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Charles Correa, influential architect and planner, dies at 84

“India’s Greatest Architect” left his mark on MIT and the world.
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Charles Correa MArch '55
Charles Correa MArch '55
Photo courtesy the Holcim Foundation.
Correa was one of three MIT alumni and professors who designed the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex (Building 46).
Correa was one of three MIT alumni and professors who designed the MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex (Building 46).
Photo: MIT Facilities

Alumnus and former professor Charles Correa MArch ’55 — described as “India’s greatest architect” — passed away on Tuesday at age 84. A visionary architect and urban planner, Correa built a substantial legacy through a wide range of projects in his native India and around the world, including MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Science Complex.

Over a six-decade career, Correa became a leading voice in the world of international architecture and an influential figure in post-war India. His buildings, known for an open style that embraced climate and made dramatic use of natural light and connection to the sky, “stand out in bland landscapes like an exclamation point,” The Times of India wrote.

Correa’s projects spanned museums, public buildings, commercial spaces, hotels, and residences. But he also wove urban development and low-income housing into a life defined by a strong sense of social purpose. "Just as there is writing and then there is literature, there is construction and then there is architecture. Great architecture can change society," Correa said.

“A strong voice for modern optimism, Charles brought the architectural output of the Indian subcontinent to the world’s attention. In turn, through his passionate advocacy for high-quality design from the scale of individual buildings to planning for entire cities, he influenced the global discourse well beyond the practice of architecture alone,” said Hashim Sarkis, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “He was a remarkable thinker, designer, artist, and activist. We could not be more proud that he learned, taught, and built at MIT.”

A built legacy around the world and at MIT

Born in Secunderabad, India, in 1930, Correa attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. After graduation in 1953, he earned a Master’s degree in architecture from MIT in 1955 and returned to India to start his own practice.

Notable building projects include the Gandhi Memorial Museum in Ahmedabad, India, completed when he was just 28 years old; the State Assembly building for Madhya Pradesh in India; the Kanchanjunga Apartments in Mumbai, India; and the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal.

At MIT, Correa was one of three alumni — along with Julian Beinart MArch ’56, who also taught at the Institute, and Roger Goldstein SB ’74 MArch ’76 — who designed the Brain and Cognitive Science Complex (Building 46), home to the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the Picower Institute, and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. For the project, the designers had to devise an elegant solution to bring the three distinct research organizations together under one roof, on an oddly shaped site divided in the middle by an active railway.

Correa also had a long relationship with the Aga Khan Foundation, stretching from his membership in 1977 on the steering committee that developed the Aga Khan Award for Architecture to one of Correa’s last building projects completed when he was 84 — the new Ismaili Centre, adjacent to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada.

"A model of what an architect can and should be"

Correa also devoted considerable attention during his career to issues of urban development and low-income housing. In the late 1960s, at the invitation of the government of Peru and the United Nations, Correa helped with the design of a groundbreaking, experimental low-income housing community called PREVI, for Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda ("experimental housing project").

During the same period, he embarked on the preparation for a master plan for Navi Mumbai, India, one of the largest planned cities in the world, and served from 1971 to 1975 as the chief architect for the municipality’s development. He also later served as the chairman for the National Commission on Urbanisation for the Government of India. Correa captured his ideas on urban development in the Third World in "The New Landscape," a seminal book published in 1985.

This sustained attention to architecture, planning, and societal impact makes Correa an exemplary architect, said William Porter, who served as dean of the School of Architecture and Planning from 1971 to 1981. “Through long association and friendship I came to know how remarkable Charles Correa was, not only through his gorgeous and culturally meaningful buildings, but also through his deep commitments to equity and social justice and his inspiration of clients, colleagues, and students,” Porter said. “We have lost a truly wonderful and accomplished person, but we have gained a legacy of significant works and a model of what an architect should and can be.”

During his life, Correa was recognized with numerous awards, including the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects, which named him “India’s Greatest Architect” in 2013; the Chicago Architecture Award from the American Institute of Architects; the UIA Gold Medal from the Union of International Architects; and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Student, teacher, colleague, and friend

Correa maintained a lifelong connection with the Institute. After receiving his degree, he returned to MIT as a professor in 1962, and then intermittently but continuously taught and lectured at MIT for nearly 50 years.

“I had the privilege of counting him as a colleague and friend when he taught at MIT. The enormity of his intellectual range and curiosity set him apart and enabled him to engage deeply across all of MIT's learning cultures,” said Philip Khoury, associate provost for the arts and the Ford International Professor of History.

As a teacher, Correa cautioned against snuffing out students’ creativity in the process of educating them and emphasized the need for students to draw upon experienced faculty while developing independent judgment. “We do not know if architecture can be taught — but we know it can be learnt,” Correa wrote. “For learning is a process that depends on us ourselves, and our attitude of mind.”

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