Architect Suhasini Ayer (Radio program)
Kshitij: So, good morning, I'm here at Auroville Design Consultants, interviewing Suhasini; and her work speaks volumes about the work that she has done here in Auroville and various cities of India. Hello, welcome!
Suhasini: Hi, welcome.
Architecture school and coming to Auroville
- As an adolescent we often struggle to make the choices between right and wrong – what subjects to take between science, commerce and art. There's always a struggle going on within the mind, like “what should be the profession”. So how did you decide to choose Architecture as a subject?
How did I choose... you see, it was not a question of choice, I was just (interruption) – Thank you. Do you want some water?
- Some water would be very good.
I didn't know there was a profession called Architecture, when I was growing up, in the 70s. But I loved visiting construction sites on the way back from school, when I was in 3rd standard, 4th standard, 5th standard. So I used to drag my little sister along on the way back – and we would cycle back from school, stop over on construction sites. And my dream was: one day I would hire a bunch of guys and start making buildings. That's how it started.
- You're talking about which city here?
I was – we were living in Gujarat, in Rajput, at that time. And then when I moved to Delhi, and I saw bigger buildings, I said, “definitely. This is what I want to do. I'm going to have a bunch of guys, and I'm going to make my buildings, because I can make something better than what's going on.” It's only when I was in high school that I got to know that there's a profession called ‘architecture’. And I got to know there was a school of architecture – and by then we had moved back to Delhi. And I got to know that there was a school of architecture in Delhi. And I got to know also that there was no way that my parents are going to allow me to go to that school – because the school had a reputation for rock & roll, and drugs... but it was all I knew.
- This is not there in Auroville.
No (!). Well I didn't know about Auroville at that time. Anyway. So I came up with this grand scheme of getting myself admitted into two different colleges.
- Was it possible to get into this?
- Two different colleges?
Yeah, yeah! I finished my 12th, I applied to a college which would be very easy to do, and I would take the bus, and I would say that I'm going there, and then get off the bus and go to the other college – spend my day there. Collect the reading material from here, come back, and do them both.
- Oh wow.
So, I sat for the entrance exams for the architecture school – and that's when I realized that it was no joke. Because I thought you'd just go, write an entrance exam, and you get it. I went to write this exam and I realized that maybe about 8,000-10,0000 people writing the entrance exam for 28 seats.
- What is the school that you were talking about, in Delhi?
In Delhi – the School of Planning and Architecture.
- How many students are there, for one year?
When I was studying, there were 28 students a year, and out of which 8 seats were reserved. So you had 20 seats open. And the first 10 seats, you don't pay fees. So I was hoping to get into the first 10 seats – and after I saw the crowd I said, “ok, I have to just get in somehow.” I did, and I got in – I was the 10th.
And I said, “ok, now my scheme is set. I will go to Lady Sriram College in the morning, for an hour, and then I'll go to School of Planning and Architecture. Make some friends in Lady Sriram College, collect material, do the...” But unfortunately, the architecture school published in The Times of India the people who got in, and my father saw the name. And there was a whole like... we have a whole extended family in Delhi: grandparents, aunts, uncles, the whole tribe. So I fought my way through, and I did the five years.
- So how did this Auroville come into the picture – did you know about Auroville at that time?
- Probably in your final year?
No – I actually heard about Auroville when I was... we had just moved back to Delhi, we lived next to Mother's International School. At that time it was just “Mother's School”. And as it was next door, my parents said, “go and get yourself admitted there”. I got myself admitted, and there was a whole bunch of students who were going to Pondicherry. And when they came back, one of them told me, “you want to study architecture? There is a place where there is a building in which a whole city's going to live.” And she had seen the Matrimandir under construction, and she told me that a whole city is going to live inside the building. (But I dropped out of that school very quickly; I was not happy there and I went to another school.)
During my internship, I originally applied to two other architects. But as I wanted to study planning after architecture, I got to know that there was one planning office in Pondicherry – it was the only planning office actually which, in those days, was non-government.
- What was this?
This was ___ Auroville, in Pondicherry. And they had done two townships already, which was the K__ Tea Township, and Salem's Tea Township, and they were working on the V__ Tea Township at that point. So I applied with them, and I said, “Ok. If I don't get in with these two architects, who are the top architects of the country in those days (it was Charles __ and Laurie Baker)...”
- They were here, at that time?
