Archive for September, 2011

Charles Correa’s greatest?

September 30, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (4)



The morning began with my son sending me this (note #29) and after that I still had the pleasure of writing about Charles Correa to look forward to…

As promised yesterday, here are some glimpses of what may well be Charles’s greatest achievement (so far – there are many yet to come). It is the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown, in Lisbon, Portugal.




The site is spectacular, as will be evident from these pictures.


















And the building rises magnificently to the challenge.







Charles has succeeded in creating a startlingly new configuration of some of the recurring elements in his work: sculptural monoliths;














echoing geometrical forms;




reflecting surfaces;













courtyards that both embrace and separate;









and the interplay of light and shadow.










The landscaping is particularly striking in its references to Portugal’s role in the diffusion and exchange of botanical species around the world.











At the age of eighty-one Charles has the spirit, energy, liveliness of mind and argumentativeness of a teenager (and the sense of mischief too). In the league of his peers he is indeed a stripling: Niemeyer at 104 and I.M.Pei at 97 are still producing some of their best work. There are many projects ahead for Charles and we can only hope that those who have it in their power to commission major buildings will make it possible for him to build something on the scale of the Champalimaud Center in India.




[For the record: I didn’t take these pictures; they were sent to me a good while ago. No photographerwas credited].


Shouts and whispers

September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)




I was delighted to read Saurabh’s comments of Sept 27 and this post is a continuation of that conversation.

Charles and Monika Correa are dear friends and I count myself among their most ardent fans (Monika is a major artist in her own right – she weaves tapestries, some of which are on display in I.M.Pei’s ‘Four Seasons’ building in New York – a fine building but not his best, in my view, but I’ll save that for another post…).

Monika and I have talked about Frank Gehry’s MIT building (the Stata Center) and I have to say that much as I love her, I disagree with her on this. I think the Stata Center is a miracle, one of Gehry’s greatest works. What I particularly love about it is the way it plays with the forms of the medieval European university town.



The curved lines and shapes give the interior an unexpected intimacy; it is the least institutional of any institutional building I have ever been in. Even the corridors are broken up by little nooks and corners where people can gather and talk. It struck me that such a playful building might not appeal to a student body like MIT’s  – but everyone I spoke to there loved it.

But Monika is certainly right about the leaks in the building (in fact they prompted MIT to sue Gehry but the matter was amicably resolved). But many innovative buildings have practical shortcomings and this one’s are unlike any other. There is a room that cannot be used because there’s something about its shape that makes people seasick – I didn’t believe it until I stepped in.

Charles’s MIT building  (‘The Brain and Cognitive Sciences complex‘) is across the road from the Stata Center, almost begging comparison. Only a very brave architect would take on such a commission – but Charles is nothing if not brave and he succeeded in creating a splendid counterpoint to the Gehry building. It is quite unlike anything else he has built, a marvel of understated elegance. I once asked him about the thinking behind it and he said: There’s no point in answering a shout with a shout; sometimes a whisper is better’.

But Charles’s masterpiece is not at MIT. Nor is it in India, which is rather sad… but I’ll save the rest for another post.

Old and New in São Paulo, Brazil

September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (4)



Oscar Niemeyer’s Auditório Ibirapuera (inaugurated 2005), in Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo





Modernism and  cyber-medievalism




Entrance, Auditório Ibirapuera (the portal has been nicknamed Labareda which is Portuguese for ‘flame’).









At the age of 103, Niemeyer has plans for a university that will efface distinctions between disciplines – in order, as he says, ‘To eliminate the specialist man’.

I’m wondering when they’ll start taking applications.

For an interesting interview see:


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The common denominator of Niemeyer’s old and new projects is his consistent exploration of reinforced concrete’s versatility, his drive to create structures that seem lighter even as they become larger. ”My ambition has always been to reduce a building’s support to a minimum,” he reflects. ”The more we diminish supporting structures, the more audacious and important the architecture is. That has been my life’s work.” For that work he was awarded the 1988 Pritzker Prize.

