"…A new statement towards the urban pattern of built up space.."
Samasti was collectively envisaged by a group
of architects, town planners, and people enthusiastic to live together
and be part of a radial experiment that would change the trend of
habitation, in turn with the future of their town. Much time and
many discussions later, three architects designed parts of the project
separately, exchanging ideas on those decisions that would influence
the neighbourhood as a whole. Architect and town planner
Peter Anderschitz imaged one cluster to get out of the suburbs
towards a more urban concept - a more impersonal cluster situation
The main aspiration was?
Architect and town planner Peter Anderschitz:
To find the structure patterns. To realise the urban concept of
Auroville. To get more collective and impersonal so that it wouldn't
matter who your neighbour was. To make it possible for highly individualised
lifestyles to live next to each other... To find the guidelines
for these patterns and to give them a form... To begin with a stepping
stone, a starting point in Auroville's residential zone, and learn
from it and take the next step in an organised manner.
The way to a common language?
I was particularly influenced by the ideas of
Christopher Alexander, Director of the Centre for Environmental
Structure and Professor of Architecture at the University of California,
Berkeley. His books - 'A Pattern Language' and 'The Timeless Way
of Building' - were extremely helpful in finding the way to a common
language. According to Alexander: "There is a timeless way
of building. It is a process which brings order out of nothing but
ourselves. It cannot be attained.. It will happen of its own accord,
if only we let it." A Pattern Language is a working document
for such an architecture: "these patterns can never be 'designed'
or 'built' in one fell swoop, but by patient piecemeal growth, designed
in such a way that every individual act is always helping to create
or generate these large global patterns, will, slowly and surely,
over the years make a community that has these global patterns in
it." These books helped clarify several important patterns
regarding the intimacy gradient, the public and personal spaces,
the transition spaces - and the layout of open and covered areas
based on social patterns. The design criteria that resulted largely
reflect this 'pattern language'.
What design criteria resulted?
A building language was developed, based on
certain criteria that would repeat themselves again and again, responding
to the need for close living with neighbours, and yet fulfilling
the more individual needs. A climatic design approach was the main
criterion as it was clearly necessary to evolve an appropriate module
of building, best suited to the climate of the region. It eventually
led to a somewhat vernacular approach, against my previous ideas,
after all tiled roofs with large overhangs, good ventilation, wind
catchers funneling in the wind and vents on the top of pitched roofs
to release hot air and create a draft… The choice of local materials
was another criterion - mud walls and, wherever possible, ferrocement
instead of wood to ease the pressures on the timber market a bit.
Introducing alternative energy sources like solar energy and wastewater
recycling were still other design criteria.
And your spatial considerations?
To create a series of open and covered spaces,
observing the necessary hierarchy of public and private spaces to
fulfill the intimacy gradient as well as the social patterns, common
areas at the heart, distributed to smaller courtyards that live,
and further to galleries and walkways to the more quiet alcoves
and window places.
What factors dictated their forms?
First of all, density. The focus of the city
is coming together and close living. A town plan accommodating 50,000
people eventually calls for dense living spaces. A new skyline,
going higher rather than sprawling around horizontally, was also
desired. We decided to be more semi-collective than the earlier
super-collective efforts people had opted out of. It meant that
certain common infrastructures could be shared, a common storeroom,
a common guest house, and also common public spaces within a compound
with a common character in terms of spaces, their massing and outward
appearance. The kitchen, bath and toilet facilities, however, would
be provided independently. Recognising the hierarchy of the public
spaces, the ground floor would be invested with a public character
- containing an atmosphere of streets, lanes and plazas with their
pockets of livelier public areas, and special care taken to work
out smooth transitions between connected buildings.
And did it all work out?
Well, the idea of interconnecting the houses
at their upper first floor and on the ground was eventually dropped,
as it didn't suit the clients. The gallery system was adopted in
its place - to build wherever possible at every floor level, galleries
balconies, niches, and outdoor seating at the edges of buildings,
specially where they open off public spaces and streets, connecting
them directly to the internal rooms with doors. For, as Alexander
states: "if people cannot walk out from the building onto balconies
and terraces which look towards the outdoor space around the building,
then neither they themselves, nor the people outside, have any medium
which helps them feel that the building and the larger public world
The most private spaces - the bedrooms and study
located on the upper floors - stand as free pavilions out of the
continuous structure below, projecting out separately and distinctly
to state their character of individuality.
A single compound holds a cluster, part of a
larger arrangement of different clusters of group housing. Three
groups of people got together to form the self-contained compound,
sharing certain functions. The outcome is three houses and a guesthouse,
along with a service structure, on a 4-acre site oriented around
an entry courtyard about a single tree that stood on the portion
of the site that was apt only for that.