No – one was in Bombay, one was in Trivandrum. So I applied to Pondicherry, also. Saying, “if not these two, then I'll go for a planning office”. And two of my former classmates joined me at the time, also – we all turned up in Pondicherry. We saw the office and said, “no way am I working here”. And that's when we got to know that there's an architect in Auroville called Poppo – Poppo Pingel – who would take us on. So we moved to Auroville. And we did our internship with him for six months.
- And since then you are here as part of Auroville.
Auroville's early planning office
Actually, during that period it was quite a challenge because Auroville was a very small community – there was hardly any work. We used to work for 2-3 hours a day as interns. And I used to get pretty bored.
- Well you were very lucky!
- Because the interns these days have to work 6 hours a day, often more than that.
Yeah, mine work more than 8 hours a day. They have to! No, and we were used to...
- 2 hours a day – then what else did you do in the evening?
That's why – I got very bored. And I went down and started looking at all the different material that Roger had about the Auroville town plan, reading up on all that. And then I discovered there was a whole basement in Bharat Nivas, with all the model of the city and everything. So I took that on – to clean up, prepare the models. And as a result of it, I collected enough information to do my thesis on the Auroville Master Plan. And got in touch with Roger, collected material from him; worked with Kireet Joshi, who was one of the first chairmen of the Governing Board of Auroville. Worked with him for several months, analyzing “The Life Divine”, and “The Gnostic Society”, and Mother's Dream for the ideal city. And the whole idea of evolution of mankind, and all that. So spent six months working on a critical analysis of the Auroville Master Plan.
|The Life Divine, Part Two, Ch. XXVII:
“The Gnostic Being”
PDF (52 pages)
|The Life Divine, Part Two, Ch. XXVIII:|
“The Divine Life”
PDF (57 pages)
- So your first project here in Auroville was, I suppose, the Visitors' Center?
- This is one of the best projects which I find. Today. Because there's just so many people visiting Visitors' Center, and you have various restaurants – I like Dreamer's Café where you can have coffee and talk about various ideas... so how did all of these ideas come to you?
My first project was not the Visitor's Center. My first project when I started working was actually to set up the Planning Office.
- In Auroville itself?
Yes, so... with Gilles at that time, we had a semi-basement in Bharat Nivas which was open; we put up temporary walls, we started looking at all the land documents – piecing it together and creating the map of Auroville. Because there was no unified map of our land position. To start pulling each individual piece of the land document, stitching it together (by hand), and creating the land ownership map of Auroville. Then we started a group called the Auroville Resource Center, which was with all the greenbelters, to make the existing land-use of Auroville. And then make a study based on that Karan Singh Master Plan and existing land use. And that's when we got kicked out of that office – because they said what we were doing was not according to Mother's Auroville. That we just had to build the city, not start analyzing the land and the topography and watershed...
- But don't you think that as an architect you often have ideas of, “ok, we should change from what others have thought”?
No! – it was not about changing what others thought. I believe in the city. And I believe that we need...
- The ideas are still there, but as an architect don't you have a vision other than what people always talk about?
I am not that kind of an architect. No.
- People speak of ‘green’ architecture of the city...
Yes, but green architecture is not in contradiction to the Galaxy. It is just that when you look at the Galaxy in a very narrow spectrum, you don't see the green in it. You can just have a superficial green – “oh, there's over 50% of the land which is unbuilt, so that's green” – no. It's very much possible... because for me, ‘green design’ is not about form. Green design is about lifestyle, sociology, the economics of the place, the topography, the human ecology of how people interact with each other – what kind of lifestyle do they have. How does it progress from one stage of development to another, seamlessly. And how do people, when they come here, use their creative capacity and create opportunities for the city to grow. Buildings is just the final output of that. The whole process behind a city is what makes it viable or not. And ‘green’ means it's not just buildings – it's how people live in those buildings, how they build their lives with those buildings. And how the buildings change with them.
That's why in Visitors' Center or Solar Kitchen or any of these kinds of housing projects, from where we have design to what it actually becomes is a huge process – where people who are there, use it, and work with it, can keep changing, as we also keep changing it. It is not this stupid slogan that just came: ‘architecture is just frozen music’. It is not a fossilized thing – it is a living thing. So that's why most of our projects are not spectacular architecturally, but actually architecture that is related to the activities, function, climate, context, and the variation of all that happens around and in it. So it is not a static thing.
