SAIIER Staff Quarters Design Selection Process

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Durganand gesture Entry 5 crop 800.JPG
Staff quarters icon.png PDF report

In brief:

An open call was made for Auroville architects to submit designs for a forthcoming building project: the SAIIER Staff Quarters cluster. A selection committee (jury) was formed to evaluate the submissions. The jury guided the process of refining the designs and making a final recommendation to the SAIIER Board.

Introduction

SAIIER initiated a Staff Quarters housing project to address the need for affordable housing for Auroville residents working long-term in SAIIER units and projects. The general location of the project was known to be near Transformation community in the Cultural Zone.

In hindsight...
Although this was not intended to be a competition, it would have been useful to understand the Council of Architecture competition guidelines.

Auroville architects were invited to prepare and submit concept plans. A brief was published in the News & Notes with some requirements and guidelines:

  • Four blocks of staff quarters, each with four apartments
In hindsight...
This specification of four blocks each with four apartments might have posed an unnecessary restriction.
  • Ground floor apartments for families (two adults and two children); first floor apartments for couples
  • Total built-up area up to 100 m2 for families and 70 m2 for couples
  • Total cost of super built up area about Rs. 70 lakhs
  • Phased construction, to begin as early as possible during the 2015-2016 financial year, and continuing with at least one block per year

The site allocation was later finalized, giving the parameters of size and orientation. Participating architects were offered a guided walk of the site.

In hindsight...
We should have communicated earlier and more clearly about guided site visits.

A selection committee was formed by the SAIIER Board whose task would be to evaluate the proposals and select a final design, to submit to the Board for final approval. The selection committee (jury) consisted of Chali, Durganand, Helmut, and Piero. The jury saw the need for an impartial observer who would document the process; Kristen was asked to fill this role.

Timeline of process

April 25, 2015 An open call was published as an announcement in News & Notes and on Auronet.
May 9 The announcement was re-published with more details.
May - July Interested architects initiated and maintained communication with SAIIER through email and phone. SAIIER answered any questions about the process and parameters.
July 18 The site (one of four options) was decided upon and communicated to the architects, with its land survey and topographical survey details. A Site Application was submitted to L’avenir d’Auroville.
July 20 The deadline for submissions was postponed from 25 July to 14 August, taking into consideration the late finalization of the site and feedback from the architects.
August 12 The deadline was postponed from 14 August to 31 August, taking into consideration feedback from the architects.
August 31 The architects submitted their designs to SAIIER in the form of printed plans, elevations, sections, and 3D views; a preliminary cost estimate; and explanatory notes where needed. Seven designs were submitted in total.
September SAIIER staff set up a display of the submissions, keeping the architects’ names and identifying information hidden.
September 18 The jury met to evaluate the submissions. The jury chose three finalist designs and decided on next steps in the process.
October 7 All participating architects received written feedback from the jury on their designs.
October 9 Meetings were held between each of the three finalists and the jury. The finalists were invited to submit revised plans, including a physical model, taking into account the recommendations made by the jury.
October 29 Two finalists submitted their revised plans and models to SAIIER (one had withdrawn).
October 30 The jury met to evaluate the (two remaining) finalists’ revised designs. The jury decided which of the two designs to recommend to the SAIIER Board, and clarified criteria for use in evaluating the possibilities.
October 31 The jury presented their recommendations to the SAIIER Board. The Board and jury decided on a final plan of action. The results were communicated to the two finalists.

Stage 1

A total of seven designs were submitted by different Auroville architects.

In hindsight...
We should have pre-checked that the entries fulfilled the requirements stated in the brief and adhered to the specifications of the SAIIER Works Manual.

The entries were initially kept anonymous to the jury members - coordinated by the SAIIER staff - with the intent that the jury members’ evaluations of the designs not be influenced by what they know of the architects.

The open-plan office space on the first floor of the SAIIER building was set up as a display of the entries, with the plans and descriptions on the walls. The room was prepared to be ready for the jury's meeting on the morning of September 18.

At this first meeting, the jury viewed the submitted entries for the first time. The jury members spent 45 minutes familiarizing themselves with the entries displayed in the room, then as a group made a circuit of the room, visiting and discussing each entry. The jury looked at the projects with an eye for the clarity of design, creative potential for expressing the Auroville spirit, and feasibility of realisation.

In hindsight...
The process would have benefited from broad criteria being formulated and agreed upon before viewing the entries.

