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February 2006

 

Pursuing silence and light

Gloria talks about architectural inspiration and her work and life in Auroville

-Priya Sundaravalli

“For me, it's the poetry of architecture that is fascinating,” says Gloria. “Luis Kahn describes it as something between Silence and Light. I find this poetic definition captures the essence of architecture.” Kahn, she explains, was the renowned 20th century architect for whom the study of architecture was the study of human beings, their highest aspirations and the most profound truths. “It's about how to listen to space and the material.”
Gloria. Photo by Piero

The petite Aurovilian lights up as she talks about the subject of architecture. For her, it is like music, poetry or the arts. “Like them, it too comes from a creative intuition that is so subtle. It's when you understand this that you truly begin to experience the joy of designing.”

Gloria has been working together with her architect husband Piero for over four decades. It is a work partnership that has been very successful. “Because,” she adds, “our concept of architecture is inspired by the same sources.”

There have been a few occasions when Gloria has worked solo. It is in this handful of individual houses in Auroville that one can appreciate Gloria's singular voice, which is that of an intangible refinement. These are structures that seem embracing, offering care and a quiet retreat.

“Harmony and beauty: two things I myself need around me,” she says. “These are the qualities I try to achieve in my work.” She prefers to use stabilized earth blocks, a material that demands much more work and detailed planning, to the more conventional bricks and mortar. She feels it is worth the effort because of the fine visual quality they achieve by their precise outlines.

Her design inspirations come both from the site where the building is to be located and the need expressed by the client. “Occasionally the client is the inspiration,” says Gloria. “I experienced this with Rika's house in Certitude. She is a fine lady with artistic qualities, and she became the inspiration... One tries to manifest this in space.”

When designing homes, Gloria tries to achieve a sense of containment and protection from outside. Her own house, which she designed with Piero, is inward-looking with the outer boxy walls protecting the private space within. “Both Piero and I do not believe in dense apartment-style housing,” she says. “We feel that each one of us needs our individual space. We feel this is necessary for the sadhana, for Auroville, and for the Yoga…”

It is this same philosophy that comes through in her (and their) work. “The Yoga itself calls for minimalism; that's what allows one to be as true and as essential as possible. In that sense, one has to get rid of superfluous things...”

Gloria has been living in Auroville since 1968. “We missed the inauguration by a week because of a mistake in our visa application,” she says. She and Piero came from Italy with the intention of staying only one year, “but once you have met Mother, you remain stuck. You postpone and postpone and postpone… and then you see that you've stayed!”

“What both Piero and I found incredibly attractive was what the Mother and Sri Aurobindo have said about the special relationship between spirituality, matter and practical life. “For us, this was very important because we believe that architecture too has a spiritual side; and for an architect to be able to express this aspiration of human beings through matter is very special.

“Compared to other architects, we are considered very slow in completing projects,” she says. “But it is through this freedom to take time, to finalize details, to do things a certain way, that we reach the quality we aim for; something that we feel is quite challenging with Government-funded projects.” She explains how, once such a proposal is submitted, changes cannot be made to the design. “Even if a better idea comes along later, you cannot use it. And then only a short time is given for construction because of the very tight budget that has to be spent within the specified time. In consequence, the final result suffers.”

When asked what she has learnt over her years in Auroville, she replies, “detachment and surrender.”

“Auroville is very difficult. There has always been fighting and conflicts. So one must be able to discern when you have to surrender and accept human nature and then step back. In Auroville you continually learn this.”

What she finds ‘dangerous' in Auroville is when people believe that only their ideas are the truth. It is for this reason she says, that she has stopped attending community meetings. “Before, I used to go regularly. Now I find that they take so much energy; and I feel it's better for me to utilize that energy to find that ‘something' inside.

But it is difficult–– the work Mother has given us is extremely difficult… yet it is beautiful!”

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