- I've seen as well the public library in Auroville where you have so many people coming here, for the reading of books, and you have the solar passive design there – and it's wonderful to see that. Can you say something about the Humanscapes activity which is happening right not?
Humanscapes and collective living
This project actually came up from two different pressures: one was, I was involved with a group that was trying to create some kind of movement in this country, to completely revise our national building code. Our national building code has been written in 1970, and then it has just been amended piecemeal. After India committed to the climate change thing, we had to look at the whole development sector. And it was not going to happen just by little odd ends being amended. So under the leadership of Dr. ___ we looked at what can be done. And as result of that, I talked to a few people in Auroville saying, “look, we have an extremely exciting proposal, where we can try as a pilot research in Auroville, especially in the area of habitat. Not only to design and build differently, but also come up with a different lifestyle. Because a major part of the carbon output is in the lifestyle of the people who occupy the building. If we could do something as an applied research, and data-log, and give it to the government, saying, ‘it is possible for India to meet its target, if you would just live and design and build differently’.”
At the same time, a few of us – Hemant and others – felt that we were not very inviting to young people. Because when young people want to come and join Auroville, the pressure that they face in coming up with the money for housing, and setting up their own business, and all the different terms and conditions that they have to meet – it's not possible in today's economy for somebody to do all that, and yet participate in life. So we needed housing for young people; and it was possible to work with the government to come up with an applied-research project. So we put both of these requirements together, and made a project for 500 people to live there, 750 people to work there, and public facilities for about 1000 people. This project was presented to the HRD ministry; they said, “ok great, we will now put it in front of (what was then called the Planning Commission, and today NITI Aayog)”.
And we had a meeting between Finance Ministry, Law Ministry, Ministry for Urban Development, Ministry for Renewable Energies, HRD Ministry, education sector, and... there was one more. So we had a meeting, all these Ministries together; we presented the project, the NITI Aayog said, “Yes, we want it”. Plus they added one more component: we would do data-logging, and come up with a format (which was called SustainNet) that can be used by other projects across the country. By saying – between the design, the user, and coming up with policy statements based on that.
So then they asked the HRD Ministry to finance it. We are still waiting for the HRD Ministry to finance it; meanwhile the Governing Board said, “why don't you use a seed grant from the normal Government of India grant that we're giving you every year. So last year we got the first seed grant, based on which we started the Phase 1A. Which is for 44 people to live there.
And the idea is not just the building materials and the design. We've come up with a living lifestyle, where it frees the young people from having to commit – before their time – what they want to do with their life. So we have apartments which are 4 single rooms, which all share living, dining, kitchen, and they all have their bathrooms. We have apartments for single parents, young parents, single parents; apartments for couples who don't mind taking on one more person as a common living space. We have apartments for larger families who could also have volunteers living with them. So this way, we try to make not only the living space shared, but the activities shared. So we have a common laundry – the machines are shared, not everybody has to invest in it. We're having a collective space where you can have stuff you want to use – a blender, a mixie: you just go, get it done, and come back. So every young person doesn't have to invest also in appliances, and furniture, and everything.
So you have several things – it's not like you have to eat together, and you have to do this together. But it is actually facilities that you can just use as needed. We'll have ironing boards: if you are idiotic enough to have clothes that need ironing, then you don't need to own an iron. And the main idea of this is that most of the stuff manufactured since 1980 is designed and manufactured for obsolescence. So if you own a mixie or blender, even if you use it only once or twice a month, after three years you'll have to replace it. Because the spare parts are not available, the NCD chip is not available. So maximize the use, to short-circuit the manufactured built-obsolescence that makes us consumers. You understand?
So you actually go into sustainability on another end, by allowing people to share stuff rather than having to own it; or because you cannot own it, have to cut back on the kind of user pattern that you want to live with. Because no matter what kind of iron you buy, it does not last for more than 3-5 years. So if every household has to buy a new iron every 3-5 years, imagine the landfill and the carbon footprint. Every washing machine, after 7 years, breaks down. Whether you use it once a week or ten times a week. You see? So what we are trying to do is not force people to live in a way where you have to ___, but you can use all these facilities without having to invest in owning them. And that is the whole idea of Humanscapes – it is not just ‘green building’, but actually a lifestyle that allows you to have diversity, without having to pay for it.
- We don't have to pay anything for this?
