The city of Auroville represents humanity as a whole, a town providing perpetual education, calm and constant progress, and a youth that is driven by Divine Consciousness. The Mother imagined the city to become a bridge between the future and the past, a barren plateau, filled with opportunities for material and spiritual research that would eventually spring towards imminent realizations. This particular imagery has been steadily led and manifested by many pioneer architects, like Roger Anger, Piero & Gloria, and Poppo Pingel.
Today, I bring to you, the life and works of Architect Poppo Pingel, his philosophies and approaches that helped the city of Auroville prosper.
Poppo Pingel, born in 1942, in Westphalia, Germany, has been working and living in Auroville, since 1970 and is considered one of the Pioneer architects who had the conviction to follow a dream and establish genuine values which have helped the generation of today to nurture and benefit. A specialist in wooden craftsmanship who completed his education from Munster and Aachen, Germany, Poppo Pingel arrived in India as a German Delegate for the inaugural ceremony of Auroville. Also known as the “The City of Dawn,” Auroville consists of a world of its own, a city with the purpose to “realize human unity.” Laid on 28th February 1968, the foundations of this city entailed visions of French-born Mira Alfassa ( The Mother) and India’s great philosopher and yogi, Sri Aurobindo.
Now, it is essential to understand the Idea of Auroville as “The City of Future” and “The city that earth needs” when we talk about Poppo Pingel. The following is because he and other pioneer architects that have fostered the culture, the architecture, and the environment here, have rightfully fulfilled The Mother’s thought of the center as a living embodiment of actual human unity. It is imperative to know what Auroville is and stands to understand the outlook of his creations.
The Narrative Of Auroville:
An urban experiment – the city, is an undertaking to the philosophy of “Evolution of Consciousness.”The Mother envisaged Auroville as a society that would deal with the economy, sociology, culture, and environment while gaining a spiritual connotation to their lives. Every aspect of existence, be it the knowledge of inner peace or the difficulties of judgment that people go through in diverse fields is dealt with an optimistic and distinctive approach here. Architecturally, the aspirations of the city to follow a variant and evocative path was sketched out by The Mother, now known as “The Galaxy Plan.”
The road to advancement and materialization was difficult and slow-paced due to many external factors. But with time, individuals who trickled and settled down here managed to learn the rhythms and ethos of the people residing in the connecting villages. The gradual and organic advancement of the city led to many advantages, architecturally and spiritually, as initially conceived by The Mother.
As the city draws human beings of different nations towards it with a belief of strengthening itself, what does an architect such as Poppo perceive in a place, not governed by singular but rather wholesome forces? How does one manage to merge the initial concept of the city without losing the essence of what they aspire to design?
The Conventions Of Poppo Pingel – His Ideologies And Notions That Drove Him To Create The Auroville Of Today.
A subtle-natured human, architect Poppo Pingel leads a simple, minimalistic life, and has similar advents for his architectural endeavors. As written by Mona Doctor-Pingel in her Auroville Architects Monograph Series, Poppo’s architecture prevails between the plastic and the elemental. He believes that senses and emotions are what stimulates a human being, and his architecture sincerely manifests both – the sensory and the rational. The man believes that designing is a very personal process, and as a person who can shape the world around him, one should allow things to take their own course along the way. In this manner, the architecture one sets to originate and create, evolves according to their capacities and needs, and not the desires. He responds to his designs and the atmosphere around it in a playful, and poetic sense. His buildings consist of a meandering path, inviting an individual to explore and connect to the spirit of the place. His architecture enables the user to get lost in the journey before arriving at the destination.
According to Poppo Pingel, one should have clarity of their ideas with a single brushstroke because that helps in attaining a path of their own, at their own pace. In his own words, “Architecture and art are practical and outspoken, where the aesthetic is developed from the material, and not the other way around.” Form for the sake of form does not excite him, and spaces should be designed concerning the human scale, simultaneously nurturing the senses for a pleasanter experience. Architecture is a means for an infinite experience in this ever-changing world, one that evokes the senses. He provides honesty in structural advancements of his building, to give the spirit space to breathe in its simplistic and holistic terms. According to him, if half of the above is achieved, then the beauty shall come by itself, spreading serenity and well-being for the users. This is the path he chose to set along while building in Auroville.
Quiet Healing Centre – Architecture That Invites The Unknown In.
For Poppo, architecture is both planned and unplanned, an idea already in mind to manifest, or just a visualization that progresses and builds itself with time. Quiet Healing Centre is an exemplary paradigm, an evolution of a process. The center occupies a seven-acre beachfront compound, offering wide assortments of natural healing therapies amongst the serene natural surroundings of Auroville. The Mother occasionally visited the site during the early days, which was previously owned by a family with ties to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and cherished the tranquillity and deep silences of the field. Due to the same, she gave the site the name, Quiet, and presented her ideas of building a space where people suffering from the stress of their daily lives may come to heal and rejuvenate. Some years after the demise of The Mother, one of her former secretaries, bent to turn her vision into reality, started the construction, and the Quiet Healing Centre opened in February 1997.
The site lies on the banks of the Bay of Bengal, proving to be an advantage for a healing space. The thick vegetation of palm and local shrubs cover the entrance of the site, abutting the sea. Poppo explores the psychological impact here by providing a recessed gateway, a path to wander upon for the user. With the provision of landscaped courtyards integrated with rock gardens, the built-form obtains an unparalleled sense of open-ness – acting as pocketed healing grounds for individuals.
The use of natural light into the domed therapy/consultation rooms and building with local brick, lime mortar, and bio concrete represents his philosophy of building with harmony in nature. The space for hydrotherapy is an organic- free-flowing layout, that connects all the consultation rooms with landscaped pathways, employed with geometry to precisely determine scale and proportions. To reduce the use of concrete, the architect has used pre-cast rings to mount the vistas, enhancing the architectural detailing-uniquely.
The architecture of the Quiet Healing Centre augments the user’s five senses because of the integration of architectural detailing with the site surroundings and climate of the region. Using huge windows on the east façade, both circular and rectangular provides astonishing views of the beach, decreasing the radiation in the interiors, and simultaneously adding a wave of peace and calm to the ambiance.
Poppo Pingel not only shaped the thoughts of The Mother in his own subtle, primitive, and surprising manner but also built a space that helps a common man revitalize and resonate on their well-being. The buildings are designed to interconnect the exterior and interior in a symbiotic relationship, emulating the elements and his self within. His other works in Auroville include various workshops and guest houses, Udavi School (1993), Experimental Village Houses with Rammed Earth (1970-1979), Afsanah Guesthouse, etc. Being from a traditional carpentry background changed his entire outlook while building, which resulted in a harmonious composition of building materials, structure, and geometry with the natural environment.
As The Mother’s image of the city of Auroville as a place that exquisitely reflects upon numerous aspects like health, well-being, economy, social dimensions, the environment, etc., Poppo Pingel believed to mold the architecture of the city with similar amplitudes. The synthesis of these prospects helped him bring out timelessness where the mundane and the ornamented lose their distinct separateness, to become one.
- Mona Doctor-Pingel, Auroville Architects Monograph Series – Poppo Pingel, Foreword by Balakrishnan Doshi, Mapin Publishing, 2012.
- About Auroville, www.auroville.org. (https://www.auroville.org/)