The first thing I do when I walk into any new building is to look straight up. My eyes are drawn to the ceiling immediately, and I often stand there, just inside a doorway, transfixed by the textures and patterns in the solid above me.
I have been accused, once in a while, of having my head in the clouds, of not noticing what is directly in front of me or below my feet. I trip on cracks in the sidewalk more often than I should, and have done my fair share of walking into mailboxes. The accusation, however, is inaccurate — instead, my head is in the ceiling, in the tops of the built environment around us. Even when I am outdoors, I am admiring the structures on the street, wondering what they would look like if I was standing inside them and looking straight up at the sky.
The decision to move into our current home in Cabbagetown was made for a multitude of reasons, but part of it was because of the way the windows reached up towards the high ceiling, a ceiling that was unreachable but drew my gaze constantly upwards.
Often, I’ve thought about what life would have been like if I had studied architecture. How would my fascination with ceilings have influenced the spaces I would build?
Charles Correa, a renown Indian architect that passed away a few days ago, became an architect because of toy trains. How has that fascination with rails and tracks defined the buildings he has designed?
I think I became an architect because of toy trains. As a child, I had a Hornby tinplate track and a couple of locomotives and wagons. Nothing very ambitious, really just enough to run the trains around your room, and the following day, perhaps change the layout so that they could run into the next room, under a table and back again. That was the marvelous thing about those old tinplate rails. They had flexibility. Every time one finished playing, back they went into their wooden box – to be reincarnated the next day in a totally new formation.
Ah, to have more rails – and more trains! But since World War II was on, there was no way my layout could possibly have been augmented. All I did have was catalogues (the legendary Hornby Book of Trains, Basset-Lowke’s Model Railways and so forth), which I would pore over. I drew out on graph paper the most elaborate layouts: straight rails, curved ones, sidings, crossovers, the works. Trains moved through tunnels, stations, over-bridges in one direction and then, through cunningly placed figure eights, came right back through the same stations and tunnels – but now in the other direction, setting up a brand new sequence!
That’s how I spent many of my classroom hours: drawing up these hypothetical layouts in exercise books. Years later, at the age of fifteen or so, coming across an architectural journal for the first time, I felt I could read the various plans and sections – and what they were trying to do. That much I owe to Hornby.
The way some people have favorite actors, or singers, or athletes, I have favorite architects. It may seem strange to some, now that I think of it, to elevate architects to that kind of celebrity, but it makes a lot of sense to me: the people who are responsible for creating our built environment, the world we navigate every single day, should be celebrated.
Charles Correa wasn’t ever on my list of favorite architects — my list is perhaps too typical, composed of names like Calatrava, Maki, Sejima + Nishizawa, Hadid, and Souto de Moura — but I was exposed to his work when I visited the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT in 2003, and was impressed immediately. When I heard that Mr. Correa would be tasked with the design of the new Ismaili Centre in Toronto, I was ready to be wowed.
Mr. Correa’s design didn’t disappoint: the Ismaili Centre is distinctive, distinguished, and beautiful. It is a building that Toronto can be proud of, that adds character and vibrancy to our architectural landscape.
Lise and I also happen to be getting married there later this year; we’re excited to celebrate our life together surrounded by family and friends in a space that reflects the diversity of culture and thought of this city.
For that, and so much more, I thank Mr. Correa. He, and his contributions to the built environment around us, will be missed.