Design

Innovating with nature

The living room at Adil's residence. Photo: John Mandeen  

When Adil Writer, a ceramicist, painter and architect, built his home about five years ago at Auroville, near Puducherry, he retained all the 25 cashew nut trees on the plot he was allocated. The design of Writer’s home evolved with his careful planning. “I built the house without any formal drawings,” says Writer, who just wanted a secure place that could withstand weather extremities.

With this practical outlook, he constructed his two-bedroom house with bricks and concrete. As Writer likes living on upper floors, his three-level home is constructed on stilts and the basement is his painting atelier.

The house runs predominantly on solar energy. The walls are plastered using a mix of cement and mud from the land where the house is constructed, improvising with random textures in order to give a mud-wall effect. In tune with the Japanese Wabi-sabi aesthetic that embraces imperfections, he purchased old teak accents from Karaikudi. Writer says, “To retain the look of antiquity, I partly scraped off several decades of paint to expose colours that people had used on the wood. And now, these look like paintings themselves.” On a rainy day in Karaikudi, he found an abandoned corner window frame on the pavement. After finding the dealer, he sealed his purchase at a bargain price. This window now adorns his bathroom. The vertical wall space has nifty shelves that store toiletries. The handmade ceramic washbasin is Writer’s own creation made at Mandala Pottery, an Auroville studio, where Writer is a partner.

The chunky side tables and wooden ledges in his living room are made out of an Australian Acacia tree that fell in a cyclone during the construction phase. He says, “We call it the ‘work tree’. I split and dried the wood for a year and now, it is almost as good as teak.” For the floor, Writer selected a low-cost stone called tandoor and mounted it with its polished side facing down. “My house turned out to be extremely economical,” he says, attributing his ability to cut corners to his prior professional experience as an architect.

Resident of Auroville, designer and printmaker, Franz Fassbender, along with Puducherry photographer John Mandeen, has authored several books on the art and architecture of Auroville.

Fassbender says, “Today, with more people wanting to live in Auroville, the concept of apartments has started to gain popularity. Until about two years back, you could ask an architect to build houses in designs not possible in a city — relatively open, close to the environment and nature.” This kind of open living encouraged experimentation, as seen in German architect Fabian Ostner’s design of a private residence with concrete and aluminium cladding. Fassbender adds, “The house has the touch of a container house, but it is something different. It is open, and the entrance and living room merge with a pond and garden. It is interesting to observe that the aluminium stays new even after many years.” Some other homes have larger-than-life designs, as is the reinforced concrete house by Canadian architect, Dominic Dube. “It has minimalistic interiors with a Zen atmosphere,” says Fassbender.

Earlier in Auroville, there was more freedom to explore. For architects, the constraints turned out to be better choices that grew out of a desire to be harmonious with the environment.

Today, however, the ease of general maintenance is sought-after as high-density living and apartments are increasingly becoming the order of the day in Auroville. As Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte, who often visits Writer, says, “When you have the space and liberty to design something beautiful without the rules and bylaws of the outside world, why build the mundane?”

A seamlessness and balance with the surroundings combined with the power of imagination, has always been Auroville’s strength. In creative endeavours, constraints often lead to innovations. With trends veering towards less experimental models, one looks forward to the new solutions that will emerge from this radically thinking hub.

The writer is a city-based writer and visualiser. She studied furniture design at NID and is a graduate of Chicago’s School of the Art Institute.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 12:28:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/design/innovating-with-nature/article7615794.ece

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