Monthly Archives: June 2015

Architecture: how public space in India was refined by Charles Correa and Nek Chand Saini

In a single week this June, the world of architecture lost two artists who celebrated modern India through buildings, landscape, sculpture and gardens. Charles Correa, India’s best known architect, died on June 16 in Mumbai. Nek Chand Saini, the creator of the Rock Garden in Chandigarh, died on June 12. A self-taught artist, he created art work out of junk.

My research in India has taken me to some truly wonderful sites, not least the 16th-century city of Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, commissioned by Mughal emperor Akbar. Well-designed spaces bring pleasure and even improve health and well-being, rather like a good piece of music.

Like those at Fatehpur Sikri, Correa and Nek Chand simply made structures and spaces that feel “better” than others. Despite hailing from opposite ends of the social spectrum, both reached shared conclusions about what makes a space work. But more than this, through their lives and work, they tell us something of the story of India.

Honouring nature and values

Born in 1930 in the colonial town of Secunderabad, Correa studied architecture at MIT in the US before returning to India in 1954. He immediately set out to develop an architecture that responded to climate, rejecting the US euphoria for air-conditioning. Instead, he sought solutions that would exploit cool breeze and shade.

Courtyard cafe of architect Charles Correa’s Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur, built in 1993.
Meena Kadri, CC BY-SA

Charles Correa.
Holcim Foundation

Correa was also pursuing an architecture that would respond to India’s recent independence. He sought to introduce notions of “Indian-ness” into his proposals. His architecture is not overly concerned with elaborate forms, rather it seeks to create a series of flowing spaces often centred around an “open-to-sky” element. The visitor moves through the buildings blurring divisions between inside and outside, taking in carefully incorporated views.

Art out of waste

Nek Chand, creator of the Rock Garden in Chandigarh
Iain Jackson,

Nek Chand took a less conventional approach. Often referred to as an outsider artist, he received no formal training. Born in 1926 in what is now Pakistan, the son of a farmer, he was forced to flee his home in 1947 as a result of India’s Partition.

In 1951, Nek Chand obtained work at the construction site that was Chandigarh – a new city to replace the loss of Lahore – designed by the modernist architect Le Corbusier. He worked as a road inspector by day. By night, he created a secret sculpture park full of figures made from found objects, broken ceramics and the remnants of the villages demolished to make way for Chandigarh.

Nek Chand’s Rock Garden

He also crafted the landscape to include waterfalls, courtyards and caverns clad in river rocks and broken sanitary ware fittings. Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, a truly wondrous place invoking playful narratives at every turn, now receives thousands of visitors every day.

Space that evokes and engages

Both Correa and Nek Chand were concerned with the notion of promenade, where the visitor is taken on a journey through a series of enclosed spaces, proceeding spaces hidden from view and revealed suddenly to dramatic effect. Both exploit a site’s natural attributes, responding to contours and always incorporating sculpture and artwork.

Both make a subtle reference to the past, often suggestive of village life, not in a sentimental manner but rather as an integral part of the design. Use of devices such as a space to talk and meet with friends, or a spot to sit quietly with strangers to share a view, have a profound effect. The powerful experience of simply walking through a courtyard clad in a careful selection of materials whilst admiring nature, landscape and artwork, cannot be understated.

Both Correa and Nek Chand were deeply affected by India’s independence and sought to contemplate this event through their work. For Correa, it was a time to rebuild and rethink the nation, to debate what it meant to be both modern and Indian. At the same time, his use of Mughal-inspired red sandstone demonstrates the idea that India’s pre-colonial past was to be celebrated.

Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, India
Dharmesh Thakker, CC BY-NC-ND

As a migrant to the symbol of India’s political ambition, Nek Chand was also well aware of the changes afoot. In his work there is a sense of loss, a longing to remember the past, as well as a childlike desire to recreate mythological scenes from folk tales and epics.

After their deaths, the works of Charles Correa and Nek Chand will remain wonderful tributes to their passion to improve built urban space in modern India. There can’t be many better legacies than the simple fact that we can learn much about space, light, form and beauty from the spatial experience of joy which their creations have given us.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


As the deadline for the call for papers for the third ETIC International Conference: People, Places, Plans on the 10th July 2015 nears, a number of items regarding the encounters and presence of the French in South East Asia provide examples of the projects’ interests, outputs and collaborations.

