In this interview, Ambassador Corrêa do Lago talks about the cultural similarities between India and Brazil and the role Brazil can play in building the best possible cities in India in order to meet various impending challenges.
André Aranha Corrêa Do Lago, the Ambassador of Brazil to India, is a world renowned architecture enthusiast, who serves on the current Pritzker Prize jury. Founded in 1979, the Pritzker Architecture Prize is an international architecture award presented annually “to honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”
A specialist in multilateral diplomacy, urbanism, and climate change, Ambassador Corrêa do Lago is fascinated by the rich cultural heritage that India is blessed with. He is also aware of India’s growing clout as an economic powerhouse and cultural superpower.
In this interview, Ambassador Corrêa do Lago talks about the cultural similarities between India and Brazil, the Portuguese colonial churches in Goa and in Brazil, the influence of the Pritzker award in the world of architecture, and the role Brazil can play in building the best possible cities in India in order to meet various impending challenges such as climate change.
Q. How would you compare India and Brazil in terms of cultural heritage?
A. First of all, India is a country that has such a gigantic cultural heritage that very, very few countries can match. So, I would never dare to compare Brazil and India. Brazil in that sense is a country that has limited cultural history. You see, the indigenous people in Brazil developed some very interesting aspects of art but they didn’t build them in stone. So the heritage of our indigenous people is still alive because as I always say, “Indigenous architecture in Brazil is contemporary architecture because we have indigenous people that still build as they used to build. But it is largely wooden, bamboo, and other plant based and so it is the kind of architecture that has to be renewed frequently. It’s not the case of Peru and Mexico in Latin America that have amazing Pre-Columbian stone architecture. So you cannot really compare Brazilian and India cultural heritage.
Q. Tell us about the similarities between India and Brazil in terms of the colonial influences courtesy of the Portuguese.
A. Yes, of course. The built Brazil and the written Brazil started in the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese. So, if we compare these periods, I think that would be a bit fairer. Now, the Portuguese presence in India was a little before the Portuguese presence in Brazil. So you have very interesting Portuguese colonial churches in India that are very similar to the Portuguese colonial churches in Brazil. But, generally, in Goa, they were built like a hundred years before the Portuguese most important churches in Brazil. So, it’s quite interesting that you can even study the evolution of the colonial Portuguese church starting in India in the early 16th century and continue in Brazil until the late 18th century. But this is quite incidental and localized because it’s essentially in Goa and a couple of other places. And that’s why I like very much to compare the modernist heritage because in that sense we can really compare the two countries. Our modernism starts in the ‘30s and the same is the case with India. In terms of modernism, we are already societies in similar state of development. We are both developing countries.
Q. A few months back you delivered a lecture on the influence of the Pritzker award at the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi as part of Bonjour India. How did that materialize?
A. Well, there is always a personal dimension to that kind of thing. I am a very close friend of the French ambassador (Emmanuel Lenain) and on top of it I am married to a French woman. So, I am closely linked to France. Also, my father was a diplomat and I always studied in French schools. I love French culture. When the French ambassador asked me if I could do something for Bonjour India I told him that I could talk about architecture and the French who got the Pritzker and he loved the idea. And that’s how it happened.
Q. During the lecture you touched upon the need to assist India in building the best possible cities in order to meet impending challenges such as climate change. How can Brazil play a role in it? Also, what would be your recommendations to the administrators in India to fast track it?
A. I think India is too sophisticated and too advanced to be helped and to be advised. But what we can is share experiences and I think this is something which we can do very much because there is a very strong difference between India and Brazil regarding cities. Brazil is now already 87 percent urban. So we already have an economy that is overwhelmingly urban. In the case of India this number is much lower. In Brazil we have made many mistakes and we have also been able to do some many positive things. And I think we can share these experiences with India because as two developing countries, we have to have realistic development. We cannot depend on the kind of development that only works in a country of 3 million people that are extremely rich. The thing is that we know our deficiencies and we know how quickly we have to do the things. I think in this context we can share lots of experiences. However, the truth is that there is very little exchange of ideas Brazilian and Indian architects, urbanists, and administrators of cities. Therefore, it’s important to do the linking at the city level which can work really well. So, we are trying to develop an idea of how to create a very objective and practical city level relationship between India and Brazil.
Q. You also mentioned in your lecture that these days a lot of young architects are also getting conferred with the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize. As a jury member, what would be your advice to the budding Indian architects striving to make a mark in the global arena?
A. The selection process of the Pritzker Prize is very reserved. Nobody talks about how we choose and how we analyze, etc. But I can give you some open information that many people don’t know. The first thing to know is that anyone can send a suggestion to the Pritzker Jury of someone they believe deserves the prize. Sometimes it’s a student who thinks that his/her professor is brilliant and he/she prepares a dossier and sends it the Pritzker office. So anyone can do that. In fact, one of the Pritzker winners had sent his own dossier. Say, if you think there is someone in Pune whose work is amazing you can simply put together all the information, the photos, plans, etc. and send them to the Pritzker office. And the other important information is that many people think that the Pritzker is for a project but in fact the Pritzer is for the entire work of an architect. That’s why it tends to be given to an older person. So, in the beginning it was mostly the older people. But now we have been giving it to some younger people as well because many people already have a very significant work that deserves to be analyzed.
Q. Are there any scholarships on offer specifically for students who want to study in Brazil?
A. I believe that there is one very strong impediment for Indians to go and study architecture or urbanism or any other subject in Brazil. In Brazil all universities teach in Portuguese. There are a very few exceptions such as some business schools which have some programmes in English. So it would be difficult for Indian students to come and study in Brazil. Also, because of the language, it’s equally difficult for the Brazlilian students to study abroad. So, I think this is the main obstacle. But, I think it would be wonderful to have an exchange of teachers but for individual students it would be really challenging.