Vastu Shilpa Consultants build a village of sound with Svaram Campus in Auroville

Speaking with STIR, Sönke Hoof, who designed the Svaram Campus of Sound, informs the design focuses on ‘how the building sounds’ as some spaces echo while some reflect back.

by Meghna MehtaPublished on : Nov 24, 2020

In the township of Auroville in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Svaram Campus of Sound is a project that focuses on the idea of ‘how a building sounds’. Designed by Vastu Shilpa Consultants, which was established by Pritzker Prize laureate Balkrishna Doshi, and has now Sönke Hoof, Khushnu Panthaki Hoof and Rajeev Kathpalia as the partners, Svaram Campus is true to its name, which means, ‘the sound of a musical note’. The client, an Austrian music and sound explorer known as Aurelio, wished to design a centre that would give shape to his current explorations in the space of sound research, sound healing, and the creation of musical instruments.

Commenting on the design of the institution, Balkrishna Doshi said, “Wandering through the Svaram Campus and meeting Aurelio and his integrated vision of sound, air, and form, I was tempted to create a campus where people from all walks of life and all ages must sense the nature of what Svaram means”.

Sketch of the Svaram Campus of Sound by Sönke Hoof | Svaram Campus of Sound | Vastu Shilpa Consultants | STIRworld
Sketch of the Svaram Campus of Sound by Sönke Hoof Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Consultants

Here, STIR speaks with Sönke Hoof, who worked with Balkrishna Doshi on this project.

Meghna Mehta (MM): For the campus, what were the thoughts you had in mind that the architecture should achieve?

Sönke Hoof (SH): The new Svaram Campus of Sound is not a place of sequence, but of meandering movement… of discovery and getting lost… of clustering functions and connecting activities… of blurring the inside and outside and connecting to nature. It is a village, with a meandering network of gullies and narrow lanes passing through different experiences and activities and sometimes leading to nowhere. A village of sound, of vibration and harmony. A village of craft, of workers and artisans. A village of reflection and concentration.

It is a village of discovery of sound. It is highly unpredictable and we kind of hope that people might get lost. – Sönke Hoof
Entrance of the Svaram Campus of Sound, Auroville, India | Svaram Campus of Sound | Vastu Shilpa Consultants | STIRworld
Entrance of the Svaram Campus of Sound, Auroville, India Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Consultants

MM: What was the brief shared by the client?

SH: The clients gave us a detailed program for the Svaram Campus, which was divided into three sections - art, science and craft. The art section was to include the areas where the performance of music would take place along with sound therapy. There will be a science park, which will indulge in science research and its exploration, its teaching and learning. The craft section will involve the creative art of making musical instruments.

Svaram Campus of Sound by Sönke Hoof - ground floor plan | Svaram Campus of Sound in Auroville | Vastu Shilpa Consultants | STIRworld
Svaram Campus of Sound by Sönke Hoof - ground floor plan Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Consultants

MM: Can you take us through the planning of the spaces?

SH: It is not a very big project in size, but it is one of the largest projects Auroville has had so far. We used the three key groups as stated to programmatically divide the spaces on the site. Based on the functional requirements, the buildings have been created either as large introverted blocks or open public spaces. These spaces also determine how far a visitor can go in terms of accessibility. The overall plan is criss-crossed by a network of pathways, which connect the various parts directly or over shortcuts and bypasses. Once you come in, you go through a tunnel and are welcome by a gathering space with a circular skylight and further into the main lobby from where you are further directed into the function you wish to go into.

Svaram Campus of Sound by Sönke Hoof - first floor plan | Svaram Campus of Sound in Auroville | Vastu Shilpa Consultants | STIRworld
Svaram Campus of Sound by Sönke Hoof - first floor plan Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Consultants

Much like how music usually has a bass note, the building also has a base profile and the spaces in elevation are created as varying notes. The functions, which rely on receiving natural light and ventilation, have been placed in light and airy pavilion structures on the first floor, and they free themselves as they move upwards. It is mainly about getting lost in the space and discover the building and the program within and the building itself.

You don’t know where the building is leading you. There are reliefs through the gardens, water, the coconuts in the sky and the sequence of the inside and the outside. The campus is a journey through different experiences. – Sönke Hoof
A courtyard space at Svaram Campus of Sound | Svaram Campus of Sound in Auroville | Vastu Shilpa Consultants | STIRworld
A courtyard space at Svaram Campus of Sound Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Consultants

MM: What are the unique concepts you have adapted to achieve these sounds and their reflections in the building? Something that may not have been done before?

SH: Important for us, the Fibonacci Sequence plays an essential role in musical scales and harmonies. The design of Svaram is based on the Fibonacci Sequence on different levels, from shaping the volumes of the different building blocks to giving different rhythms to its facades. The vertical slim columns sitting on the bottom-heavy structure have been ordered on different combinations of the Fibonacci sequence. We assigned a sound wave to each of these varying lengths of the sequence to study the diverse probabilities of the outcome wavelength.

View that shows the wind towers and the roof level with inter-connected spaces | Svaram Campus of Sound in Auroville | Vastu Shilpa Consultants | STIRworld
View that shows the wind towers and the roof level with inter-connected spaces Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Consultants

The multiple overlays of such sequence at different levels in the facade generate many options and possibilities to choose from, based on the particular type of functions associated with the structure. For example, in case of the Research Block, the wavelength responds to a softer note to reflect the type of work which is being performed there. Compared with administration, which is relatively noisier, the wavelength generated by the vertical columns would be something different. Likewise, the openings, recesses, and niches in the facade are also being used to develop each module into the Fibonacci Sequence. Thus, we have tried to generate an overall language that is distinct yet follows a pattern that can be formulated all across the design of Svaram.

Intermediate spaces that reflect back through sound apart from connecting visually and spatially | Svaram Campus of Sound in Auroville | Vastu Shilpa Consultants | STIRworld
Intermediate spaces that reflect back through sound apart from connecting visually and spatially Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Consultants

MM: What do you think is the peculiarity of the design of the campus. What makes it unique?

SH: We tried to think about the building not only visually and spatially but also ‘how a building sounds’, which I think has rarely been expressed before. We are hoping if you walk through the building, you would be able to experience it differently on how it reflects back to you. Some spaces echo, some reflect back. Their shape, surfaces and volume have an influence on how sound is reflected within a space and how long it persists.

Beyond this, we made a conscious effort to offer the visitor and user different acoustic experiences as he may wander through the Svaram Campus of Sound, from an acoustically dead space of an anechoic chamber, to spaces designed to maximise reflection and reverberation. The surrounding walls and surfaces of the network of corridors and passages connecting the various parts of the museum and exploratorium have been shaped and positioned to create different soundscapes. Tilted walls reflect sound out. Covering vaults push it right back to a focal point. Tall hollow towers are accessible at different levels, offering varying sound experiences within them.

MM: I can see towers in the visuals. Are they trying to express a story?

SH: The subtle movement of the wind and the enchanting sound of chimes may remind us of the magical places which we so often read in our ancient epics. Imagining them, our mind and body travel to the spiritual lands and their stories from our epics. While wandering through the building and the open-closed spaces of the Svaram Campus, one is subconsciously reminded of the qualities of multiple tones of sounds and its relation to the moving wind.

Project Details

Name: Svaram Campus of Sound  
Location: Auroville, Tami Nadu, India
Status: Under construction
Client: Aurelio | Creative Director SVARAM
Architects: Balkrishna Doshi and Sönke Hoof

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