Contemporary Architecture

Charles Correa – Town Planning in Mumbai and Bagalkot, Mumbai

Planning for New Mumbai Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the commercial and financial centre of India, with a population of about twelve million at the time of writing. The huge city is growing by many thousand hopeful immigrants from predominantly rural areas each day. Mumbai‘s particular topography – it is a long, narrow peninsula – meant that the constantly needed extension of the city limits was possible in one direction only, northwards. Britain‘s efforts as a colonial power 200 years ago were directed at „citifying“ something that was essentially a withdrawn little town because of its outstanding location as a harbour and trading centre. But Bombay did not start to flourish until 50 years later, when the turmoil of the Civil War cut off American cotton export. So the world focused its interest on Indian cotton, and Bombay became the centre for the shipment of goods. Ultra-fast growth began, the port became the largest in India, and rapid urban expansion created the problem of a housing shortage and a proliferation of emergency accommodation. The centre of Mumbai, now and then, is at the southern end of the peninsula, where commercial life developed and population density and land prices are highest. The extreme expansion of the urban area to one side of a fixed commercial centre created Mumbai‘s major problems of long transport routes. Journeys lasting several hours on express trains had to be accepted if people were to get to work, a state of affairs that eventually reached its natural limits.
As early as 1964, Charles Correa with his colleagues Pravina Mehta and Shiresh Patel proposed to the Mumbai city authorities that they should not expand any further northwards, but use an eastern site cut off by a sea bay for urban expansion, with the aim of establishing New Mumbai. The government did not finally accept this plan until 1970, when it started to buy land east of Mumbai old town. Large bridges then made it possible to create a direct link with the old centre, so that there was now nothing else in the way of the actual goal of a new commercial centre with a new urban structure. The City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) was founded, and Charles Correa headed it as chief architect from 1970 to 1974. Their aim was to settle at least four million people in New Mumbai, thus containing the spread of further emergency accommodation and creating enough new jobs. There were two key aspects to be dealt with: creating living space and setting up mass transport systems. The southern sub-centre called Ulwe, for which Correa produced a development plan, is now part of New Mumbai. The intention was to carry out real town planning here, with the colonial British planning in Old Mumbai definitely providing a model: a development and use plan was drawn up in co-operation with CIDCO, rules were fixed, i.e. the building development structures, building heights and street width etc., and a start made by designing 1000 dwellings for 350,000 inhabitants. Every income group was to be considered here, and cost/use factors devised in categories, for example clay or bamboo buildings for lower income groups, masonry buildings for middle income groups and apartments for high earners. The complexity of a city as an urban organism meant that flexibility had to be a factor as well, with room for natural growth. Urban quality in the sense of an ambience appropriate to human scale meant considering factors like varied living space dependent on urban density, structures like neighbourhoods and quarters, public buildings and areas, also sufficient green areas and open spaces, and transport with adequate stopping points. Correa developed a complex and flexible urban structure for Ulwe, but at the same time laid down strict building guidelines to guard against Indian urban sprawl: urban blocks as the basic structure, with fixed building height, numbers of floors and street and rear façades, and also fixed use dependent on position within the city. An urban centre offered administration, public buildings, green areas and transport links with buses and trains. This ambitious, fixed structure – and thus inimical to the Indian free spirit – has been under construction for several decades.

Planning for New Bagalkot New dams caused the Ghataprabha River in the state of Karnataka to rise and flood parts of the old town in Bagalkot. A new centre, New Bagalkot, was proposed and planned to accommodate 100,000 people. Charles Correa was faced with similar problems as in Ulwe, just on a smaller scale, but even greater flexibility was needed for the building development and the street space. Here what were called „planned-unplanned“ elements had to be factored in, as a great deal was to be left to the people themselves. As natural growth was seen to be desirable, it was important to lay down rough urban development guidelines only. These addressed the size of the quarters, linked routes through the town, the transport systems and stopping points, and not least, the building development structure. Correa prescribed a hierarchical geometrical structure that resembles the diagram of the Mandala, the old Hindu symbol of the cosmos. Indian town planning has been linked to the abstract idea of the cosmos for centuries, an idea that Correa takes up here.
A square, consisting of seven times seven quarter zones, is oriented precisely according to the points of the compass,
and is broken down into green areas running right on into the centre along its diagonals, but also along its orthogonal
lines. Here a pool of water framed by stone steps, a Kund, acquires the symbolic importance of the axis mundi, the
world axis of the universe. The centre was developed strictly in blocks, grouped around the pool of water in the prescribed geometrical fashion. The design that Correa prescribed for the building development inside the quarters is very dense in the centre and slowly but surely decreasing in density towards the edges of the quarters, with the possibility of breaking up altogether. Only a few dominant street links are laid down, so that connecting routes can emerge by their own accord during the growth period. Different housing types were to meet the needs of all income groups, with relatively high density development packed tightly into the quarter as a whole, was intended to create the typical oriental bazaar atmosphere. This design, which applies metaphysical symbolism to historical models in particular, has also been under construction since 1985.

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Source:Klaus-Peter Gast Contemporary Architecture in India Modern Traditions

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