No, we are hoping to get the grants to stock up on all this and for people to start using it. You know? So we'll have the building grant from the government; and we hope with the help of the Governing Board and other agencies in Auroville to get donations. I'm trying to ask two people who were snooker champions of Tamil Nadu to find clubs that want to get rid of their old pool table – donate it to us. Then we'll have a pool table for the people living there to play. If I can get somebody to give us a projector, then we can all watch football matches, you know, by connecting it to a small laptop.. that's it. Technology allows you to short-circuit many of the stuff. So we don't all need to own a TV, if we can have a place, put in a nice projection wall, and we can get the...
- You can see the match.
Yes! And we can watch TV serials – “Game of Thrones”, you know? (laughter) That's the whole idea. And also I find that Auroville is a bit behind in this, because – I have a son. He lives in London. And because of the economics, being so hard on young people, they have automatically started this. He lives in a house which he shares with six other people. They share a kitchen, dining; they have three bathrooms. And they have a space where they invite everyone else, Saturday-Sundays – and they cook together; one cable connection, one person's laptop, somebody else has a projector that they borrow from the office, and they watch movies together. There's a laundromat around the corner – everybody piles their laundry in, they take turns going to do it. There are centers in London where the supermarkets sell the food which is not sold, at half-price. Instead of junking it. So young people who have entry-level jobs go and shop there. On Saturday-Sundays. You see? So it is half marked-down; the produce is still good but normal people do not buy it because of the markup date is gone – its expiry date. The tomatoes look as fresh, but the expiry date, the supermarkets are legally not allowed to sell it.
And so, there are groups that are actually making it accessible for people to live well, with the least amount of cost, because the legal administrative political system does not allow for various things to happen. You see? And in Auroville, we are a little bit bipoled in that. So Hemant and I are just trying to kick-start something, and we are hoping that the young people take over.
Today morning I went to Pour Tous. I wanted to pick up some brinjals – aubergine. And I looked, and the bottom had started to rot. And she said, “yeah, if you let me just throw it out”. If you had somebody who would just collect, go to PTDC and Pour Tous and collect it, and bring it to a place like Humanscapes or Muyerchi or WeDK – say, “ok, we collect the vegetables which are not so fresh, but can be cooked today evening”.
- Will we have a kitchen there, Humanscapes?
We have a kitchen there.
- So we don't have to go to Solar Kitchen all the time for dinner or lunch.
Yes; and Youthlink has already started working with Humanscapes group in housing, to take over this kitchen – to not just run it as a kitchen, but also as a mentorship program for people who want to go into cooking.
- Like PTDC.
- They have a mentorship program there.
Yeah. So that mentorship program is moved to Humanscapes actually, because it's not meant to be... it's temporarily there. It moves in there; and I'm hoping that Youthlink has created enough to make a thing between PTDC and Aspiration Pour Tous to get the vegetables at half-price to be able to do it, so that it's cheaper for young people to live here.
So it is... when you don't have the money, you need to have the energy to find ways and means to go around. But you cannot do it on an individual level. You can do it if you're groups of 10-12 people. Then you can still hold a job, and somebody can do this today, and somebody else can do... If you have to do all these things – find the loopholes in everywhere, and yet hold a job down, or build up a unit, it's not possible.
So Humanscapes is an opportunity for young people to actually put their energy together, to find ways and means not only to live here cheaper – in terms of just monetary – but in terms of time. To be able to do more with your time, and to developing your careers or what you can do for Auroville, while other people pick up the slack.
The last thing I want to say is that I also think that we should not fall into the trap where we fragment life between ‘work’ and ‘living’. (Like the rest of the world has done.) I would like life and ‘a living’, or a profession, to be more integrated into it. Not everybody has to go out and do a job, to be able to have the means to live. So with Humanscapes we are trying to bring in urban agriculture, renewable energy, etc. So that somebody living in Humanscapes takes care of the campus for the others, and in return, he or she gets their other needs paid for. Or catered to. You see? If everybody has to go out like me, and run an office, and then just go home where you're parking your toothbrush – then I have to pay for my food, I have to pay for the cleaning of the house, I have to pay for everything. But if I were living in a community where somebody is taking care of the garden, is taking care of the sewage treatment plant, taking care of other things – my running an office actually pays for that person to actually run the community. Running the community or the settlement that we live in is as equally important as just going out and doing building projects for other people.
