What is a “Heritage Building”? Where does the heritage, attached to it, come from? Is it necessary for a building tagged as heritage, to have persevered a few hundred years? Charles Correa’s Kala Academy in Goa has been a building of historic architectural, cultural, and social importance in the entire country, being the only diverse cultural academy to offer western, classical, and mixed arts courses. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), GOI, says,
“heritage building includes any building which requires preservation for historical, architectural, artisanry, aesthetic, cultural, environmental, and/or ecological purposes.”
The building itself embodies the ideologies of ‘India’s greatest architect’- Charles Correa. The ‘un-building’, a term used many times by Correa himself, became a people’s favourite instantly when it was completed in 1983. The building is a unique example of giving back to society. Even in its expansive built-form, it draws the pedestrian streets into the internal open-to-sky courtyards and through the internal streets onto the Mandovi river edge; not before a pit-stop at the cafe for some chai-samosas. Charles designs the building for a wanderer, he directs you in his subtleties to explore the space on your way to the riverfront.
The first Chief Minister of Goa, Dayanand Bandodkar or Bhausaheb Bandodkar- as he was more popularly known, had a dream to have a definitive and inclusive arts society in the free state of Goa. They formed the Kala Academy Society as a not-for-profit society of the arts to promote the local and international art forms without prejudice. One of the founding members was Mr. Pratapsingh Rane, an MLA from Bandodkar’s party who later became the chief minister of Goa 5 times in his career (and is an MLA in the Goa Legislature). From the very beginning, the society had a providence for a built entity that would be unique and general at the same time; a center at the confluence of Eastern and Western culture. Rane, who was familiar with a few of Correa’s built works, sought a meeting between the society and Correa. Correa, having Goan Ancestry, though born in Hyderabad and brought up mostly in Bombay, gave Goa something so wonderful, that it transcended the built fabric of the continent.
The site where Kala Academy Goa sits was beachfront for old Goan houses where the locals caught fish and watched the time pass along with the barges and the ships. While planning this building, Charles Correa ever so excitedly seemed to have involved himself to make sure that this way of life of the people stays unaffected by the built form but only intensifies it. The view of the Reis Magos fort across the river and the river walk with its lighthouse and the now-demolished jetty was synonymous with Goa, and the Kala Academy itself, an iconic building for architecture students, is always at the tip of their tongues.
Spending my crucial years in Campal, I have wandered many times through the streets created by Correa. I have walked through the courtyards observing a mix of people from all over, either stretched out alone with a book, humming along to a guy with a guitar, talking intensely with a cup of tea, waiting for the Tiatr (a musical theatre) to begin, or some amusingly walking back and forth fascinated by the trompe l’œil in the open street. Do you know the feeling of being in a building and yet not feeling the architecture overpower you? That’s the feeling that Kala Academy evokes.
Almeida, Sarto, and Jaimini Mehta, in their article, say,
“The relatively low rise mass is spread horizontally and organized around an innovative ground plan with an open ‘street’ going through the entire building. This allows one to enter the building without being self-conscious about entering; it makes an otherwise serious public institution seem less ‘institutional’ and more relaxed and appropriate.”
Reinforcing the ‘un-building’ that is a facilitator to the everyday life of the locals and the visitors alike. Kala Academy is programmed with spaces such as Exhibition halls, open-air theatres, auditoriums, meeting rooms, teaching rooms, lounges, cafeteria, the black box, rehearsal rooms, teaching rooms, and admin block. The ground floor is dedicated to the public and the first floor to the academic and administration, thus creating a building that gives back to the city in ways that can only be elaborated with a finger on its pulse. The Kala Academy building is one of the most inclusive buildings in Goa, or even maybe the entire country, as nothing signals exclusivity, including the gate that is wide and low to allow a generous view inside and beyond. The building has two gates, one towards the parking and one leading to the symbolic pergola, referencing the trees over Campal’s road under which all activity happens. I remember the gates being open at all hours as we would sit at the jetty even at midnight and enjoy the warm breeze of the Mandovi after a meal. Public space matters in today’s times and this building, though being nearly 40 years old, was definitely ahead of its times. Nondita Correa Mehrotra, Charles’ daughter, recalls in a conversation with Vivek Menezes,
“He just loved the site—he loved the way the building could connect to (the old Goan neighbourhood of) Campal and the Mandovi river. Many important components came together for him, seemingly effortlessly. Yet he spent a lot of energy in getting it all right.”
The Biennial Z-Axis event, organized by CCF is held in Kala Academy every two years, attracting thousands of attendees.
A simple orthogonal grid makes up the plan, within which there is an interplay in the volume of spaces. With nothing to suggest monumentality, the entire building is low with just three floors and furthers the horizontality of the structure. Most of the spaces inside the Kala Academy are heterogeneous, and the transition between the spaces is through corridors that resemble the streets of old Goa. Correa sketched the murals on the walls that create the illusion of the Goan streets and Bhiwandker, a signboard painter, blew it up and brought it to life. Knowing Correa and his many buildings scattered around the world, buildings such as the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the architect’s alma mater), the Champalimaud Centre for The Unknown in Lisbon, and the Ismaili Centre (attached to the Aga Khan Museum) in Toronto, I don’t know if there would be a better example in the world of architecture for the currently-trending hollow call of ‘Vocal for Local’. Not only was he vocal, but his buildings also show us the necessity to react to a region’s cultural influence rather than follow the strict principles of modernism that he grew up in.
