In 1968, in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district, the foundations of a radical experimental township named Auroville were laid. “The purpose of Auroville,” its founder Mirra Alfassa said, “is to realise human unity.” It was no small goal, but its founders, dedicated as they were to the ideals of universal peace and harmony, worked to make it at least a partial reality.
It is no surprise then, that since its founding, the township has grown into the kind of place that attracts certain kinds of people—artists, architects, students, and seekers of truths (via many mediums). It was this sense of openness, of freedom and adventure that first drew Anupama Kundoo to Auroville. “I think what I really liked about it was that it was radically visionary,” she says, adding, “It was a holistic rethinking of everything—from education to the economy.” To the young architect fresh out of college, it became fertile ground for exploration and experimentation.
Building a home in Auroville
Before building this house, Anupama lived in Auroville for 10 years in a thatch hut, with solar panels for electricity. Not an experience for the faint-hearted, but she considers it both enriching and rewarding. What living there also gave her was time, and the environment to rethink building technologies, with a special focus on the local and traditional.
Her study of local materials and techniques led her to a range of space and material solutions, one of which is the pre-industrial handmade Tamil brick called achakal, which is the foundational material of this house. Now, seen from the street, Anupama’s Auroville home looks more like an organic assemblage of shapes than a conventional house. Red bricks rise from equally red earth and seem to grow angles, curves, and volumes designed to be sun-warmed and air-cooled. “I was eager to build this home mostly to test the various technologies I wanted to apply to my other projects,” Anupama says.
As an experiment, it was successful in more ways than one. Firstly, the results of it arrived at through trial and error, formed the home she would live in for many years, changing and morphing along with her needs; secondly, it became a symbol of the kind of architecture that was possible when one consciously applied oneself. In 2012, the house metaphorically made its way across two seas and two landmasses to Italy, where it was recreated (on a 1:1 scale) to be exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale. “It has seen me through various stages of my life,” says the now Berlin-based architect, and mother of two.
The house is largely open-plan, with two wings connected by a wide, vaulted verandah. Spaces flow into each other over two floors, occasionally interspersed by rocks, trees and courtyards open to the sky. “Contact between the interiors and exteriors is very important,” Anupama says, adding, “So that when people take the time to step back from their habitual routines and speedy lives, they can easily connect with themselves, with their close ones and with the environment.” The rooms have been designed and arranged such that, while most encourage socialising, there is also space for solitude.