Fabian, a young architect, shares perspectives
on home design in Auroville
Like a ship emerging boldly out of the horizon,
Bobby's aluminium and steel home rises out of the green terrain
of Prarthna. The dull grey sheen of metal reflects the expanse
of sky above, with subtle curves of a sweeping roof and taut pylons
of steel like ropes holding sails to a mast; it has an undeniably
futuristic look, sleek and well-crafted like a fine piece of precision
At the other end of the city, in Auromodel, Klara's house is a
picture of post-modernism - metal juxtaposed with warm yellow
Jaisalmer marble, smooth grey plaster, warm Vengai wood and sand-blasted
glass. The stairway floats out and a zen-like quality pervades
it both inside and outside.
Homes that could very well have come straight
out of the sets of 'Matrix', and of which everyone seems to hold
such strong opinions about: "What is this? A boxy railway
caboose?" "A factory with tin-roofs?" "An
oven? Surely the residents are going to fry inside!" "A
transformer station?" The biggest critiques come from seemingly
the most open people. Amidst all this, the bold architect, his
non-conforming clients, and two communities that stand behind
the experiment open to new perspective
Auroville Today met the upcoming architect
and learnt of his motivations, challenges, visions and dreams.
Trained in Germany and with work experience in Berlin and Mumbai,
Fabian has been for more than one year part of the Brand New Day
Team. He is proud of the international nature of the 15 member
team there. "We feel ourselves strongly as a kind of global
office. Dominic and Jean-Marie are French-Canadian, Baskar, Suresh
and Rajendran are Aurovilians born in the neighbouring villages,
architects, trainees and supporting staff come from various places
in India and Europe. We want to remain like this - diverse and
He speaks of the influence of other architects
at Brand New Day on his own work and appreciates the interaction
that happens between the team. "While we have our different
styles, what we have in common is our love for architecture, the
love of building and the commitment to the ideals of Auroville.
But we don't see ourselves as being limited to a specific location.
We see Auroville can manifest in whatever form and the spirit
of Auroville can be found anywhere.
However, getting the communities of Prarthna
and Auromodèle to approve his personal vision for two houses
was a challenge. Fabian reminisces, "Suhasini was very open-minded
and with her nod of approval, I gave the drawings of Bobby's home
to the Development Group. At first there was an uproar - how can
this be here? But the Group and the community soon agreed that
the spirit of experimentation was welcomed in that particular
place. It was the same in Klara's case too. In that area in Auromodèle
different kinds of houses with no connecting visual aesthetics
or a uniform architectural style stand side by side, still going
harmoniously together. It is a kind of unity in diversity that
is enhanced by the green carpet that connects the buildings."
Fabian attributes his ability to manifest
these new kinds of homes essentially to the openness of his clients
and good communication amongst the people involved. "Klara
came to me when I was still working with Satprem," he says.
"She was very receptive to modern architecture and we found
a common ground in our appreciation of it. I was very interested
in trying out this fusion of a light steel frame with a solid
base and Klara liked the idea and the design as she wants to have
a house that is designed like a modern capsule. In Bobby's case,
something very interesting happened. While there was a similar
kind of trust and openness, he did not have a specific vision,
except that it was understood that the house should reflect his
stylish vision of himself." Fabian came up with a proposal
tailored to Bobby's situation - that of a young single guy, upwardly
mobile and modern, a computer professional living alone but perhaps
not for ever. "So I felt why not give him a house which fits
his frame of mind. When he wants something else, then he can just
disassemble the house and sell it on the scrap market or extend
it. Bobby fell for it!" And so the idea of the steel frame
with aluminium was born.
Fabian realizes that he may be perceived as
the 'wacko' guy doing oven like steel and aluminium sheet homes,
but doesn't see himself limited to a single style. "I think
I am far too young as a professional to be judged and placed in
a slot and I do not believe in the application of the same recipe
to different situations. Every project has different parameters
and the job of the architect is to understand them, ask the right
questions and - in continuous communication with the client and
consultants - to create a structure which satisfies these parameters.
We all at Brand New Day are committed to modern architecture trying
to cope with ever-changing needs and requirements. Architects
and "their" architecture have to be flexible and adaptable,
like surfers riding the waves of the ocean, to use a metaphor
of Rem Koolhaas."
He explains that while Bobby's house is pure in the sense of material
used, restricted to steel and aluminium and clearly separating
materials and construction, Klara's home is almost a departure
from traditional architecture. "It is a hybrid with conventional
brick work, natural stone, steel beams, wooden screens, aluminium,
glass …The design plays with opposing elements/characteristics
like open and closed, light and heavy, industrial and natural,
neighbour and inhabitant. "
Fabian strongly believes that these new homes
are suitable for the climatic conditions and affordable in the
long run. "Aluminium is long-lasting, reflecting the sun
and light. Its thermal mass is low, which means it does not collect
heat to radiate it back at night like in brick houses. If you
combine the qualities of aluminium with insulating materials like
Aircon-Panels (concrete with air-voids) or insulating layers of
air which can flow freely, than one can call this kind of construction
climatically responsive. Along with these measures the roofs in
both houses have a large and ventilated air-buffer between the
actual roof and a kind of false ceiling defining the living spaces."
The cost-effectiveness of these homes is still
an issue. "We continue to learn," he admits. "The
materials (and the skill to work with them on the site) that are
so easily available in the West, prefabricated and of a controlled
quality are hard to come by in India and contrary to Europe not
cost-effective but expensive. Plus everything in India has to
be done with manual labour. But we are learning the techniques
and the ways to optimise the construction, to make it less complex,
less heavy, with less material. I think this is something that
is worth experimenting with and I believe that industrialized
materials provide the means for beautiful, cost-effective and
climatically responsive future buildings."
What does Fabian feel about his creations?
"I think Bobby's house has something of the cover of a computer
desktop. Like a motherboard with all its circuits inside into
which you can just plug in. A cover for something vibrant inside.
Klara's home corresponds very beautifully to the organic growth
of the nature around. It forms a counterpoint to nature rather
than merging with it."
For Fabian, materials like aluminium or steel
with their technological / intellectual character and their rigidity
can form a perfect backdrop for the actual flow of life within
the building. He points to the grey sky above Klara's home. "Aluminium
has the wonderful quality of connecting the sky with the earth.
See how the home appears - with the reflections of the almost
leaden sky on the material it perfectly fuses the two elements!
And it reminds me of airplanes made in the forties (Junkers JU
52) and the streamlined cars of the fifties, designs expressing
the vision that technology can serve humankind in beautiful ways."