April 24th, 2013
Sharing shelter with nature

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In 1994, when Dominic visited India for the first time, he fell in love with the country. His visit to Auroville in 1996 reassured him that after years of travelling, he had finally settled down. 

During my 20 years of stay in India, I happened to live in Auroville for seven years – between 1996 and 2003. Today, even after almost 10 years of living and practising in Bangalore, the Mother ‘City of Dawn’ still has a deep influence on my work. It is, therefore, no surprise that one of the most significant works I have produced is in Auroville, very close to the heart of the town, the Matri Mandir. It is significant in the sense that one does not often create in one’s life details with spiritual meaning.

Inge’s house is where nature and living culminate. When Inge asked me to design and build a ‘shelter’ for her, somewhere in a forest of mango and other fruit-bearing trees, our discussions were only about nature, Buddhism and harmony. The only brief was that the shelter needed to be in close contact with nature, framing and dialoguing with it.
It was in 2001, my fifth year in Auroville. The next year, we would manifest Inge’s house.

POETRY OF FORM

The first role of an architect is to identify the exact location for the manifestation of the project. It was while walking in the forest that the exact location appeared. Between a few existing huts and many trees was a space waiting to receive this shelter.The Inge house has been called ‘A Void in Vacuum’ and ‘Like a Prayer’ and the poetry of its form has been put in parallel with some works of Le Corbusier.

THE DEFINING CURVE

In all my projects, I have used a mathematical grid to initiate the design process, and it was all the more important that I use it for this one, as it was located in this visionary city of Auroville – a simple grid fixing all proportions and within which the plasticity takes shape. Rigid in its principle but multiple in its variation is the modular system.

The canopy containing the entrance, giving a sense of vastness and serenity to the entire experience.

The canopy containing the entrance, giving a sense of vastness and serenity to the entire experience.

To extend the maximum connections and views with the surrounding nature, the house became immediately a curvilinear movement in space originated from a spiral. That was the best way to capture this infinite play of trees, birds and wind all over the place. This curve defines the shape of the shelter.

NATURE COMES CALLING

The ground floor is in total continuity with nature – no walls, no doors or windows other than to frame the nature around; only a free-standing sculpture containing and protecting.Within the curved shape is an open space for multiple uses: sitting, water body, kitchen and dining, staircase – the only exception is the bathroom wing coming out of the shape into a linear room to accommodate the dressing area and the bath area opening to the sky at the end.

The only function of all details of this house is to frame the nature around: the box to sit, the linear shape acting like a window in the double height, the slit behind the mass of the kitchen, the skylights in the bathroom….
The staircase from the ground to the first floor is more about transition than connection. It is a space of elevation.
The first floor, still in total continuity with nature, has been enclosed with large-span pivot windows, and there also you find one large space of multiple functions: bedroom, sitting, box library, and crack in the wall.

AUROVILLE EXPERIENCE

The staircase unfolds from the roof in its ‘OM’ shape.The roof terrace is indeed the most important part of the shelter as it connects with the sky and the totality of the Auroville experience.

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