The newest building at the Vérité Integral Learning Centre was designed by architects, in collaboration with Vérité residents, who have later come to lead the “Dreamcatchers” movement of Aurovilian architects
Dreamcatchers are planners and designers who meet early mornings (6:00-8:00 am) on different rooftops in Auroville and creatively imagine together how Auroville could move forward into manifestation. Aurovilian architect Mona, who is a part of the Dreamcatchers since its inception, was inspired to propose a Design Workshop/Studio for 2 weeks (5-19 March 2007) on the theme of designing an Integral Health Enhancement Centre.
The idea was to explore “sustainability” but not just to introduce the many renewable and appropriate technologies developed in Auroville, but also to use new techniques of communication and inspiration - like Dreamcatching and Co-creating Café - which could facilitate teamwork in conception and design.
Verite' seemed to be just the right place for “finding the right balance between Man-Nature-Economy”, dedicated as it is to using renewable energies, organic gardening, Ayurvedic cooking and community process in a context of a living demonstration of integral learning. This aim of exploring a “Habitation for the Spirit and Body” brought together a Core Faculty of five architects working in Auroville and others who helped to create and implement the programme for the workshop. Thus, the seed for an Auroville School of Design and therefore a Forum where architects within and without Auroville can meet on a neutral platform to discuss and exchange ideas was sown in Vérité.
Interestingly, at the same time this Architect's Studio was being planned, another conference was also planned to bring together a group of Aurovilian health practitioners (many of whom had been meeting monthly for a year) to explore how by working together they could improve their service to the community. The two conference coordination teams agreed to experiment by integrating their conferences, asking the Architects to use their new technologies and techniques to make designs for a Health Spark (Spa-Park), and an Integrated Health Centre, both for Auroville.
Fifteen young architects, from various cities in India but also from London , Israel , Bahrain and Auroville, gathered in Vérité Community and were put up in the guesthouse – some even daring to sleep in bamboo and thatch “tree houses”. Their urban conditioning was further tested as they wrapped their palates around the organic health food of the Vérité kitchen, switched on the slowly igniting solar lights, listened to the clang of the wind pump bringing up water for their outdoor showers, plugged in their laptops to the solar-powered broadband internet, and generally settled into a living sustainable community.
In their evaluation at the end of the two weeks, they particularly cited how helpful the three-day introductory tour was, where they saw innovative buildings in Auroville, along with meeting the architects.The Aurovilians' solid dedication to sustainability was as evident as the building technology, and demonstrably elegant.
The “Dreamcatching” as a exploration tool showed them how to sit together, stop talking, allow themselves to delve inside and seek inspiration within, behind and beyond the surface mind -- no censoring of ideas and no discussions. In a “Co-creating Café” (based on the technique of Conversation Café), the students learned how to carry the discussion of a creative idea along as the members of a group change, creating a cross-fertilisation of ideas. Then no idea is “mine” or “yours” and everyone is exploring each others ideas and taking them further in their own ways.
Axel Klimek, a group coach from Germany , worked with each of the two groups using clay modelling as a way to express (symbolically, not literally) their collective vision of the future of healthcare in Auroville. It was clear from the results that the healers could more naturally work together on one model, while each architect tended to take the clay and work on their own, only putting the pieces together in the end. Besides this common activity, the two conference groups met by attending common lectures (e.g., architects attended a healers' presentation on Dynamics of Integrative Healthcare), and healers came as a panel to be interviewed by the architects,
Senior Indian architects, Sen Kapadia, Chamanlal Gupta, and B.V. Doshi, who have led the sustainable and thinking-out-of-the-box movement in India , came and inspired the young architects not merely with their ideas and techniques, but with the power of their visionary energy. The participants were divided into two groups, one to work on the “Spark” and the other to work on the Integrated Health Centre, and they met with the Health Practitioners and took their inputs, visited the sites, and set out to work together. The students came up with many excellent ideas – and their presentations at the finale revealed not only bright ideas but the extraordinary depth of feeling which they had plumbed, in trying to find the real meaning of healing, the real source of health. “Love” seemed to be the word most used to describe the essence of healing.
Interestingly, only one of the groups succeeded in actually producing one model between them all. This was the group which had more women, and also an Aurovilian, as members of the team. They were glowing when they reported how they had, at a certain point, consciously decided to lay down their pet ideas and really work toward a common solution. The other group, mostly made up of bright men, produced many wonderful plans, deep insights and brilliant ideas, but not as a group. The strengths and limitations of individuality and teamwork were highlighted, and may have been one of the major learnings of the “Studio” experience. That, and the ineffable “something else' which Auroville's ambience delivers to whoever opens to it.
The Healers' Conference ended a week earlier than the Architects' Studio, cutting short the participation and inputs, but at the finale some of the healers attended the presentation and evaluation of the projects as part of the “jury”. The Spark proposal will be presented to all the healers at their monthly meeting, and meanwhile, secure in the possibility of a physical manifestation of their ideas in due course, Mona and the healers are going ahead with a “virtual” health centre. This will bring all the health related resources of Auroville together on a database making them easily available to those who need them, and will also provide a preliminary basis for offering the many modalities in a “Spark” campus. The architects have gone back to their respective homes and offices, with a new sense of not only material technologies for sustainability, but a felt experience of the inner aspects of ecology. And Vérité has experienced the richness of “integrating” conferences and looks forward to more.