Long a member of the communist party, Niemeyer is a vocal defender of left-wing governments in Brazil and abroad. His Bolivar monument, in Caracas, will be shaped like a lance pointing at the US. In an accompanying text to the Paco Imperial exhibition, he writes: ”Only in politics I am intransigent and radical – I am against Bush’s murderous empire, and against anyone who in this country opposes [president] Lula”.

Can politics and architecture mix? ”Architecture doesn’t matter,” Niemeyer tells me. ”Someone who is out on the streets protesting is doing a much more important job than I am. Politics matters. Changing the world matters because we live in a shit world.” What, I ask, can architecture do to change the world? Nothing, he replies.

Yet one of his current projects betrays an entrenched idealism – he has plans for a university designed to eradicate barriers between intellectual disciplines. ”To eliminate the specialist man”, he says solemnly, as if this worthy humanist ideal were not an ancient one.

There is a favourite phrase of Niemeyer’s. I have heard him say it at interviews, and read it in his books. Even as my 15 minutes run out, he is not prepared to let me go without reiterating it for my benefit: ”Life is more important than architecture.”

Question from a reader

September 22, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

‘I shall be obliged if you kindly let me know the meaning and origin of the word “BANKSHALL”‘.

Here is the entry for ‘bankshall’ in the Ibis Chrestomathy which can be found here.

+ bankshall: Neel would have been saddened by the demise of this beautiful word, once much in use: “How well I remember the great Bankshall of Calcutta, which served as the jetty for the disembarkation of ship’s passengers, and where we would go of an evening to gawk at all the griffins and new arrivals. It never occurred to us that this edifice ought to have been, by its oracular definition, merely a ‘warehouse’ or ‘shed’. Yet I do not doubt that Sir Henry is right to derive it from the Bengali ‘bãkashala’”. He would have been surprised to learn that a humbler kind of warehouse, the godown, would survive in general usage, at the expense of the now rare bankshall.’

But you might want to look at the entry in Hobson-Jobson. There are several editions available online; you will find one here.

letter from Lemuria

September 21, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (3)



“[A] file of the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Geographer … contains the correspondence over two decades between the U.S. Government and various individuals regarding a group of islands off the east coast of Panama… The State Department received a letter (dated November 16, 1954) on a letterhead bearing the title ‘Government of Atlantis and Lemuria’ from one Gertrude Norris Meeker, Governor-General. In the letter, she declared that in 1943 a group of islands (two hundred miles south and west of Florida, eight degrees north of the Equator, and three miles off-shore of Panama and Costa Rica) was the ‘private Dynasty or Principality… named ‘Atlantis Kaj Lemuria’. The letter also informed the State Department that ‘any trespassing in these islands or Island Empire is a prison offence.’ The State Department’s Special Advisor on Geography, Sophia A. Saucerman, responded politely on December 7, 1954, that ‘in the conduct of the foreign relations of this Government, the Department of State does not recognize any so-called ‘private Dynasty or Principality named Atlantis Kaj Lemuria.’ Meeker replied to this disavowal by offering a brief history of her ‘Principality’ which she insisted had been founded in 1917 by a Danish seaman, John L. Mott, at a time when Germany was at war with Denmark. Meeker concluded, acerbically, ‘I am not some quirk hunting a so-called ‘lost continent’ – these islands exist and do belong to my dynasty.’ ”

[from The Lost Land of Lemuria: Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories, by Sumathi Ramaswamy, Univ of California, Berkeley Press, 2004, p. 81]

Letter from New Zealand

September 20, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)







Echoes of Goa: Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

September 19, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (4)



The first Portuguese settlements in Bahia, Brazil, were founded at about the same time as those in Goa. Salvador was Brazil’s first capital and these pictures were all taken in the Pelourinho section of the city.