Experiencing the spaces in Kala Academy, I could see how diligently balanced the indoors and outdoors were. The indoor spaces connected to the outdoors in such a way that even when I was inside I could feel the breeze from the riverside. Poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote recognizes the classic features of Correa’s architecture present in Kala Academy and adds, “And let us not forget the laterite that forms its key medium—it articulates the flesh and blood of Goa’s architecture, it comes from the soil of Goa, from the soul of Goa.” There is no doubt that the regional essence was important to Correa, whose buildings all over the world always reference the elements of the region.
The Dinanath Mangeshkar auditorium—named after the Goa-born musician father of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle—has seen many maestros perform from all over the world and has been a launch-pad for many local artists to start their career. Not to mention the tightly contested state Tiatr and Mando competitions, all running to house-full capacities in the 954-seat auditorium. Correa commissioned Mario Miranda—who needs no introduction—to draw virtual balconies with his signature cartoons inside the auditorium where acoustic extrusions were required on the walls to accommodate Indian Classical and Western music, both needing different reverberation times in the space.
The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held every year in Goa, saw a jetty made in 2004 at the riverside, to receive celebrities and dignitaries housed in Sinquerim through the waterway. In 2010, I worked on this jetty as part of the ‘Lights in Goa’ event, conceptualizing and creating lighting installations for the jetty to draw attention to the ageing structure and to highlight its importance. With a heavy heart, we lost the jetty to corrosion in the foundation recently. An element that had become the culmination of the journey from the pedestrian path, through Correa’s internal streets, to the riverside.
Ever since the academy was built, it has truly given back to the people the piece of land it sits on and has generated curiosity in the arts and culture of the region through Correa’s ingenious design. It has played a significant role in strengthening the Goan culture and integrating world culture into it. It has become a go-to name for any local for an event, a stroll, an exhibition, or referring to Goa while in a foreign place. For many people, it is not just a building; it is a place to which they attach a lot of memories and emotions.
The heritage of this building comes from its cultural importance as an Arts Academy unlike any other in the country, and its architectural importance of inclusivity and focusing on the people rather than the monumentality of the building itself. It submits to the public in a way few other edifices do in modern times. It presents itself as a transition space, a place to wander, explore, introspect, rest, be pensive, be active, and reach somewhere that you wouldn’t expect to reach. In our times, when the architectural signature is characterized by august structures such as the Statue of Unity or the Antilla, a building of utmost inclusivity and submissiveness of the human scale is rare and inconceivable.
When the Goa Government made an announcement recently about breaking down part of the structure, the open-air auditorium—owing to leakages and the structure has become fragile and unyielding, my heart sank; first the jetty, then this? Is this just another building that you can break and remake? Even breaking down a part of it is as good as breaking down the whole thing. Any building needs maintenance and care, but a building of such significance in modern Goa needs preservation, not just ad hoc waterproofing and mindless cosmetics. The Charles Correa Foundation (CCF), based in Fontainhas, headed by Nondita Correa Mehrotra started communications with the government and an online petition to save the building from demolition and got through the courts to have experts do a thorough examination of how to preserve it. When I contacted the Foundation to find out the status of the progress, Tahir Noronha, a convener at CCF generously informed me the following—
Here is the update on the Kala Academy today (as on 2nd July 2020)
In January 2020, Professor RG Pillai, IIT Madras, was flown in by CCF to inspect the Kala Academy building, post his study of the 2 structural audit reports prepared by the Government of Goa, he submitted a report in February stating the following points,
- That the structure does not require demolition and can be repaired;
- Repetitive layers of non-performing waterproofing have led to an undesirable dead load burdening the structure with unnecessary weight;
- There is severe corrosion to the steel and concrete in some areas; which needs to be addressed.
- That the quality of work should not be compromised by rushed time-schedule and that it is advisable to ensure long-term preventive measures to preserve the building;
- That there are technologies that can stop corrosion even if it has already set in, for example, Cathodic Protection which can arrest the further spread of corrosion and protect the steel reinforcement for the foreseeable future;
- As an emergency step, it is recommended to remove the extra concrete overlays without causing further damage to the structure and then provide a waterproofing system to protect the structure from moisture attack until the major repair is completed (i.e., for about two years).
- This waterproofing system must be in place before the forthcoming monsoon.
- Two years of temporary protection is suggested considering the possible delays in procuring technical and financial sanctions/approvals from the Government of Goa.
Representatives from CCF met the Minister of Art and Culture and implored him to take necessary steps to protect the structure before the monsoons, around the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic began to pick up and we were informed that the state is facing a dearth of funds and that only existing works will be continued.
The court proceedings have also been adjourned indefinitely.
The monsoon hit Goa on 8th June and we have no idea what the state of the structure will be by August.
Kala Academy is a historic building, maybe not by age, but by the special place it holds in the hearts of the Ponjekars and the thousands who have performed and exhibited there, says Alexandre Moniz Barbosa in an editorial in Herald Newspaper. A building of such cultural importance warrants conservation and transcendence into the future to demonstrate how it was the first building in Goa to interpret Goan architecture and a true building of the people. Every citizen’s voice is alive in its streets today and many people walk through this wonderful un-building every day, not privy to its monumental importance. That is Charles Correa’s magic trick.