Integrating the Opposites: Architectural Sustainability answering Global Concerns with Local Rootedness

Summary of a talk by Dharmesh Jadeja, Dustudio, Auroville.
Integrating the Opposites: Architectural Sustainability answering Global Concerns with Local Rootedness


Shades of Green-2.0” is a series of live interviews at ArchiDiaries where we discuss various Sustainable Building Approaches. As part of this series, Dharmesh Jadeja, principal at Dustudio, was invited for an online interview on May 01, 2021. In this article we present a summary of his talk and the discussion, with images from professional work done by Dustudio.

Over the last 29 years, Dharmesh Vikramsinh Jadeja has lived & worked in Auroville. His design approach at Dustudio is firmly rooted in local culture & communities, exploring aesthetics of sustainability, that touch core of Indian wisdom; with an interest in exploring the role of a designer in instigating dialogue around issues of development & for social change, that is rooted in its living culture.

Dharmesh initiates the talk by sharing many ingenious solutions of the villages of India, talking about how its materiality, crafts, community and ways of living, has its own ways of recycling and sustainability. These are the things that have always been a part of our core cultural wisdom. He tells us how his journey has been a quest to know: “how to integrate aesthetics with culture?” 

His first lesson in this quest started with the Indian village. “An Indian village is a lesson in a slow lifestyle for all of us”, he shares. The village is where he understood how a lifestyle could be rooted in a quest for sustainability

Sustainability is beyond materiality and technology, it is a lifestyle.”

In places like Porbandar, Dharmesh’s native town in Gujarat, the same local building and local materials have transformed to a scale of opulence. This is where we are looking at the language of craft through traditions and how sustainability is integrated into these concepts while being simple yet beautiful. 

“Coming from Porbandar, I saw many examples of limestone being used; one of them was Mahatma Gandhi’s house which was built with local materials available within a radius of 5 kilometers; and this became a part of his lifestyle and philosophy”

Integrating the Opposites: Architectural Sustainability answering Global Concerns with Local Rootedness
Gandhiji’s House in Porbandar

This explains how a small town could integrate the concepts of sustainability. There is a language integrated into the finest details to the scale of city planning; Porbandar is a great example of the same. While you see the quarry and mining of stone in Porbandar and how limestone was used in architecture, whether Islamic or European, all beautifully integrated into the fabric of the city.

“This is where a lot of lessons lie for us on how today’s practices need to integrate world influences but still speak a local language when it comes to energy efficiency and craftsmanship.”

Such examples are also found in the independence and post independence era, such as: Golconde, Laurie Baker’s works, Ray Makers fired houses, Correa’s Gandhi Ashram, Doshi’s Aranya Housing, and IIM Bangalore, as well as Corbusier’s Chandigarh. This language of Indian architecture integrated local craft with modern architecture, structure, and Sustainability, in a seamless manner.

“We have never been shy about integrating world influences or modernity in our work. It’s today that we question: how can we take this forward? I feel that the answer lies in creating communities, creating networks where we can learn from each other, because the global challenges that we face are far too big.”

Dharmesh started his career as a civil engineer. After looking at Laurie Baker’s work he felt an urge to understand how architecture can create beauty and contribute to society at the same time. This is how Dustudio was formed at Auroville. They are a small-scale office, working with several building organizations and NGOs, artisans, and government bodies. Over time they have experimented with traditional materials, technology, and craftsmen to integrate sustainability into their work. In their built works you can see the use of earth and ceramics and sustainable technologies is central.

“The whole ancient Indian wisdom is where our answers for the challenges of a modern lifestyle lie.”

Integrating the Opposites: Architectural Sustainability answering Global Concerns with Local Rootedness
Dustudio work

Dharmesh talks about his exploration of taking sustainability to a larger context and a larger scale through interiors and product design. He introduces to us his ventures into commercial interiors and how the philosophy of Dustudio was integrated into it.

“We questioned how we are contributing to the mainstream, and is our work replicable for someone? Are we able to do that or is it that we are escaping from growing?”

With the Taneira, a chain of Tata Store, an Interior project, they challenged themselves with this exploration. This project let them explore how a commercial store, if dismantled after 5-6 years, could be recycled. While designing, collaborating with the artists, craftsmen and the spirit of women were at the center of their process. They created a brand identity that was used in five different store formats. This helped them overcome the challenges of taking sustainability to commercial retail establishments. 

Integrating the Opposites: Architectural Sustainability answering Global Concerns with Local Rootedness

In conversation with Ayaz, they discuss how recycling and reusing is a part of the traditional Indian wisdom, and how it is woven into our lifestyle. This concept of a lifestyle is very foreign to the current mainstream discourse about sustainability. 

“We need to look at sustainability from our context and our lives. We have great hope in the form of Indian villages and towns. We just need to step away from being glamorous.”

They discuss the relationship between architects and craftsmen. To learn from the artisans we must develop a different relationship with them; the one, where both are brought to the same table. He explains how the relationship of an architect and craftsman can be an equal one, by going beyond the conventional method of just giving drawings to get things executed on site. Once an equal relationship is established, the knowledge starts flowing. He elaborates on how artisans and craftsmen need to be a part of the architectural education system as well. For this to happen, he suggests that we make changes to the way we accept someone into our curriculum and institutions; which might change with the new education policy. 

“There are many people with a lot of knowledge and not enough work. They just don’t know how to teach in our format, and we need to format ourselves according to them. We cannot expect that someone who has worked for 40 years with lime will learn how to fill up a form in our college. Our architectural colleges need to adapt to them for the knowledge to transfer.”

The conversation gives us a comprehensive view of Dharmesh’s practice and their expression of Sustainability where tradition blends with modern techniques. In many ways Dustudio’s approach to architectural sustainability reflects the ideas mentioned by Sandeep Virmani, Hunnarshala, in the interview done with ArchiDiaries during the first round of ‘Shades of Green’. His journey urges all of us to reflect on our local and ingenious ways of living and building to create our own version of Sustainability, which is global while being rooted in the local.

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