Convent and Church of St. Francis, 1723.





























































‘Sons of Gandhi’ – one of the biggest Carnival associations in Brazil.




















‘Terreiro de Jesus’





































Letter from Malaysia

September 17, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)



My correspondence with Fernando Rosa began some months ago: he is a Brazilian doing research in Malaysia. This is how he describes his work: ‘I am doing research with the Portuguese community [in Melaka] (and here in KL as well), together with a linguist, Stefanie Pillai, who is half-Portuguese herself, and Jamian Mohamad, also a linguist, who is a Malay specialist in the influence of Portuguese, Malay, and Melaka Portuguese on each other. Working with the language is quite fun, especially to me. Melaka Portuguese sounds somewhat like my own Portuguese but somehow upside down! I love it and am learning it.’

Although I’ve never met Fernando in person, he was very helpful in suggesting places to visit and things to do in Brazil. By an odd coincidence (if such a thing exists) it turned out that he knew Prof. Lynn Mario de Souza of São Paulo University (see my post of Sept 13). After reading the post, Fernando wrote back to say:

‘I have located a copy of Os Bramanes in Macau. To my surprise, an architect friend there, Rui Leão, who is Macau-born, Lusophone and speaks Cantonese and no Indian language, told me Francisco is his great great grand-uncle (here is a link showing Francisco’s works in Portuguese, French (sic), and English translation: He also told me his father used to have a library (I think he may have meant a livraria, namely, a bookshop – he wrote his email in English but his mind works in Portuguese, just like my own) in Panjim and that – guess what – he once put forth a new edition of Os Bramanes. Therefore the novel is an old favourite with the Lusophone Goans.

‘One of my proposed projects which I have not carried out yet is related to tracing these connections between the old Indian Ocean Portuguese colonial harbours: not the grand historical picture, but the family links and personal histories.

‘Indeed Santa Teresa has changed a good deal in the past few years. I still remember the old neighbourhood: almost derelict, village-like, and very charming. Its historical bohemianism was much quieter, a matter of artists meeting at each other’s ateliers and homes. People tell me traditionally Santa Teresa was like a small town just above Rio, part of it but really separate. The outdoors bohemianism would take place just below, in Lapa, from where the bondinhos – the English trams from the 1930s which still run through the neighbourhood as far as I know – leave. Rio is a magical place and I miss it very much.’

Fernando has a blog of his own:


The mysterious death of India’s coastal and inland shipping

September 15, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (6)



In the late 18th and early 19th centuries opium was transported from Ghazipur to Calcutta by large and heavily fortified fleets of vessels (the progress of one such fleet is described at some length in Sea of Poppies).

The image above is a representation of one such fleet. It is shrunken version of an enormous and dramatic lithograph that can be viewed in the British Library. J.W.S. Macarthur, who superintended the Ghazipore opium factory in the 1860s reproduced the picture, in miniature, in his book Notes On An Opium Factory (Thacker, Spink, Calcutta, 1865). The above image, which is a scan from Macarthur’s book, provides but a poor impression of the original lithograph – yet it will be evident at a glance that many of the vessels in the opium fleet were of great size, fully the equal of  ocean-going sailships.

As it made its way downriver, the opium fleet would stop every night at a river-port. Each of these ports was equipped with the infrastructure to deal with a substantial volume of shipping. Some of these ports, like Chhapra, attracted immigrants from far away (my own family moved from East Bengal to Chhapra in 1856).

Today it is impossible to travel by boat on the Ganga for any distance. Several travel writers, including Eric Newby and Ilija Trojanov have tried and foundered. Trojanov’s Along the Ganges (translated by Ranjit Hoskote and published by Penguin in 2005) is a terrific book, one of the best travelogues of recent times: it leaves no doubt that river traffic on the Ganga has dwindled to a trickle.