Entry #1

Entry1 Sheet1.png Entry1 Sheet2.png Entry1 Sheet3.png Entry1 Sheet4.png


Jury feedback
Pros:
  • The design breaks the '4 blocks' concept given in the brief, while retaining the essential requirements.
  • The “staggered” arrangement of houses and entrances promotes less mutual disturbance and allows community spaces.
  • The layout gives the opportunity to change which site accesses are used, allowing flexibility if there is a change in this regard.
  • The parking is kept at the outer periphery of the site instead of coming inside.
  • If the main access is decided upon the spacing between the blocks can be improved substantially.
  • High areas under barrel vaults in the top floors.

Cons:

  • The design is heavy with walls.
  • The community spaces border the bedrooms, the noise of which could create tension.
  • Size and position of windows in regard to orientation and privacy (community spaces) not optimal.
  • Overhangs of windows below the top barrels and their operation not solved.
  • “Staggered section” of one block to create mezzanine for community activities, and how it relates to the outdoor community space, is not clear.

Suggested modifications for second round:

  • The buildings could be opened up in some places, keeping in mind the orientation.
  • Positioning and distances of blocks to be adapted to access from one side only.
  • Windows or netting below top vaults to be properly protected (driving rain).
  • Community space within block to be clarified.

Entry #2

Entry2 Sheet1.png Entry2 Sheet2.png
Entry2 Sheet3.png Entry2 Sheet4.png


Jury feedback
Pros:
  • The peaked roofs on the top floors serve several good functions: dispersing heat, allowing light to the interiors, providing community space, and cooling the roof.
  • Option 2A shows the clearest plan amongst the given alternatives.

Cons:

  • Many arrangements and options (for blocks as well as site), not significantly different from each other, none of them with inevitability or ‘convincingness’. The architect doesn’t propose a specific design with confidence, which gives the client the responsibility of choosing .
  • With such uncertainty in block placement, the jury can tell neither how the buildings would relate to the community spaces nor influence each other.
  • Option 2B creates impossible conditions to live in.
  • It is not clear whether or not there has been consideration given about orientation.
  • The peaked roofs, in spite of their advantages, jeopardise privacy of the areas below, since the roof is accessed by the public.

Entry #3

Entry3 Sheet1.png Entry3 Sheet3.png
Entry3 Sheet2.png Entry3 Sheet4.png


Jury feedback
Pros:
  • The axonometric view of the 4 houses (on first glance) give a very pleasing impression.
  • The shutters allow flexibility according to use and according to weather and climate conditions.
  • The design gives very generous space for circulation in each block (though only benefiting the upstairs flats).
  • The large ground floor veranda could be enclosed into the house in the future, allowing easy expansion of usable space (but has to be pre-financed in the beginning).

Cons:

  • Large glass walls - even when shuttered - would be ill-suited to this climate for much of the year.
  • Access to the first floor is concentrated on the small uncomfortable spiral staircase although there would be ample space for a proper staircase.
  • The staircase is not protected from the elements, and would be dangerous during rains.
  • Orientation seems to be neglected in the design.
  • Common spaces are positioned next to glass walls; this, even when shuttered, creates privacy problems.
  • The blocks as designed would need more space around them to coexist without mutual disturbances (visual and acoustic).
  • The first house is disadvantaged, since the way the parking is sited all residents would have to go around it to enter the site.
  • No veranda or sit-out for the small flats.
  • All entrances on ground floor and first floor have no cover.
  • The structural system is ambiguous: on one side it seems to consist of pillars, on the other side of load bearing walls.
  • It would be difficult to bring down the waste pipes from the FF bathrooms without causing acoustical disturbances.
  • Probably a costly solution.

Entry #4

Entry4 Sheet1.png Entry4 Sheet2.png Entry4 Sheet3.png Entry4 Sheet4.png


Jury feedback
Pros:
  • The house plan demonstrates clarity and organization.
  • Dissolution of block into two parts with the staircase as the only connecting element reduces mutual disturbance.
  • The baffle walls would dampen the effects of sound and sun.
  • The use of recycled wood is a nice touch.
  • Interior rendering gives a good impression.
  • Water harvesting is included in the planning.

Cons:

  • Apartments are mirrored and oriented towards North and South. This raises questions of equality (late afternoon sun in summer, driving wind during monsoon).
  • The modernist design is very formal and prevents identification with the building.

Suggested modifications for second round:

  • Idea of green roofs needs clarity (volume of soil, drip irrigation, weight, access, etc.)
  • “Tropical Modernism” as a “Designer Architecture” which can land anywhere in the world, should be modified to arrive at “Building Personality” instead.
  • Late afternoon summer sun for north-western apartments must be checked (another baffle wall?).
  • The entrance of last (southern) house is difficult to reach; possibility to improve location to be checked.