The newly launched website ‘French Books on India: From Dupleix to Decolonization’ coordinated by Dr Ian Magedera provides an open access online bibliography which aims to include all the fiction and non-fiction books on India published in French from 1754 to the present day. Arranged in chronological order, based on publication date and annotated in both English and French the resource is a tool for scholars around the world.

This site offers readers the opportunity to read full text copies of selected titles from 1756 to 1939, and to read in one place critical summaries of the content of the most important books by international scholars in the field. The goal of the site is to make readers collaborators, and so welcomes suggestions and contributions to the project.

Scholars with an interest in this field will also be interested in an upcoming publication, ‘French Indians in Indochina’ to be launched later this autumn, authored by Natasha Pairaudeau. This exploration of Indian presence in French Indochina intends on offering a new perspective on the rise of inter-Asian migration from the late nineteenth century. The book considers the shaping of the French colonial social order as the East Indian territories diminished in commercial effect.

types indochinois1907

To return to contemporary East India, Chandernagore College will be holding a UGC-Sponsored International Conference, ‘De/siring India: Representations through British and French Eyes (1584 – 1857) in mid January 2016, tentatively, 18 January – 19 January. Please see below for the call for papers. The deadline is the 31st July 2015.

Since Columbus’s failure and Vasco da Gama’s successful trip to India the Europeans have time and again undertaken travels to discover India, to trade, to proselytize, to make both material and spiritual gains. In the process their desire for discovering the ‘other’ and analyzing the ‘self’ through this discovery led to the siring/begetting of many ‘India’s. This conference will focus on two nations, the British and the French, not only because they were rival colonial powers but also because the motives, means and ends achieved by them in their discovery and representation of India were heterogeneous and multiform. From Ralph Fitch’s arrival in India in 1584 to the Sepoy Mutiny, a landmark event altering colonial relations for ever, the proposed period of examination offers innumerable opportunities of looking at the ‘marvelous possessions’ of the British and the French in India; these cultural pilgrims and colonial aggressors were in their turns possessed by the magic of alterity, the enchantment of desiring and begetting novel representations of India through their travel writings, letters, diaries, journals, reports and illustrations as well as paintings. Whether it is Fitch at Akbar’s court or Tavernier at Shah Jahan’s, the moments of encounters always produced different resonances, antiphonic music, paradigms of alterity.

The conference will attempt to examine and analyse the different perceptions and varying representations of early English and French travellers to India. Papers are invited for this conference; topics may include but need not be confined to the following:

• Travelogue and narrative theory

• Journey and the self

• Culture and alterity

• Material culture and its fluidity

• Visualizing difference

• Anthropology and travel

• Hybridity and identity

• Women travellers and representation

• Nation and diplomacy

• Religion and mysticism

• Desire and Utopia

Please send abstracts of 300 to 350 words to within 31 July 2015.

Envisioning the Indian City: People, Places, Plans
International Workshop
Monday 17th – Tuesday 18th August 2015
Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India

Envisioning the Indian City (ETIC) is a UGC-UKIERI Thematic Partnership Project (2013-15) between the University of Liverpool, UK and Jadavpur University, India. The Project (see ) studies Indian cities as crucibles of cross-cultural encounter, with special focus on Goa, Pondicherry, Kolkata, and Chandigarh. Over the past two years, with numerous seminars, research projects, lectures and presentations, and two International Workshops held in Kolkata and Liverpool, the Project has brought together a variety of interdisciplinary approaches to urban studies, cultural history, on-site research, archives, city planning, architecture, the city in art and representation, collective memory and communities in the city.

In the third of our International Workshops, to be held at Jadavpur University on 17-18 August 2015, we welcome presentations on urban encounters and exchanges through individual  and community histories and histories of objects (people and things), through city-spaces, buildings, streets, water-bodies, and their transformations (places) and through forms of ‘envisioning the city’ (plans). The Workshop will be open to reflections to other Indian cities in addition to our designated four in order to allow for comparative reflections and insights.

Themes for papers and panels may include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Individuals, objects, and communities in the city: traces, stories, anecdotes, histories, intercultural exchanges
  • Space and place in the city: localities, buildings, suburbia, streets, docks, water-bodies, representations
  • Planning the city: health, sanitation, garbage, networks, roads, the urban sprawl

Presenters are asked to focus particularly on cross-cultural encounters and exchanges between Europe and Asia in developing any of these or other topics, in keeping with the ETIC Project theme.

Please send abstracts (250 words for individual papers and 500 words for complete panels), a brief biographical statement (if proposing a panel, one for each participant), and contact details, to or by 10 July 2015.