In London: India’s greatest architect

25 08 2013

Getting there

A summer Friday turned out to be a good choice for a trip to London. The roads were clear, there were spaces in the station car park and the first off-peak train of the day was almost empty.

rarer than hens' teeth

At Euston Paul decided to increase our chances of magically warding off inclement weather by purchasing a small umbrella. Unfortunately it served only to protect him from rain in the usual, mundane manner. It’s not far from Euston to Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) though, and even in the rain it was good to be walking, looking at buildings, making pictures, instead of sitting at a desk.

We’ve not visited RIBA before, but were drawn there to see an exhibition about the buildings and practice of Indian architect, Charles Correa, who has recently donated his archives, knowing they will be preserved rather more successfully than would be the case in India. (Our visits to Indian museums and to the Hardayal library in Old Delhi demonstrate the dire consequences of woefully inadequate resources and extreme climate.)

Outside RIBA, and opposite the Chinese Embassy is a Falun Gong protest, another thing we’ve not seen before, though it has been there a long time.

patient yellow

The rain will not stop me

Inside RIBA it was refreshing to find we were welcome to wander around freely without tickets, payment, bag checking or anything else, and in such a splendid building too. (And talking of splendid – they have the classiest toilets downstairs, with moisturiser as well as soap, big mirrors and a sofa.)

H for hall

Fire! Push!

The building also has a small coffee shop and an extensive bookshop where you can buy the accompanying catalogue. We found all manner of desirable books, but restricted ourselves to an exhibition catalogue and one book each on Louis I Kahn and Le Corbusier. Predictably, both Kahn and Le Corbusier have strong connections with India and account for a significant number of the items on our Buildings to Visit in India list.

The Exhibition

“…to cross a desert and enter a house around a courtyard is a pleasure beyond mere photographic image-making; it is quality of light, and the ambience of moving air, that forms the essence of our experience. Architecure as a mechanism for dealing with the elements…” Charles Correa

Charles Correa established his first architectural practice in Bombay in 1958, amassing a large archive of drawings, plans, models etc throughout his career. Looking for a permanent home for the archive he turned to RIBA donating some 6,000 items. RIBA have use this material for an exhibition about the man they have called ‘India’s greatest architect’:

“Charles Correa (1930-) is an internationally recognised architect and urban designer (Royal Gold Medal for architecture 1984, Aga Khan Award 1998) who has played a pivotal role in the creation of an architecture for post-Independence India.

Drawing on a unique philosophy rooted in the rich traditions of people and climate, Correa’s work is informed both by a world view and intimate understanding of place. This exhibition showcases his signature projects from across the world and features images, drawings, photographs, models and films charting a career spanning over five decades.

Curated by Dr Irena Murray, RIBA Sir Bannister Fletcher Curator and designed by internationally renowned architect David Adjaye this exhibition is a chance to see highlights from the Correa archive whilst also celebrating one of our most distinguished contemporary global architects in practice today.”

The Guardian have published a number of pieces introducing the exhibition, with an essay by Rowen Moore and a gallery of some of his significant buildings. Arch Daily also has a good introduction with a fine selection of images. A poster at Correa’s own website gives the best introduction to his work:

50-Year-of-Architecture

The exhibition was well laid-out with one room focusing on some of Correa’s major commissions and the upper gallery on urban planning and housing including the famous Kanchanjunga Apartments.

Two construction views

against a dark background

Of special interest to us was the National Crafts Museum in Delhi which we have clearly been remiss not to have visited yet (but will correct very soon), the British Council Building (again we hope to visit soon) and Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur (for which we are now planning a trip out from Delhi). The smaller residential House of Koramangala in Bangalore, however, demonstrates that we would be very happy for Mr Correa to design a home for us, although some adaptation to Northamptonshire weather would be needed.

The exhibition includes a film of Charles Correa in conversation with RIBA President Angela Brady. Charles Correa also gave a lecture to accompany the exhibition.

What’s next?

After that it was back towards Euston station, by a different route, to partake of dosas on Drummond Street.

Out of time

basket case

Car mirror

An online search for Ravi Shankar’s brings up some appallingly bad reviews, but we’ve never had a bad meal there, and this visit was no exception. They offer what looks like a decent, all-you-can-eat buffet, but our need for masala dosa is always much greater than the temptations of the buffet.

Gold premium

Dosa-craving satisfied, there was more than enough time to head towards an assignation at the LRB bookshop via the British Museum. On the way, I played with the sound sculpture, Phantom Railings, in Malet Street Gardens, where ‘railings were removed as part of the 1940s war effort and never replaced, leaving a line of iron stumps along the surrounding wall. Using sensor-based acoustic devices, the installation makes evident the absence of railings by creating a resemblance of the familiar sound produced by running a stick along an iron fence’. Such things delight me.

We were also delighted by the unexpected resonance of this vent at Regent’s Place Development on Euston Road which bears a startling resemblance to Correa’s Hindustan Lever Pavilion.

unexpected resonance

Scanning the signs at the British Museum, we decided that ‘The art of influence: Asian Propaganda’ looked the best bet for a quick hit-and-run viewing. Naturally it was located miles and many stairs away from our entry point. Happily, though, we had to walk through a display of prints by RB Kitaj. I’ve never paid attention to Kitaj, but I was entranced by some of these prints, none of which are in the ‘highlights’ selected by the BM. There is an exhibition catalogue, which I covet, but we’d already spent far too much on pretty books that day.

The Asian Progaganda selection suffered from too wide a remit and, from our perspective, a serious lack of items from South Asia. This Vietnamese poster was probably my favourite image, though this is a close second:

Fighting for freedom

Accompanying text:

Untitled poster of Indian nationalists
This popular print features five Indian nationalists. At the top are Shivaji Bhosale (1627-80) and Maharana Pratap (1540-97), Hindu resistance leaders against the Mughal empire. In the middle is Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945?), known as Netaji. At the bottom are Bhagat Singh (1907-31) and Chandra Shekar Azad (1906-31), freedom fighters against British colonialism who died martyrs to their cause. The monument between them is the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial commemorating the massacre by British authorities of a crowd in the public gardens of Amritsar in 1919.

Also on display were ‘Leader of India’ figurines, which made us giggle, since we own a set of ten of these, purchased a few years ago at the National Museum in Delhi for the exorbitant sum of Rs150.

Leaders of India are now history

And finally to the LRB bookshop, where we ignored all book-buying opportunities and focussed on drinking rather excellent tea, eating gluten-free cake, and catching up with a friend I don’t see often enough.


— words by Paul & Elizabeth
— pictures by Paul & Elizabeth

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2 responses

27 08 2013
patrickhadfield

I’ve been to the RIBA a few times, and whilst I love that one can just wander around without checks, it also feels very stuffy – as if one is allowed in on sufferance, but they don’t really want you there. I certainly don’t find it inviting!

27 08 2013
Inversion Layer

Maybe our timing was lucky – as it was with everything else that day – in that there was a conference happening, so the place was buzzing with friendly people.

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