And this is a concept that they have given this great terminology for, called ‘co-housing’. But this was something that was intrinsic to most traditional settlements. Where you would have a shop below which was repairing shoes, and you live above – and people would drop their shoes off, go and work there, and then eventually we would have... you know, this kind of mixed-life use and development allows people to do many things without having to always depend on transport, on money, on movement, on time management, and other things.
When we were kids, walking back from school, or the bus stop, we would see our mother at the vegetable shop and walk back with her. Today you have to go to the mall, or you have to go to the supermarket – it's not anymore the street level. You see?
And then of course, traffic increases. Because everybody has to go from Point A to Point B to Point C, for every little thing. So Humanscapes, we want to provide all of that into the campus – that not only the people who live there, but the people who live around, can also use the facility.
- Along with this do you feel that there should be a place here in Auroville where [like] Visitors' Center... where you'll have a commercial center? Because it's good to have a commercial center...
What do you mean by a commercial center?
- A commercial center where we'll have the products units made, and where we can send the products not just from Auroville, but from people outside.
That, we would not be able to do within the Master Plan area. But there is a project that we're working on right now, which is the Mohanam Village Heritage Center. Where the Government of Pondicherry, Tourism Department – and with a city in France – is financing the building; and Mohanam group is putting together with several villages, where the villages can come and showcase their products and sell it to the visitors. And we intend to have also a farmers' market, and cooking classes, and training of the young women of the village for other things; and run also a kind of alternative health, and spa, and stuff like that. So that will also be. So there's the hub which is Visitors' Center, which showcases Auroville activities and all the products; this'll be for the local area.
So we're apparently starting that, yeah. The construction is starting next month for it.
What architecture should be
- So Auroville's 50th birthday anniversary is coming. And do you have any message to give to the young architects who are here? And what would you want to see Auroville growing in the future.
Young architects... I am not a typical architect. So my message is...
- What do you mean? (laughter)
My message is... you see, I practice architecture as a profession. But my vocation is human ecology. I read up on various things – spend every free time I have doing that; I'm a very selfish architect. I don't go out and showcase my projects, publish, and try to have a web page, and Facebook page to invite more projects... I choose my projects. (Then you get more and more visitors, and more and more projects, and that's not what I'm interested in.)
What I'm interested in is actually to bring architecture back to what it was actually supposed to be. It was supposed to be social intervention, with leadership taken by people who understand – history, geography, geology, botany, mechanics, and other things – to help society to organize itself better. Not do it for them, but actually enable them to do it themselves. Because we are 40,000 young architects passing out, in this country, every year. Where is the job opportunity for them? Because 99% of this country we have built without architects.
- There's always a __ going on between the architects and the builders.
Yeah – because architects do not get involved with the politics, in the financing mechanism, in understanding how the labor market works – they just want to do design. And they are kind of marginalizing themselves, because the structural engineer comes in and says, “no, no, madame, this is how we can do it,” because you do not know how to read your soil report. You have to just go by him. And he doesn't want to innovate – he wants to do what he did for the last ten projects, cut-and-paste. Because you don't understand your soil report, you don't understand the basics of soil mechanics, you don't understand structures. The air-conditioning guy tells you something, you have to go by it – because you don't understand hydrolics.
And basic conceptual knowledge of twenty-five different fields has to be taught to architects, and they have to understand the physics, chemistry, history, biology, and geology, and topography, and other things. Only then you will know the troubles that the developer goes through. And only then you can collaborate with him. Right now, we are saying, “our design is better, you just have to build it”. He has to go and sell it – to a market which is not interested in design. Most of the Indian market, except for a very small elite, has no design sense. For them, they're going by economy. And we are not going by economy. They want maximum value.
Land value, in ___, when a woman just wants to – it's 10,000 rupees per square-foot she is investing, for getting a 10-square-foot space to live in. And this is not counting all the recycled material she will collect to put up her hut. This is 10,000 rupees per square-foot that she pays to the local mafiozi, to have a 10-square-foot... where a family of 7-8 people will be living. Ok? And in 2 square kilometers in ___, there's more than one-and-a-half million people living.
And they are providing their own services, and a huge manufacturing base. And what are we talking about – where do the architects fit there?
- ___ architects have to come up and take a stand and do something about it.