Entry #5

Entry5 Sheet1.png Entry5 Sheet2.png
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Jury feedback
Pros:
  • Appealing site organization (community spaces, landscape, access and parking, etc.)
  • The crescent shaped buildings relate to each other to form a “whole”, creating identity and psychological well-being.
  • There is a generous and open fanning out garden side (due to the curved arrangement) and a generous terrace for the top flats.
  • For the whole project only two staircases are necessary (as compared to 4 in the other entries).
  • The avoidance of monotony, the variety of built form and flat lay-out is much appreciated, equally the measures taken to avoid vertical disturbance (visual and acoustical) on the garden side of the complex.
  • Appreciation for the contextual study: buffer zone, contours, etc; also for the conceptual development and placement of common facilities in a central structure.
  • Water harvesting is integrated.

Cons:

  • Buildings are mainly turned towards the East and West leading to sun shading problems.
  • The access balcony only needs to bypass the first two flats and can be avoided in front of the last two altogether.
  • Bedrooms at the access balcony side will create highly disturbing noise and visual issues. Only kitchens, bathrooms and auxiliary rooms should be located on this side.
  • The project appears to be “over-designed”; the curved lay-out already provides a lot of visual information so further formal additions (slanted walls, etc.) may be superfluous and weakening the design.

Suggested modifications:

  • The negative effect of the access balcony in front of the building (arranged with a distance from the façade) must be improved.
  • The length of the access balcony can be cut into half by rearranging the end flats (cost!).
  • Bedrooms on the access balcony side should be moved to the garden side.
  • Direct insight from the access balcony must be avoided by carefully arranging bathroom and kitchen windows, even lowering the balcony, so that the eye level is below the kitchen window of the first floor, is a possibility.
  • Sun protecting measures towards the East and West are major issues to be solved.
  • Introduction of many new and complicated design features must be avoided.

Entry #6

Entry6 Sheet1.jpg Entry6 Sheet2.jpg Entry6 Sheet3.jpg Entry6 Sheet4.jpg


Jury feedback
Pros:
  • The slanting roofs are attractive.
  • The plan gives provision to preserve mature trees.
  • Provision of common areas for washing machines, laundry drying, storerooms, etc. appreciated.

Cons:

  • The arches are decorative only, and give no sense of structure.
  • The family unit has only one bathroom for what would be 3 or 4 people.
  • The design positions the same block North-South and East-West which gives the impression that orientation according to climatic conditions was not taken into account.
  • The proposed material for the sloping roofs (bison board tiles) is esthetically and technically not convincing.
  • Main entrance to the block is placed next to the sit-out of big ground floor flat.
  • Arrangement of staircase in front of jallies.
  • Staircase room too generous (without much usage) and no access to garden side.

Entry #7

Entry7 Sheet1.png Entry7 Sheet2.png Entry7 Sheet3.png Entry7 Sheet4.png

Jury feedback
Pros:
  • The site arrangement is straightforward and clearly defined.
  • The design demonstrates consideration for privacy by arranging courtyards (in the Ground Floor at the access side) in front of a part of the bedrooms.
  • The design concept takes care of the preservation of mature trees.

Cons:

  • The shifting of the bathroom location from one floor to the next is not practical, as it puts bathrooms over living spaces, leading to acoustical disturbance.
  • Aesthetically the building design is lacking, rather appears as a “hostel”.
  • The top flats have ample space for roof terraces, whereas the Ground floor flats don’t have sit-outs.

Outcome of Stage 1

The jury decided that the outcome of the meeting would be to narrow down the entry to three finalists, who would be invited to rework their plans with modifications suggested by the jury. Following a short discussion, the jury unanimously chose the three finalists: Entry #1, Entry #4, and Entry #5.

In hindsight...
We should have allowed the architects to make a direct presentation of their entries.

The jury decided on next steps: to prepare written feedback for the architects regarding their designs; to give the three finalists a period of time to re-work their designs based on the feedback; to communicate to the architects and the wider community that the submitted designs are open for viewing; to document the process followed by the jury.

Each of the participating architects were sent written feedback on their designs (see previous sections for feedback).

A meeting was held between each finalist and the jury, for the purpose of clarifying the feedback as needed. The finalists were given 5 weeks to revise their designs.

The jury requested each finalist to prepare a model.

Stage 2

The jury met to evaluate the re-worked submissions of the finalists. One of the finalists had withdrawn, leaving two for consideration. The finalists each provided updated plans (site plan, floor plans, sections and elevations) and a model.

