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Crafts Museum in Delhi, India by Charles Correa

Correa reinterprets the timeless quality of India into a building which resists the obvious western label of museum.

First published in AR August 1995, this piece was republished online in June 2015

The British brought to India the concept of collecting, preserving and displaying objects of nature and art. Dr Jyotindra Jain, the Director of the National Crafts Museum in Delhi, writes a wonderful essay on this theme in a new monograph of Charles Correa’s work entitled The Ritualistic Pathway (1993).

Jain says that ‘the institution of a museum, aimed at housing objects of antiquity and curiosity, is of western origin’. It was never part of the Indian tradition to display fragmented sculptures, rusted swords and paintings out of their context.


Part of the sequence of modest vernacular courtyards that make up the museum

Indeed, says Jain, ‘broken images were immersed in holy waters, worn-out metal objects were melted down to cast new ones and terracotta votive objects were left to decay and merge with the very earth from which they were created’.

But in following the British example the Indians forgot that, unlike in the West, the past and the present are not so severely divided and, says Jain, ‘blindly adopted the archaeological museum concept’. Dr Jain has considerable ·rapport with Correa, and in this project the architect succeeds in interpreting the timeless quality of India, where tradition and modernity coexist, into a building that resists the label ‘museum’.


Ground floor plan

Correa has frequently expressed the benefits of open-to-sky spaces. In this low-key building, a metaphor of an Indian street is introduced - along a diagonal axis are three courtyards of different scale and intensity. They are stunning spaces with perceptible changes of mood that make for great architecture.

But it is not simple nostalgia for the past. Correa’s work has always drawn on the vernacular and ‘deep-conscious’ echoes, but it is also modern in its fusion of an underlying orthogonal grid and the internal display spaces of lofty dimensions with the open and semi-open passages covered with tiled roofs and lined with artifacts.


Elaborately decorated wall

Correa has succeeded in making the museum almost invisible. He creates an environment that is difficult to define or label. It is not institutional and is deliberately self-effacing in its relationship to its ancient neighbour, the Purana Quila. Nor does it overshadow the artists’ village complex alongside.

The processional route through the building is constantly changing in an intricate kaleidoscope of space and light. It is a journey of discovery and there is a deliberately unfinished feeling about the museum … exactly as intended. What does finished mean? Merely a new beginning.

Crafts museum, Delhi, India

Architect: Charles Correa
Photographs: Joo Ann Foh

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