The houses suit different family sizes - the
house on the east side, a childless couple; at the centre, a couple
with two youngsters; and on the west side, a single woman. They
share interconnected entrances around the central court, but have
at the back their own private garden. A feeling shared by the group
is that there is a need for special places for special activities
of a different nature. The pianist in the house on the east side
requires space for rehearsals and tuitions. The central house belongs
to dancers, and so contains a small studio. A practicing therapist
lives in the third house. A section of the courtyard was even elevated
with a small pool to form a socio-cultural area with a mini-amphitheatre,
open to the sky, as there was every intention of using the courtyard
for small-scale performances.
interconnect the house on the ground, with special care taken to
connect the exterior and the interior of the units visually. The
ground floor is denser than the upper floors, which get progressively
lighter as their pavilion-type bedrooms are more loosely connected.
Each individual is granted his own quiet private space, architecturally
articulate and enjoying the view and ventilation. With an eye on
the weather, and for want of a view of the more public entrance
courtyard at the heart of the cluster, the houses are oriented from
north-east to south-west at the garden front, though they are entered
from the northern face of the plot. As the heavy rains fall from
the north-west and north-east, and the good winds blow from the
south-east to south-west, the houses have openings towards the south
and more protection towards the north.
The gangway idea connecting all the entrances
in order to enliven them and make them that much more inviting is
well achieved, specially at the central house, with a porch stretching
well into the common courtyard to make place for intermediate spaces.
The guest house, entered through an elevated platform from the amphitheatre,
has its own front courtyard. A tiny pavilion is planned as its architectural
and functional focal point, right next to the entrance of the main
compound. East of the entrance is the service structure with its
own inner open space amid storerooms, an electric room, tool room,
water-supply system and washing facilities.
The more private gardens behind the houses are
interconnected, with subtle definitions of their borderlines, and
the central and more common landscape feature of the tea pavilion,
which presides over the free-flowing form of a pond inviting more
The openings are rich and varied, large and
with many contacts with the climate and visual connections with
the environment. The grilles installed for security give the openings
a Japanese character, with their delicate, repetitive grid-like
arrangement, while screens repel the mosquitoes. To break the monotony,
the shapes change. A circular opening in the central house overlooks
the garden, while some diagonally rotated square cutouts face the
central courtyard. Many openings project out to great alcoves and
bay windows with cozy window seats for two.
A skeletal load-bearing system in concrete allows
the non-load-bearing walls to move along freely. The distinctions
of the two materials are outwardly enhanced, and the wall column
junctions treated specially.
The mud wall is constructed with mud from the
site, which does not require its composition being changed nor any
stabilisation with additives. Mud blocks, 30.5x14.5x10cm, were formed
in a compressed block machine, and used in the 15cm thick walls,
plastered with cement-stabilised lime mortar. Pile foundations with
connecting ring beams proved a better alternative to continuous
foundation walls, although the soil did not demand structural piles.
They guard against termites and any foundation settlement.
The mud walls erected on the ring beams also
proved safer. Of course, the rafters supporting the edges of the
buildings - made of ferrocement instead of large amounts of wood
- are over-designed. If correctly precast, they could be much smaller,
saving considerable amounts of cement and steel. The floor slabs
are composite filler slabs whose 30x40cm grid contains three bricks
in each bay. They are reinforced along the gridlines with single,
12mm diameter bent bars in one direction, and 10mm diameter ones
in the other, while concrete covers the bricks by 5cm. they hold
good for spans up to 4m and save on steel and concrete considerably.
Running all around the periphery of the houses,
a water channel stops ants entering the living quarters. Built out
at several places into large water bodies, the channel leads to
close contact with water in this environment.
Geomancy is being rediscovered in the west,
but was already practiced on this plot. A geomantic diviner measured
energy lines on the ground - the global and diagonal grid nets that
influence the well being of any organism on a more suitable plane.
He pinpointed the trouble spots by overlaying the nets of different
lines - the intersection of several energy lines. These were the
danger spots, where one should never sleep, work or even sit still
for long. And so, the buildings are placed and planned carefully,
standing clear of the troubled spots with expert advice from the
ace geomancer on how to neutralise the negative energy with a fireplace,
pillars and walls, so that they never get underfoot.
Individual septic tanks receive the black and
grey sewage water of each house, allowing the solids to settle before
the overflow into the larger common tank adjacent to the sewage
treatment plant. Toxic water flows out of this tank into an adjoining
soil bed, where plants like canna grow. This root purification plant
purifies wastewater through decomposition and certain degree of
absorption by plant roots. The 'sieved' water is then directed into
yet another tank, reserved for collecting pure water. It also contains
mosquito-eating fish, which die at the slightest trace of toxicity.
If the water passes this test it can be recycled for clothes washing,
gardening and several other purposes other than drinking.
Energy is supplied via two networks - the usual
220V wiring and a DC back-up system. A light and plug operate in
each room from a common 12V battery, which is automatically recharged
from the electrical system as well as by solar panels. Hot water
supply is also ensured in each bathroom and kitchen in addition
to a solar water heater on each roof terrace.
See also 'Tracing