In the twelfth century, when Abraham Ben Yiju came to India (as described in In An Antique Land), the towns and villages of the Indian coast were all connected by boat. Ferries and ‘coasters’ would hop along the shoreline, pulling into a new port every night. Such journeys were possible even within living memory. In my childhood there was a ferry that linked Dhanushkodi to Talaimannar in Sri Lanka. In 1976, when I first traveled to Goa, the Bombay-Goa ferry was still running. I cannot remember why I took a bus instead of the boat but I will forever regret that decision – for in contemporary India ferries are almost as rare as dreadnoughts. Only in the Sundarbans and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands do networks of ferries still exist.

How has this happened? How did it come about that India, with its long coastline and extensive river networks, has so grossly neglected coastal and riverine shipping? Other Asian nations – Indonesia and China for example – have not been so neglectful: both countries possess extensive internal shipping networks. Why has India been so unmindful of what should be a major national asset? Why are Indians unmindful even of their unmindfulness on this score? Why do historians and economists never address this issue?

These questions have perplexed me for a long time, and I had never imagined that my website might one day provide some answers. But so it has: Veeresh Malik, a sailor by profession, has become a regular correspondent of mine through the site’s mailbox. He recently sent me a link to an article of his: How coastal and inland shipping has been allowed to die and what needs to change quickly. Published in an online journal called ‘Moneylife’, it is the best analysis of this issue that I have yet read.

Like many sailors before him, Malik is a fine writer. Here are two paragraphs from the article: “Bimal Roy’s 1963 classic “Bandhini” was just one among many movies of that era that portrayed how river transport, especially paddle wheel steamers (some of them were capable of transporting whole trains across rivers), was an intrinsic part of life in the lower reaches of the Ganges. Bhupen Hazarika’s songs can still be heard-ballads about commerce and trade, as well as human emotions, from river to sea. The Bombay-to-Goa steamers were an important link along the Konkan Coast, and in the 1970s, we could set our clocks by their arrival and departure at Ferry Wharf. Before independence, of course, coastal shipping on routes like Karachi-Saurashtra/Cambay ports-Bombay and further south, all the way to the Malabar coast were well developed. They just don’t exist today.

“It is easy to blame the way the British drew lines on maps, across centuries-old trade routes, and destroyed these, especially water-borne trade. But even with the post-1947 coastline and rivers providing ample opportunity for sea and river cargo by ship, the powers-that-be simply let things die. Road transport, since it does provide better opportunities to earn, prevailed at the cost of what was good for society. The death knell was well and truly sounded when all training and certification moved into English, condemning generations of natural seafarers, as the regulatory and statutory authorities literally killed this form of transport.”

The article is available here.



Letter from Qatar

September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (3)

Dear Amitav, 

I have just returned from a trip to Beirut and Malta. While in Beirut
I took a truly wonderful walking tour led by an AUB grad that I
thought you might enjoy. Next time your in Beirut please consider
checking it out:

I also thought of you when I was in Malta. I do not know whether or
not you have ever been, but I found it to be extraordinary. Maltese is
basically Arabic with a bit of Sicilian Italian thrown in. I was
continually enthralled by the juxtaposition of Arabic and Italian. For
example, every town and village had a large welcome sign as you enter
with the local coat of arms. My favorite sign read, “Merhaba San Paul
al Bahar” or Welcome to St. Paul’s Bay.

Having recently been to Al Andalus as well, it was interesting to
compare how the Spanish retained their language, but there is a huge
and extraordinary remaining Islamic influence in architecture. Whereas
in Malta they continue to speak Arabic but there is little remaining
Islamic influence in architecture. Also, although Spanish still has
ojala, I didn’t hear any words in Maltese that had an Islamic origin,
i.e. masalam, insha’allah, mashallah, etc.

However, they do have some traditions that survive, such as the
Turkish evil eye is painted on every fishing boat, and I noticed
several hanging on car rearview mirrors.

If you have not visited yet, I do hope you have a chance. As someone
who loves languages I think you would find it absolutely fascinating.


Jackie Armijo
Associate Professor

ucuz ukash