Jetvana Buddhist Centre
By Nina Tory-Henderson
In Buddhist mythology ‘Jetavana’ refers to a sacred grove of trees, where the Buddha gave the majority of his teachings in Northern India. The Jetvana Buddhist Centre is aptly named, its own sacred grove of sorts, situated in a densely forested pocket in rural Maharashtra, western India. The site lies within the campus of a sugar factory, and acts as a spiritual and skill development centre for its workers and the surrounding Dalit Baugh Ambedkar Buddhist community, providing spaces for meditation and yoga as well as training and skill development.
A requirement of the brief was that no tree would be removed from the site for the construction of the centre. The plan weaves a series of pavilion like structures through the existing arbour, creating a lush grove, as its name implies. Interior and exterior spaces progress into one another with little distinction made between the two: the generous roof canopy shades the exterior pathways, the lifted butterfly roof brings the surrounding forestation within the interior, and the pavilions enclose two sunken courtyards that act as exterior rooms.
The Jetvana Centre is a bricolage of locally sourced and recycled materials. It has been made with what is at hand, using construction methods that put what is available to work. The loadbearing rammed walls are a composite of basalt stone dust (waste from a quarry 13km from the site) and fly ash (a by-product from the adjoining sugar factory). The roof truss repurposes the salvaged wood of sea vessels from a ship breaking yard in Alang and the Mangalore clay roof tiles are sourced from local demolition sites.
Materials and construction methods were developed in collaboration with sP+a, the local community and Hunnarshala – an institution based in Bhuj, Gudjarat. Their work centres around reviving local artisanal knowledge, technologies and skills, working with communities to develop the capacity to shape their own habitats, with their own methods. Through this collaboration the Jetvana Centre makes the most of both new and old techniques, an assemblage of traditional, modern and developed building processes and materials.
|Our approach to the Jetvana project looks to extend the idea of the regional paradigm whilst separating it from the pervasive ‘image’ of what defines the local.”|
|/Sameep Padora, Director sP+a Architects|
There is a strong modernist aesthetic in the rectilinear forms of the concrete-looking rammed walls, boasting massive concrete box gutters with an impressive span. But much of the buildings construction relies on local artisan skills. The flooring uses a local traditional technique of compressed mud and cow dung, known for its cooling and antiseptic properties.
Local techniques were used in the roof insulation system, a series of wooden batons covered by jute cloth and dipped in wet clay, a method developed especially for the project.
The design of the Jetvana Centre is practical, cunning and efficient. Almost entirely made from recycled and locally sourced materials, it is highly sustainable. But sP+a’s use of material is much more than ‘green’. The buildings tectonics are imbued with narrative; its materiality and construction tell a story of context, tradition and history through an embodiment of local knowledge and labour. This story is clearly told through the strong articulation of its structure; each joint reveals exactly how it was made, how it connects one thing to the next. Surfaces are left unfinished and exposed, with nothing clad or concealed. This is not a claim that the building is ‘honest’, but that its design shows an understanding that architecture is inherent with the potential for expression, through engaging with the layered realms of history, material and knowledge of a place.