Entry #4 - Stage 2

In response to the jury's feedback:

  • The site plan was changed such that all four units are along one edge:
Site plan arrangement 1.png --> Site plan arrangement 2.png

Documents:

<pdf width="1000" height="750">File:Finalist SindhujaMichael booklet Oct 29.pdf</pdf>

Model:

  • Sindhuja 1.jpg
  • Sindhuja 2.jpg
  • Sindhuja 3.jpg
  • Sindhuja 4.jpg
  • Entry #5 - Stage 2

    In response to the jury's feedback:

    • Three optional floor plans were drawn for the arrangement of the bedrooms and bathrooms.
    • The kitchen corner detail was simplified.
    • The study windows were simplified.

    Documents:

    <pdf width="1000" height="750">File:Shailaja stage 2 documents.pdf</pdf>

    Model:

  • Shailaja 1.jpg
  • Shailaja 2.jpg
  • Shailaja 3.jpg
  • Shailaja 4.jpg
  • Shailaja 5.jpg
  • Outcome of Stage 2

    The jury discussed the differences between the proposed designs, which were seen as being of two extremes: one tending towards complexity, one tending towards simplicity.

    One of the jury members suggested that the designs could be combined on the same plot, suggesting that one of the crescents and two of the blocks are built. It was pointed out that one characteristic of the Auroville built environment is its diversity of architecture in often close proximity. Although the other jury members slowly warmed to the idea, its feasibility was questioned.

    The jury identified criteria that had emerged in the course of discussions:

    1. The design concept,
    2. The time and involvement needed during the construction phase,
    3. The cost of the project,
    4. The ability and personality of the architect.

    Also taken into consideration was the design response to feedback already received. One jury member suggested that SAIIER have an architects’ mentoring session to fine-tune the detailing of the submissions. The other jury members appreciated this idea, and briefly discussed how such could be part of a model design process.

    Final recommendation

    After evaluating the finalists’ submissions, the jury met with the SAIIER Board to recommend a design and direction for the Staff Quarters project. The two finalists’ designs were presented to the Board for consideration, and the jury explained the elements of the two designs. The architects’ names were initially withheld from the SAIIER Board members.

    The jury explained that both of the designs need some more work before moving into the execution process, but that one of the designs could start much sooner than the other.

    The idea was mentioned of combining the two designs. SAIIER Board members liked the idea, and expressed that it would be good if both designs could be “kept alive”, and that the language of the more complex design would be good to introduce in Auroville.

    The SAIIER Board decided to support both designs. The more simple plan would move forward and be built on the allocated plot, while the more complex plan would be developed and detailed for possible construction starting the next financial year. This decision shifted the conception of the Staff Quarters project to one which has two distinct parts.

    The SAIIER Board decided to offer a ‘token of appreciation’ for all of the architects who had participated: Rs. 7,000 for the Stage 1 entries, and Rs. 12,000 for the finalists who reworked their designs.

    In hindsight...
    If the possibility of remuneration had been mentioned in the announcement stage, more Auroville offices might have been inclined to participate.

    The jury members agreed to be resource persons for the architects of the two selected designs, and to offer inputs and advice to the continuing process.

    Lessons learned

    • More clearly planned steps and parameters, commonly understood by all parties, would have facilitated the process.
    • The brief should have been as conceptually open as possible, without including pre-formulated ideas (‘4 blocks’).
    • The site was finalized in the middle of the process; a definitely approved and demarcated site from the beginning would have prevented some confusion and frustration.
    • Communication between SAIIER, the architects and the jury members was challenging at times, due in part to the complication of anonymity. Care needs to be taken to ensure that all participants receive the same information in a timely manner.
    • More formalized evaluation guidelines, understood by the jury members and the architects, would have been helpful both in ensuring objectivity and in providing feedback.
    • The process followed could have better incorporated the existing knowledge and experience of the architects.
    • Architects in Auroville are open to participating in a collaborative process. The case of the SAIIER Staff Quarters can be seen as an experimental attempt, and the lessons learned through the experience can be helpful in informing other processes in the future.



    Architects:

    Entry #1: Dharmesh and Dhruv, DUSTUDIO (http://www.dustudio.org/)
    Entry #2: Meera, Earth Weavers
    Entry #3: Bertrand, Creation Architecture Studio
    Entry #4: Sindhuja and Michael, Imago (http://imagoauroville.com/)
    Entry #5: Shailaja, PATH
    Entry #6: Dorothee, Dorothee Consultancy
    Entry #7: Mona, Studio Naqshbandi