Different world agencies, architects, and the public define and interpret a heritage building in different ways. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in the Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972, defines cultural heritage for groups of buildings as, “Groups of separate or connected buildings which, because of their architecture, their homogeneity or their place in the landscape, are of outstanding universal value from history, art or science.” And cultural sites as, “Works of man or the combined works of nature and man, and areas including archaeological sites which are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view.”
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.” For a layman, a heritage building is usually that which is old, just like architecture= construction and interior design= carpentry. To be aware of culturally important buildings or sites, and what are those factors that make them cultural heritage, we need to stop time and move back to look at history and future at the same time in conjunction with the building.
An introduction to the Philosophy of Architecture in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy mentions an idea of how western philosophy, which includes the history of aesthetics, has very little discourse on architecture, the experience of architecture, or its social ramifications. Through my limited experience, I have seen pockets of discussion on philosophical issues prompted by architecture, but nothing mainstream. Architecture seems to have failed to attract sustained, detailed attention—particularly compared to other art forms like literature or painting. But when one reads Charles Correa and his ideologies through his written work and studies his buildings, it gives a fresh perspective on why architecture may not prompt philosophical issues or larger philosophical debates. The ‘un-building’, a term used many times by Correa himself, is the epitome of his architectural expression; that is to serve the people’s inherent lifestyle and enhance their routine functioning, rather than to impose upon them a monument to which they can only revere but not relate. There are two ways you can look at a building, either see it for what it is or (un) see it for what it makes you do.
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 building itself embodies the ideologies of ‘India’s greatest architect’- Charles Correa. The Kala Academy became a people’s favorite 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 river-front; something that you would naturally do at the place it is located. The first Chief Minister of Goa, Dayanand Bandodkar, and Mr. Pratapsingh Rane, an MLA from Bandodkar’s party became part of the founding members of the Kala Academy Society, a not-for-profit society of the arts formed to promote the local and the international art-forms without prejudice. A built-entity was imagined, that would be unique and general at the same time; a center at the confluence of Eastern and Western culture.
Getting back to why I started this piece with an explanation of 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? Here I will list ten reasons why Kala should be considered architectural heritage.
1. Site Location and Orientation
The site where Kala Academy sits was a 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. One of the key reasons to preserve it is that it never imposed itself on the location and never made it exclusive, making it free for every citizen of the world to experience. Kala Academy’s East-West orientation allows the warm wind from the Arabian Sea to cool down at the green buffer of vegetation before entering the building, occupying the internal streets and moving out through the open to sky courtyards and flowing towards the Campal promenade. It is as if the building has blocked none of the air-flow to the city of Panjim.
2. Human Scale
With nothing to suggest monumentality, the entire building is low with just three floors and furthers the horizontality of the structure. This low rise mass maintains the human scale and draws your attention away from the building and to the simple act of transiting from the footpath to inside a building without being self-conscious of entering. According to Almeida, Sarto, and Jaimini Mehta, “It makes an otherwise serious public institution seem less ‘institutional’ and more relaxed and appropriate.” This was the first building Correa built in Goa, and he seemed to be in-tune with what the people need rather than what architects usually think people should have.
3. Internal Streets
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. Something that adds to the cultural reference of the region within which the building is.
Kala Academy’s courtyards and open-to-sky spaces were a continuation of Correa’s ideologies of the building in a tropical climate like India’s. Correa’s theory about those elements of living which are predominantly performed outside in our country’s tropical climate, as compared to the climate of the west (which is mostly cold), is an important factor that affects the architects throughout developing countries. It makes them build on the idea and choose appropriate climatic responses rather than copy the developed countries. The pergola at the entrance symbolically references the trees over Campal’s road under which all activity happens. This is a valuable asset to show when modernism in the world was picking up steam, an Indian was modernizing vernacular concepts of India.
5. Building Program
A simple orthogonal grid makes up the plan, within which there is an interplay in the volume of spaces. Kala Academy’s program is with spaces such as Exhibition halls, open-air theatres, auditorium, meeting rooms, teaching rooms, lounges, cafeteria, the black box, rehearsal 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 the plot back to the people by allowing them to roam freely on the ground floor without disturbing the routine activities of the cultural center. This very embedded factor of planning is rare to see in architecture, especially cultural centers, to be as inclusive as to give up prime real estate to the wandering public with no formal work at the center itself.
6. Auditorium Acoustics
Correa uses modern-vernacular techniques to design the auditorium which was to play-stage to Western and Indian artists. With this preface, the Dinanath Mangeshkar auditorium is designed with projections on the walls which are neatly disguised to look like old Goan theatre balconies with caricatures drawn on them by Mario Miranda. The Acoustic qualities of these are seen when Indian classical music needs more reverberation time, draperies behind the caricatures are pulled up and dropped down for Western music which needs less reverberation time in space.
7. Building Material
Local building material is the most sustainable as it has survived the climate of the region for centuries. Regional essence was important to Correa, and he used laterite stone, which is abundant in Goa, to emphasize Goa’s regional flavor. It not only sustains the building but also gives it a cultural identity, connecting it to the region. 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.”
8. Campus Development—Campal Promenade and the Riverwalk
Kala Academy set the tone for development around it; giving a much-needed boost to the footpaths and the tree-covered streets of Campal on one side and the Mandovi Riverwalk development on the other side, to include street furniture and lighting along with landscaping to allow people to enjoy the riverside in the mornings and the evenings. Correa’s idea of facilitating the people’s way of life and the route from the street side to the riverside made this happen. In The New Landscape, Correa wrote, “The pavements along the seafront in Bombay are the great community spaces of the city. We should generate many more such promenades. They are the heart of the social life of the tropical temperate zones.” Looking at what he made on either side of Kala Academy in Goa, he showed us, through his work, what he was talking about.
9. Cultural Identity
The cultural identity of Kala Academy comes from many places. First, the many maestros who have performed in the Dinanath Mangeshkar auditorium, which includes many Indian and foreign performers performing Indian and Western classical music in the auditorium that ingeniously accommodates both acoustics very well. Second, thousands of local artists who have started their careers in this very place. Not to mention the tightly contested state Tiatr and Mando competitions, all running to house-full capacities in the 954-seat auditorium. Adding to the culture is Goa’s very own cartoonist Mario Miranda, who drew his signature cartoons inside the auditorium on virtual balconies. The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is held every year with film screenings and plays happening here and in the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), housed in the Inox campus across the road. In 2004 there was even a jetty made at the riverside to receive celebrities housed in Sinquerim through the water-way. 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.
10. Charles Correa’s Legacy
People have written many things about Correa’s buildings and ideologies; the ritualistic pathway, the un-building, the open-to-sky spaces, etc., In a keynote address at the Indian Institute of Planners, Kashmir in 1972, Correa, speaking about Goa says, “The wonderful thing about Goa is that it is a real meeting of East and West… What is far more viable is Goa as a crossroads between Indian and European civilizations. By creating schools and cultural centers—for music, painting, drama, literature, architecture, etc.,—where the best teachers of India are available, we could attract the best from the west. From this confrontation, new music, a new art, might well be born.” In the early 80s, Correa is invited to design what is to be the century’s epitome of a public place in the form of a cultural center, that today, has become a heritage we must conserve into the future to show how it was the first building in Goa to interpret Goan architecture and a true building of the people.
Kala Academy has all the features and conditions to be one of the few modern architectural buildings to be considered as architectural heritage. Inscribed in its internal streets are the voices of every citizen who has wandered through this un-building, unknowingly experiencing one of the most culturally important buildings of our times. Once again, Charles Correa’s magic trick that still resonates 40 yrs later.