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Charles Correa And The Power Of The Innards

25/06/2015 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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MANAN VATSYAYANA via Getty Images
Indian architect Charles Correa gestures during an interview with AFP in New Delhi on March 7, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

It's been a day of reading the detailed obituaries of Charles Correa in various newspapers and e-zines and seeing the picture of Kanchenjunga, the building I have called home for several years now, splashed everywhere alongside the word 'iconic'.

While I cannot lay claim to knowing Charles Correa over years as an architect, an associate or simply a long time co-resident of the city by the sea, I do recall chatting with him one lazy summer evening in the grounds of the building. He and his wife had stopped by to talk about lighting on the building, and what struck me was his insistence that what made Kanchenjunga special was not just the design, which gets effusive praise from all, rather the innards of the building - the plumbing, the wiring, the basic infrastructure within - the structural engineering elements behind the well-known facade.

"[W]hat struck me was his insistence that what made Kanchenjunga special was not just the design, which gets effusive praise from all, rather the innards of the building..."

Pipework is not the first thing we think of when we see any building. Our eyes lazily fall on its visible attributes - we observe the grand facade, we admire the crafted external elements, and in Mumbai we talk about the views. Kanchenjunga, with its bungalows in the sky, brings in the light and the wind, but not the heat, its boxy verandas more congruous with its hot, humid ambience than the glass and steel towers of today. But to have each split level apartment face in a different direction to ensure complete privacy and unimpeded view, while ensuring that the sewage and water and electrical ducts ran straight down without twists and bends, needed a level of mechanical and civil works detailing that hadn't seemed an obvious challenge till he pointed it out.

Today, that perchance conversation reminds me of two things.

First, he gave due credit where needed. I know nothing of his management style; but the building which seems to have formed the thesis topic of many an architect friend I know, was equally an accomplishment of his structural engineer.

"Businesses and organizations don't run as solo performances; it is an orchestra where each instrument, each player is essential to the eventual symphonic overtones created."

Connecting it to the management world I inhabit, it is a good reminder that goals are attained through teamwork and the good leader, in this case the lead architect of the building, draws out the best from every team member so that each aspect of the project becomes special. The good leader then ensures that each member of the team gets appropriate recognition for their work. Individuals may want to shine brilliant as a maverick but charismatic boss, but the good leaders show humility and understanding of the ecosystem they operate in. Businesses and organizations don't run as solo performances; it is an orchestra where each instrument, each player is essential to the eventual symphonic overtones created. That is perhaps a good reminder too of the fact that star performers may not always replicate their success in a new organization, because the very factors - the people, the processes, the culture - that enabled them to succeed in one place are not the same in the new organization.

Second, the inside matters. A beautifully designed but ill-functioning building would not be a place for harmonious living. The inside must match the outside. Sometimes, the designer may bring the inside out - like in the Sydney Opera House, as much an engineering marvel as a design one. Substance over style, then, Correa, seemed to point towards.

"While there is merit in brand management and in projecting the right image, we have forgotten that the earthiness, the goodness within can also shine."

We inhabit a world of hyper consumerism and hyper marketing, where it's easy to be lured by the power of gloss, the promise of words, and the premise of the implied. But really, truly, deeply that varnish will not hold the stead of time if the inside is shaky. The over-built mansion may crumble, the over-hyped brand may falter, and the over-produced celeb may show her shallowness. As businesses and as individuals, we worry more about our brands than who we are and what we stand for. While there is merit in brand management and in projecting the right image, we have forgotten that the earthiness, the goodness within can also shine. We need to remind ourselves that the facets of our lives and businesses cannot be polished based on impressions, clicks, likes and tweets alone. There must be truth behind the story.

Ultimately, then, Correa reminds me that it is the innards, the hidden inside detailing of our work and our selves - whether in leadership or in marketing - that creates the true power to withstand the testament of time.

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