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I became an architect because of toy trains: An essay by Charles Correa

India's best-known architect died on Tuesday at the age of 84. In this article, he explains how he developed a passion for designing buildings and spaces.

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 architect's conundrum 

Cut to many more years later. As a young architect, I’m perplexed by the contrary attitudes of two quite different thought processes. The first produces architecture which has very strong conceptual ideas – but on which you do not really linger beyond the first five minutes. An example might be Eero Saarinen’s three-pointed dome at MIT – a very elegant creation, but also perhaps something you might feel you have digested in one scanning. On the other hand, there is another kind of process, which does not involve any holistic schema at all. Many buildings (and most interiors) are designed this way. They present you with a series of spellbinding effects, one after another; perhaps without any real inter-relationship – except, of course, that one set-piece follows the previous one in a knockout sequence, rather like the way Gone With the Wind is structured around a series of unforgettable scenes. Or like the stories of Scheherazade. Once the sequence starts, you’re hooked – but can this ever provide a legitimate basis for serious architecture? Can such arbitrary and episodic narrativeever express the control, the rigor, and the discipline, so fundamental to holistic thought?

Jump cut again, to China. Before I visited my first Chinese garden, I was confused. Photographs showed only some fragile scenographic effects: the quirky little bridge, the dragon wall, the pond of water and so forth. Yet, when you actually get there and start walking through the garden, it gradually builds and builds until it finally overwhelms you.Hornby all over again! First you go through the sequence of pond and bridge and dragon wall in one direction, and then you find yourself coming in from another direction, experiencing them all in another sequence, in another order, from another height and so forth. The same handful of props are used and reused, again and again. And each time, because of a slight change in angle, or in sequence, they carry a new significance.

Limiting elements

Restricting the number of elements, and using them over and over, is the key decision. It confers on the Chinese garden the rigour that the mandatory square piece of paper generates in Origami. By making the number of set pieces finite, but the variations in your perception of them seemingly infinite, the garden becomes, at one and the same time, both holistic and episodic. Perhaps the repeated tales told in Rashomon (the bandit, the husband, the onlooker, the wife) also stem from this same paradigm. With each narration of the identical events, truth is reborn again in a new form, trans-forming the lyrical open-ended tales of Scheherazade into the refracted and imploded metaphysics of Kurosawa’s masterpiece.

That is what toy trains are really about – those wonderful tinplate rails that made patterns across the bedroom floor (the way the real thing makes pat- terns across a landscape, or across a nation), abstract patterns that recall in the mind’s eye the true reality of railway journeys. Today, these toys are no longer available. What killed them off? The banal quest for super-realistic "scale model" railways and those stunningly prosaic attempts at so-called realism. Instead of the continuously changing patterns of demountable rails, we have today scale-track, nailed down permanently on to a baseboard – in the process fatally maiming that extraordinarily sophisticated level of abstraction and imagination that children brought to their tinplate layouts.

Excerpted with permission from A Place in the Shade: The New Landscape & Other Essays by Charles Correa, published by Penguin India.

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As corporate India changes from strait-jacketed to stylish, here’s how you can stay on-trend

For men and women, tips to make your office style game strong.

Office wear in India tends to be conservative. For men, the staple blue or white shirt and dark trouser arranged in a monotonous assembly line has been a permanent feature of the wardrobe (a tactic shrewdly administered to ensure minimum time is spent shopping). For women, androgynous work wear has been ever reliable and just as dull.

But camouflage is of no use in the corporate jungle anymore. The Indian office is no longer a place for dull, unthinking conformity, it is a place that expects vibrancy in thought and action. With a younger workforce and a greater mix of multinationals and jobs, there is a greater acceptance of edgier trends. Men are stepping away from their blues and greys and women are reshaping their workwear to be more interesting and distinctly feminine. As corporate India is proving its mettle on the global stage and to itself, it’s also growing confident in expressing individuality and style in the formal work environment. From clothing to office décor and fashion accessories to work tools, the workplace is becoming a place to display merit as well as taste.