There's no stand to take! The only thing is that: be relevant to the needs. We are not relevant to the needs. We are only relevant to the software that keeps coming out. I get interns who know how to design only using SketchUp. Because they can't read drawings; and then once they've made the volumes, they translate it into 2D – and they have no idea why they've done what they have done. Because the outer shape looks good. But inside, it makes so sense – in terms of functionality, in terms of ratio of plinth area to carpet area: it'll be 12-13% more, the plinth area. And you're going to... 15% of your building is non-usable and you put your money into it. Circulation will be about 35-40%. And you're putting money into 35-40% of a space that you're just going to pass through.
It's very ‘sustainability’! It's a few solar panels for them, then. Sustainability is maximizing the use of the space, so that you build less, first. Reduce the buildable space, by maximizing usable space. Learn how to convince your client that they don't need to build so much, by allowing them to understand that whatever the requirements they have, you can actually build it for much less. Not in terms of the final cost, but in reducing the amount the build. Because you cannot pay the labor less – that's criminal. Cement bags will cost what they cost; steel costs what it costs. So where is your cost reduction coming?
Everybody keeps talking about ‘low-cost housing, low-cost housing’. But actually I find that they talk about low-quality housing, because the cost is what it is, calculated per meter material. The labor is what it is. Today, in any building, 60% of your cost is labor. And they need to live, with the cost of living. How are you going to cut down on labor? By mechanizing it? Mechanization costs as much. So you have to be efficient in your design. Not trying to cut down on the labor cost by paying them less. And most of the time, the cost-reduction is done by paying the labor less. So we are living on somebody else's poverty.
- It should not be like that. The labor should be given fair and...
And then we talk about the poor quality of labor we have. Because how are they going to live better? They're opportunistic – you pay them 5 rupees more, they'll come to you. Somebody pays them 10 rupees more, they go to them. They don't learn on the job. Because there's no job opportunity. Because they have to survive – that's it.
We as designers have phased ourselves out. We have become like call centers. We are just there to make drawings, between the developer and the financing mechanism. We're just one cog in the wheel. They can do without us very easily.
- But then, I'm doubting they would be doing as good work as an architect does.
No, that's an illusion. Maybe the buildings would all look pretty – but they're pretty efficient, what these guys build.
I have seen work of young architects, for apartment buildings, and then that's a concept that they publish. But then what is built, the architect's crying, “what I did, he never did”. But you look at it: for the same square-footage, the guy was able to give bigger rooms, which are more efficient. Maybe the building doesn't look so pretty from outside. But actually, the person who invests in it is getting more value for their money. The only problem is that the developer cuts on the quality. But he's maximizing the space.
- So what do you think is the solution, between the developer and the architect's vision? Where you can fit both of them together?
The architects first have to start widening their knowledge base.
- Like what you said about different subjects coming up.
Yeah, different subjects; start really focusing on understanding building systems. And understanding the cost of construction in this country, and where it is, and what is happening and everything. So that every little decorative band that you put on, over the whole building – it'll just drive the price up by 3%. Is that 3% investment worth that little band? Why not work with a building on that lot that speaks for itself, rather than these decorative bands or these stupid __s that project out. Design into the building, so that you don't have to do these additional add-ons. Every piece that you do has a utility and value, while adding to the aesthetics of it. And not just decorative.
Because it is criminal, knowing that our safety standards are actually 3x what we need, because the quality of construction is so low. So for every building built in India, two more buildings have the same thing built. And the reason the Indian government has 3x the safety standards, is because they know that the quality of construction is so poor, that they have to take 3x more. So when you take one reinforcement bar, it is actually 3x more than what it needs to be, because the way this __ is done is not ok. The way the manufacturing of steel is done is not ok. The way it is executed on site is not ok. The way the concrete is cast is not ok. The way it's cured is not ok. And the way the plumbing is done, that it leaks into it, is not ok. The cover is not ok. So the way that all of this is not ok, makes it that you have to increase the amount of steel, the mix – everything is increased. To make up for untrained labor, poorly trained architect, poorly trained project management, no supervision, no quality control. So we actually spend 3x the amount of money, because we don't invest in human resources and their training – right down to the labor, to the architect. Instead of teaching ourselves how to do the job properly, we are spending on material with a huge carbon footprint.
So that is why I'm saying, I am not a typical architect.
- Your design speaks volumes. And they're beautiful – you just have to ’see it’.
