City Landmark – Charles Correa’s Tara Apartments, Kalkaji
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Up, down. Right, left. Wherever you see. The place is swamped with staircases. Each stringed into zig saggy flights of steps. Some suspended in mid-air, almost.
Tara Apartments is a fantasyland of stairs. Otherwise perched politely on earth, it is among the most soothing pieces of architecture in the entire Delhi region.
It’s 3pm, peak summer, yet the air here is not uncomfortably hot. May be because the harsh afternoon light has softened on entering the edifice. Shades and shadows too are plentiful. While the friendly concrete is smoothly fusing into the leafy trees, the long twisty vines spilling playfully about the red brick walls.
Solicitous of Delhi’s soil and climate, Tara is the creation of the late Charles Correa. The capital’s prominent Correas include Jeevan Bharati (1975-1986) in Connaught Place, Crafts Museum (1975-93) in Pragati Maidan, and the British Council (1987-1992) on KG Marg. Being a housing complex, Tara (1975-78) in Kalkaji is more inaccessible. Its curious design wraps it in a further layer of inaccessibility. Whereas most buildings explicitly flaunt their look, Tara is an introvert. Its face is set within, overlooking a central courtyard—a garden no less. In its inwardness, Tara resembles a centuries-old baoli, or step well, that keeps its exquisite details deep inside its belly. Indeed, these staircases conform to the decorative baolis of Gujarat and Rajasthan, similarly imaginative in their jugalbandi with staircases.
This weekend afternoon, the courtyard is empty of humans but feels full, as if these numerous staircases are alive with a soul. Each staircase seems to have sprung up organically as a response to every other staircase (like a barbershop’s facing mirrors multiplying a reflection to infinity). You would think that the architect had doodled very many staircases on a notepad during a boring office meeting, which he ended up liking so much that he linked them into floors and flats.
Now, a sweaty man in shorts enters the courtyard. Indifferent to the surroundings, he heads towards a pretty staircase, and disappears into… oh no—a lift!