“Luminosity is not just another apartment block with tailor-made flats according to personal needs. It is a collective project which incorporates new ideas and technologies and wants to be an example for denser collective living in Auroville,” says Nadja, the project co-ordinator. “I call Luminosity ‘a temple for living and working' because we are aiming at creating simple, yet beautiful spaces for daily life that will help one's growth of consciousness. The emphasis is on quality, not quantity. To this end, the individual rooms are not especially vast but are spacious. The materials are not particularly luxurious but are both hard-wearing and beautiful, and the detailing is not just aesthetic but also functional with a focus on ‘low-maintenance' solutions.” And she adds, “The acoustic, climatic and environmental aspects of the project have strongly influenced the design”.
Location of Luminosity near Creativity
Luminosity is a rectangular block containing twelve apartments and eleven office-studios. The residential areas have been raised off the ground; the office-studios and common facilities occupy the ground floor. Says Nadja, “This will assure a high degree of privacy for all the residents, avoid the need to build fences and private water-intensive gardens, and help nurture an Auroville that ‘belongs to no-one in particular' since everyone is then free to walk wherever they choose.” In order to improve and enhance the energetic foundation, the principles of feng shui and the ley-lines of Auroville have also been taken into account in locating the building.
Luminosity is built on the site of the former Mangalam project, which started in 2001. This project consisted of six apartment clusters; four were to be built in the shape of a half circle, one in an L-shape and one as a rectangle. [see AVToday #196, May 2005] But only one of the half-circle clusters, Creativity, has materialised. “The problems connected to this particular design, in particular regarding noise, caused these clusters to be scrapped,” says Nadja. “But we found that we could work with the concept of the rectangular building. We changed the original orientation somewhat to profit from the prevailing winds and prevent sound affecting the neighbouring community. Building permission was given very quickly, as the master plan of Mangalam had already been approved.” The rest of the Mangalam area has now been allocated to build Realization.
The prevention of noise pollution is a major issue. To minimize impact sounds, all the apartments are separated from each other by four parallel walls made of dense fly-ash bricks (a waste product from power stations) and fired bricks. The cavities between the walls are used for water pipes, cables and the ducts for the dehumidification system. The staircase is free-standing and separated from the apartments by double walls. A similar approach has been taken for the floors: the inverted beams above the slabs are filled with fly-ash to help deaden vertical sound-transmission between the apartments.
To minimise sound travelling to other nearby buildings, Luminosity has blank walls facing the neighbouring communities, which will be covered by hanging ‘curtain creepers'. The south side with the bedrooms faces a 30-metres deep green corridor which will not be built on. The north side which has the kitchens and living rooms, is equipped with vertical acoustic louvres made of sound-absorbing anutone board. They can be closed during the rains or when there are noisy activities either inside or outside the living space. “It is like Golconde in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram,” explains Nadja. “There they have horizontal louvres, here we have vertical ones.”
The project will have a unique rainwater harvesting system. Alok from CSR has tested the idea in the desert state of Rajasthan. A hole 35 metres long, 5 metres wide and 7 metres deep, lined with Bentonite waterproofing, will be filled with sand. “Rainwater is collected in this huge sandbox, and from there we pump it up to the overhead tank on the roof. The sand serves as a filter; for drinking quality the water will again be filtered using carbon filters. If our calculations are correct, the system should be able to provide 100 litres of water a day for each resident of Luminosity throughout the year. As safeguard, we have a back-up connection to the water tank of the Residential Zone,” explains Nadja. Luminosity's waste-water will be fully treated and then reused for flushing toilets and gardening. The system is identical to those installed in various places in Auroville.
The building has been oriented to make the most of the summer breeze, with both sides of the apartments having full-height sliding doors and the inverted beams providing an uninterrupted ceiling where no heat can get trapped. The cavity walls will minimise heat transfer, as will the roof gardens. Luminosity also offers the option to hook-up to one of three de-humidification systems which will be built above each staircase and which will blow dry air through the cavity walls to each studio and apartment (the air has the same temperature as before but feels cooler because the humidity has been removed).
The roof is seen as an extension of the Luminosity community. It will have laundry and drying areas, solar water heaters, common dining and relaxation areas and roof gardens with Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest plants at each end of the building. Although each apartment will be connected to the grid, there will also be a possibility of connecting to photovoltaic panels for electricity. “A new factory near Hyderabad is being built that will produce thin film solar panels,” says Nadja. “This is the type we want to install on the roof.” There is even an idea to do roof-top agriculture, by dedicating an area to grow spirulina for everyone in the building”. Asked if all this is not increasing the overall project costs, Nadja smiles. “Yes they do. But there are things we choose to do because we think it is the right thing to do.”
One of the other idealisms is that Nadja and her team (architects David and Ganesh, site managers Baskar and Ajay, and landscape architect Marie) have decided to work for an Auroville maintenance instead of charging the clients a percentage of the construction costs. “We don't build Luminosity to make money. We could have charged a fee, but we want to set an example and live up to the ideal that in Auroville the architect and contractors work on maintenance and do not make money out of their clients. In the case of Luminosity, this has saved each of our clients at least 3 lakhs, which is substantial taking into account that the Luminosity apartments cost Rs 13-14 lakhs for a 70 square metre apartment”.
This approach is perhaps one of the reasons why Luminosity was fully booked before the drawings were ready. But Nadja believes in another more compelling reason. “An integral part of the process has been the integration of feedback. A lot of thought and consciousness has gone into the design and into its acoustic, climatic and environmental aspects. I have lived in eleven places all over Auroville and have learned what worked and what doesn't. So have many of my clients. All this interaction has immensely improved and enriched the project.”
Meanwhile, the waiting list for Luminosity II is filling up.