Work clothes have shed their monochrome and moved into the light of technicolor. Bright colours have steadily become popular as Pantone’s annual colours of the year show us. For the corporate warrior who wants to be stylish here is our pick of trends worth considering.


Statement jacket. A statement jacket is one that doesn’t merely stand out in a crowd, but blows it open for you. How do you recognize one? You’ll know it when you see it. Most statement jackets have a non-traditional color. They could also have subtle prints on them if you want to go funky.

Technicolor socks. Multicolored socks (or hipster socks as they are known in some quarters) peek out every once in a while and brighten things up in the workplace. From polka dots and caricatures to geometric patterns, you can choose a pair to suit your mood or your workplace. A great way of telling people you don’t take fashion rules seriously (except these ones).

Plaid: Well played is well, plaid. Great for your 9-to-5 and even performs well after. Plaids, in shirts and jackets, are perhaps the most versatile tool in the corporate warrior’s armory, and straddle the fine line between formal and casual effectively. They’re also age-resistant meaning a young buck in his twenties can rock them as much as your seasoned forty-plus campaigner. Plaid, though Scottish in origin, has an Indian connection too, in the Madras checks that became popular all over the world after the World War.

Inside collars and cuffs. If you like to keep it classy but still a little edgy, nothing does it like contrast or printed insides of your collar and cuffs. After the work day, when it’s proper to roll up your sleeves, it even adds a touch of evening character.

Coloured Shoes. Alternate your staid blacks and browns with variants like burgundy, light buttery browns and ashen blues. Play with moccasins, tassel loafers and lace-ups. Go beyond leather and try suede and maybe even canvas. But do remember to take a quick course in matching.


Floral prints. Flowers are back (though one could argue that they never went out) and now they’re storming the bastion of your office. Even the traditional Indian paisley is making its way into formal wear. With the prevalence of digital printing, with a little hunting, you’ll even find beautiful florals in watercolour style.

Scarves. The first rule of wearing scarves is to rid yourself of the notion that they are to be worn only in winter. A colourful scarf paired with a monochrome top works wonders. A dozen online videos will teach you to wear it in a dozen ways. Plus, it always comes in handy when the thermostat isn’t to your liking. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw wears scarves frequently, and is a great example of how you can use it strikingly.

Pants. Yes. Pants. Experiment with different styles and you’ll be surprised how they can really spruce up a boring look. Silhouette is everything when it comes to pants. Choose from high-waisted, wide legged, pleated to ankle length pants and what not! The best part is offices rarely prescribe silhouettes, so you can always get by with some style even if your workplace demands a uniform.

Houndstooth. The houndstooth pattern is at the sweet intersection between casual and formal and can be worn to make a splash in either occasion. Whether its jackets or a dress or a simple top, a houndstooth pattern is incredibly versatile.

Chic suits. A sharp suit is a must for a modern professional’s wardrobe. And please don’t even look in the direction of black. Pastel colours or even greys with patterns are great options for suits. Uncoordinated suits are also a great option depending on how edgy you want your office attire to be.


It isn’t enough to be well-dressed in the modern workplace. A good professional is known by his or her tools and how they carry it.

Designer laptop sleeves. Your high-precision instrument deserves a cover chosen with as much care. Black Neoprene is out. Pastel monochromes, geometric patterns and bold designs are very much in. Different materials like cotton, leather and even paper are a great option.

Natural fiber or leather bags (yes kill your black synthetic one now). Briefcases are ancient and black messenger bags are done. Go for a color variant or a subtle pattern. Pay attention to the different leather finishes. Adding a few nicely done metal trims can make all the difference. But convenience and ease are top priority. If you travel a lot, get a stylish strolley and thank yourself later.

Commute pack. The urban corporate needs to be productive at all times, or at the very least, needs to be accessible. A modern commute pack should include wireless headphones, a USB battery pack (power bank) and a wire/gadget organisation pack just so that you’re always prepared.

Machine. We’ve all showed off our latest smartphones. Your work machine is way more important. And like in smartphones, a good laptop is no longer only about performance. The specifications must be top-notch but it has also become an expression of your personality. It can up your style quotient and significantly impact your experience.

Source: Dell
Source: Dell

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Dell and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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