Opinion

Our cities could do with the Correa touch

YOGINDER K ALAGH | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 21, 2015

Charles Correa reinvented Sabarmati Ashram without taking away its soul. He tried to create another Mumbai, too

The passing away of Charles Correa has been the occasion of much recollection by his architect friends of his great buildings in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and elsewhere. He is remembered for his talent for building public places.

In Ahmedabad, Correa is also remembered for the Navrangpura Bus Stand. When I was younger, the bus stand was a place to savour. Alas, it is now in shambles, as a newer generation looks away from public spaces.

Ahmedabad takes legitimate pride in the fact that apart from private buildings, Correa reinvented the iconic Sabarmati Ashram. It is so difficult not to spoil the ashram; the frugal rooms in which Gandhiji worked and lived still have a great aura of peace and contentment around them. You pass by it on the to or from the airport and sometimes I go there to relax on the banks of the Sabarmati river, now of course modernised by the River Front, whose modern planners did not have a yen for this spiritual heritage.

Nobody remembers now that Charles Correa was also a town planner. In the late sixties, there was a movement against industrial expansion in Mumbai city. This led to protests by corporate interests. Some public spirited civil servants, however, felt there was merit in this argument and initiated a study.

The Bombay dream

Nitin Desai had come back from the London School of Economics and was the chief economist of the Tata Economic Consultancy Services, before he went to the Planning Commission. He was commissioned to prepare a practical planning policy model. He was to estimate the expansion of industrial employment in Maharashtra and build a strategy for its optimal location.

India was known for its national planning model, but very little work had been done at the State level. One of the few exceptions was a planning model for Gujarat created at the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, Ahmedabad, by myself and SP Kashyap. It was published in the first volume of the Official Perspective Plan of Gujarat State.

The Maharashtra authorities decided that Desai would be supervised by a committee chaired by Sukhamoy Chakraborty, then member of the Planning Commission. Its members included myself, town planner Shirish Patel and Kirit Parikh. Desai created a model of building industrial centres in an optimal manner outside Mumbai.

His conclusion to develop Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nagpur, among others, was then a pie in the sky and is a reality now.

The main exercise then was to plan out the new city of Bombay. There was to be no industry there. It was decided that this was going to be a service-oriented city.

A bridge would be built across the creek so that the connection with Colaba was just a few minutes away and of course there was going to be the new port town at Nhava Sheva. But what would the city itself be? It was Correa who designed that. It was a beautiful city and the buildings he designed, cascading downwards, were his signature style.

And how it ended

There was, however, a lot more to it. Each block of the new city was to be self-sufficient. Children would be able to go to school without crossing a big road. But the dreams fell foul of private interests. During the Emergency, it was suggested that industries be located in the twin city. That was the end of Correa’s dream.

The twin city of Navi Mumbai is still a very attractive space, but it does not carry fully the force of his ideas. In Ahmedabad, the iconic architect built peace, but lost to the River Front. When will the dreams of Correa become a reality?

The writer is the chancellor of Central University of Gujarat, and a former Union minister

Published on June 21, 2015
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