Yesterday I gave a 4-hour lecture to an architectural college in Chennai, on sustainability. And I started with basic history of human beings on this planet. To show that it was not in the last 50 years that we've been pumping out so much carbon dioxide – since last 8,000 years they've been doing it. With the way we do agriculture, the way our cities are planned, the food we eat... I mean, from 2003 to 2017, in India, people below the age of forty are buying 60% more clothing than they used to. And you can imagine the impact of this on the environment, and on landfills. And clothing is getting cheaper and cheaper by the minute. So who is paying for our clothing? In Bangladesh, in Dhaka, a factory burns down because the safety standards are compromised, to keep the cost per unit clothing down. So those people's lives are paying for our cheap t-shirts.
In China, the color of the runoff into the streams indicates what is the color of the fashion of that season. Because money is not being invested in recycling the dyes that are being put into the clothing coloring. So we can get very cheap, multiple-wash clothing that does not fade – at the cost of the river systems in China.
- The interns and young architects who will be building will have to do wonderful work, because 65% of India's population is under 25 years, right now. And we have amazing potential here.
- And the last question which I would ask you, I would know: you have done so many projects here. Is there any one of your projects which is very dearest to you? Which you really enjoyed doing it?
I wouldn't say there's any one; because for me, each project has its ups and downs – every project is a kind of collaboration between the clients, us, the contractor, and the users. So for me, every project I just look at it after it's done – it's like, you know, after you've had a baby and brought it up, and he or she goes out into the world and makes it. It's a bit like that: you do not say, “I choose this child more than that child”. They're all dear to me; and I spend at least about 10 hours a week pro bono, because I go around to all these projects and am still monitoring and helping out little changes, little adaptations. I spend a few hours in Visitors' Center, in Solar Kitchen, PTDC, the schools we've done – because things keep evolving. And there's neither money nor architecture involved in it. But you just help out. Now the kids don't want to use the washbasins at this height – how can we monitor it so that they can still access it; what do we do? So then I find a washbasin which is not used in this project, or there, and I ask one contractor, “do you have somebody who can just give us half-bag cement?” And it's not big donations that can go into the books – but it's multiple small helping hands, that keeps each of these projects running. It's never a finished product.
And that is where I find – at least in Auroville – architects should not look at their input as these kind of divas who do buildings. But actually be part of the society that helps it to go from one level to another level. And your input is in buildings; while the person who is doing the dishes in the Solar Kitchen, their input is to make sure that next mealtime, there are clean, dry dishes out there for people to pick up. And the schoolteacher who every year gets a new bunch in the Kindergarten, makes sure that the kids who go out (to the next year) are actually happy to go to school, and have learned how to learn. Because each one's input actually creates better building solutions for the future. If the dishwasher didn't do it properly, and the schoolteacher didn't do it properly, you as an architect would not have a process with citizens who are equally appreciated for their input into the society.
The most frustrating jobs are always the people who are frustrated with their life. And they are frustrated with their life because what they do is not of a certain quality, because they've never learned to give quality back. Because they were never appreciated in their little job.
If you want to make good buildings, you have to work with good people. And good people can come out only of a society that appreciates them. And that is the only thing I'm interested in Auroville – is to make sure that every Aurovilian feels that he or she is giving their best, because it is actually appreciated.
And it can be appreciated for one hour or one minute, it doesn't matter. But that helps the next thing to be better. If everybody feels, ‘only some people are contributing, and only their contribution matters’, we are not going to create a beautiful architecture here. No way. Everybody will be __. I mean, this country is an example of that – everybody feels that they're not appreciated, so they all find shortcuts, right? And they all try to do __ – get through. And at the end of the day the products we make are not appreciated too. You give what you get. And everybody keeps saying, “you have to give your best”. But if you don't get the best, you are no way going to give your best.
- It's good to see that we have here cases like Auroville Visitors' Center – people keep coming to these places. Solar Kitchen, they will keep on...
And they're not perfect. I'll be the first person...
- It's not perfect, but it's still a good place to have a discussion about.
None of my buildings are perfect. They all – I could have done much better. But the only thing I can say: all my buildings are living. And that for me is a success criteria. They are living – and when I say ‘living’, it's that the people who use them feel that they can actually intervene in those buildings. That they can take ownership and tinker with it, tweak it, adapt it, and then make it a living building. And not a monument to admire, and sit in a corner, and just do your thing so that you don't ‘disturb’ this ‘perfection’ that the architect has left behind. Perfection is fossilizing.
- Ok, thank you!