Bhatt, Ritu. “Indianizing Indian Architecture.”TDSR XIII. 13.1 (2001): 43–51.

Mehrotra, Rahul, Prasad Shetty, and RupaliGupte.“Architecture and Contemporary Indian Identity.”
Research manuscript retrieved from www.cityscans.wordpress.com

Panicker, Shaji. “‘Indian Architecture’ and the Production of a Postcolonial Discourse: A Study of
Architecture+Design (1984-1992).” University of Adelaide, 2008.

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