Ever a centre for architectural innovation, Auroville nurtures people like calligraphist and architect Dharmesh Jadeja, who works with sustainable, minimalist and indigenous material and design.

Architect and calligrapher Dharmesh Jadeja believes that if coke and chips can be made available across remote villages in India, there is a future to the building traditions we have held close for generations. Based out of Auroville, he has, through his studio buildaur, worked on creating contemporary spaces whose aesthetics are rooted in tradition.

Jadeja grew up in the village of Porbundar, abundant with examples of stone architecture. “I was fortunate to have spent my early years in a small town whose intimate surroundings and social life teaches you a lot about life,” he says. Porbundar’s urban planning and ecology inspired him to become an architect. The city still retains a lot of its original character, and buildaur has a design studio there for staff and students to explore the architecture, integrate with the communities, and learn about traditional building techniques.

When he discovered Auroville in 1992, he settled down and began his studio. Here, he converges contemporary living with vernacular principles of design, mainly the climatic, cultural and socio-economic characters of architecture. “It’s not vernacular, they are very much for the contemporary lifestyle. We design areas that have a strong sense of space; we use local resources in design, construction vocabulary and traditional knowledge. This helps us create buildings that are rooted in the culture and aesthetics of the society they belong to,” he says. Presently on Auroville’s Board of Architects, Jadeja believes that vernacular design is the future, and traditional craftsmen are getting difficult to find because we don’t value our heritage.

“I believe the knowledge is all around us; in the buildings that exist around us. We definitely need to scratch the surface of the knowledge of building artisans,” he says. Buildair uses traditional mistris for a lot of its work. “They are the carriers of traditional knowledge; with a little more respect and capacity-building , we can achieve more.”

Jadeja and his studio have designed the Atithi Griha guest house in Auroville, which has an old-world charm to its traditional Tamil home-like rooms. The Kala Kendra building is also his design.

Vernacular design need not be expensive if there werea little more support from the public and the government. “I don’t believe that traditional knowledge or use of craftsmen is more expensive than Italian marble or Chinese furniture. There is very little respect or support from the government and other patrons. Thus, craftsmen are marginalised or mixed up in the construction industry,” rues Jadeja.

What if government buildings in Tamil Nadu were made with traditional material such as lime plaster? The projects could generate employment, demand and interest in such material.. It is important that traditional material be seen as acceptable in the mainstream ecological, social, economical and cultural value systems. Automatically, such material will fare just as well as imported or industrial stuff.

Jadeja also believes that Indian design supports minimalism in many ways, “I see minimalism in architecture as being minimal use of energy, minimal impact on environment, minimal intrusion on the social, aesthetical and cultural identity of the place. To understand the deeper meaning of minimalism in architecture, architects need to create space for crafts, culture and identity and arrive at a more contemporary language for traditions. “There are positive signs in textile design, films, fashion, and furniture in different parts of the world. In India, I am still waiting for a big movement in architecture,” says Jadeja.

Buildaur has been involved in many post-disaster rehabilitation projects, where they have promoted, along with several NGOs, the concept of Owner Driven Rehabilitation (ODR). “We work towards strengthening existing architectural systems of traditional societies to face disasters.

We have worked in Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Gujarat with local communities who have knowledge of building material to help them identify and strengthen existing systems or give technical inputs to create more disaster-resistant structures,” says Jadeja. Buildaur has used stone, earth, and bamboo in different areas for these structures. “The experience has been mixed but we have seen that people are much more satisfied when they build their own shelters rather than depending on contractors.”

What has been his biggest challenge so far? “Building your own home is always challenging. You deal with limited resources, plentiful ideas and wild imagination. I gave myself a brief: to keep it simple and yet convey my taste and, of course, take care of my needs. A home grows with you, so it has to be flexible and welcoming,” he says.

Jadeja hopes to keep shifting between architect, designer and calligrapher. “I see myself finding a space that is equally comfortable and creative in all my roles. I would like to create public art installations with my calligraphy, earth architecture and so on.”