Interview with Benedetta Tagliabue, the architect of the Dzamling Gar project
February 2015, Dzamling Gar
The Mirror: We would like to ask for a general update about Dzamling Gar.
Benedetta Tagliabue: The update is difficult for me to remember since we are going so much from one thing to another that we do not realize really what is different from one year to the other. That is why photos are very important.
This year mainly we had to finish the swimming pool, which was kind of late because there were some difficulties with the builder and we had some delay in that, but now it is ready. We aimed to have it ready for the Mandarava retreat, and maybe today or tomorrow it will be possible to use it! After we clean it the swimming pool will be ready! The only point is that it is cold. So the next stage is to heat it; now it is between a swimming pool for someone who is very brave and a decorative lake; but we felt it was important to have it done for this retreat.
We are going ahead with the houses. Last year we did a lot of workshops with Saviana on how to make the houses healthier and less hot in the summer. We had many possibilities and we are trying to understand which solutions are most feasible. Some of them were really not possible, for example, covering the exterior of the houses with some kind of cork material, and then painting on the top; this would have changed too much the aspect of the houses and the climate difference would not be worth it, so we decided to leave the houses with the exterior as they are and not make a very expensive and big visual change on the exteriors.
Instead we are developing the pergolas. Rinpoche’s house has the same structure, but we could not make a pergola there because of his swimming pool. All the other houses will have them and they are very important to reduce the sun inside. These houses were not designed for this climate.
In these days, Giovanni Boni is taking people on tours of the houses and he is proposing to the Gars a couple of different options in case they prefer one thing or another in building, for example, building a little piece of wall in front of the lower part of the window allowing for less heat to get in and then there is also the possibility to incline the pergola so the heat will not be so terrible. Making these little alterations the exteriors look nice and it is better because there will be wood and the use of natural materials on the outside. In the inside, each Gar will decide more or less what they want to do. I say more or less because there is not so much you can do, not so many options.
Mirror: So the outsides will be all pretty much the same? They will all have the same pergolas?
BT: This is the idea. I think it is best. Of course in the end some differences will happen and already some of the houses are different from the beginning. I think it is better to have this kind of uniform look. We think the change will be coming more from the gardens and we have been so lucky to have Alix de Fermor doing these fantastic gardens. Last year Saviana and Will were helping in order to make everything more natural, and the physical work on the flowers and plants is really visible. I think this is what will make the big difference. I don’t know if the architecture of the houses could have been better or not, but this is what we found, and with fantastic flowers and a comfortable place, I think this will be very important. In the end everything will be beautiful!
M: Has the exterior work on the houses been delayed?
BT: It is not so easy. We have many houses and there has been a delay in the understanding of the Gars about whom will be the users, etc., and as clients they have to pay; there was some confusion about all this so it caused some delay. The Gars were asking for a lot of clarification before sending the money, so this slowed things down. Also we do not have so many people working and there are many things to do. I think it would have been a little optimistic to think that everything would be finished this year.
M: You mentioned the other day that according to the project planning there we have too many cubic meters of buildings here.
BT: Yes this was one of the biggest problems we faced this year actually, as architects, we always had a kind of problematic situation regarding permissions. This is a very big plot and in principle a normal client should finish the plot and inhabit it. But in this case we have the possibility, given by the authority, to inhabit the plot before the rest of the work is finished. To do that we had to do phases, and then they gave permission for phases, but then when they had to give permission for phase two they said, “Oh, before starting phase two you need to have the right permission for phase one and we need this and this and this and this.” They changed the parameters a little.
Also we have to say we had thirteen houses built already, and we don’t know if these thirteen houses were built with permission or not, probably they were not. So we are trying to find solutions together with the authorities and our solution was not to destroy the houses, as the city was asking, but to transform the big center of the Gar to be underneath the earth, like this place* [*Jyagyip, where we sat for the interview, Ed]. This is not a bad idea because in a way we think inside the center there will be a kind of spa with activities for health and treatments and we think the climate underneath the earth is much better because it is more temperate. So we thought we could manage with this solution, then we had to change the project in order to do that. And once we have the space under the earth to include the extra square meters, the two houses that exceed the square meter requirement will not be problematic and will not have to be demolished. We certainly can use them!
M: It will not be too humid under the earth?
BT: No because we will bring in the earth and the earth will be artificially placed and the structure will not be totally closed and there will be skylights, etc. It can also be beautiful. The main decision on the big structure, the Gonpa, is that it will be elevated. This will also give us the possibility to have more space. We are bringing the earth. You will be able to see the sea from the Gonpa, so we imagine that will be the best view because it will be very high up.
M: Compared to last year, perhaps the project is becoming a little clearer, about how the upper or the last phase of the project will be, which includes the Gonpa and maybe the health center.
BT: Exactly, it is becoming a little clearer in respect to square meters and also in how to reuse or reduce the existing structures, which is very complicated. It is still quite open in regards to the real function or real use of the space, because we are still not very clear as to how we will use it. Also I am starting to doubt if the Gonpa we have designed which is very, very big will be enough. Now we see the dances inside this big tent and the tent is too small. The Gonpa is a little bigger than the tent, but we have to be careful with the pillars and the structure; maybe we need to make it a little bigger and also now we have gained a big terrace next to it so probably we will have to make a structure which can be opened towards the terrace; so parts of the terrace can be included in the Gonpa like at Merigar [West]. Here it will be on one flat, big surface, so this is the big change in the concept. And now we really have to make the plans of the structure and I think we have to develop much more in terms of the shape of the big building and how it will really look.
Also there is another idea but it might not be very easy to realize; last year we did very nice workshops mainly relating to the gardens, to the swimming pool, how to clean the pool naturally and maybe it will not be accepted but we have the base in for the plants which clean the water, and when the swimming pool is approved maybe we can decide to use it inside the pool in a natural way.
M: Do you have anything else to add?
BT: Last year we did these workshops with the garden and the swimming pool, many with Saviana who was working with permaculture type of architecture, which was also very new to me and is fantastic, and we had also bio architects looking at the possibilities of how to make this place healthier. I was thinking for next year if I am able, I would like to organize a kind of architectural workshop on the land so that maybe a group of young architects led by other good teachers, architects, could come on the land (this we will have to ask Rinpoche if he would like this) and maybe do small types of structures. For example, around the swimming pool, benches or shades or things for the fans or these types of things which are kinds of pavilions. This is a possibility because in Europe and other places they do these kinds of festivals. One very nice one we participated in was called Hello Wood, where they called groups of students and teachers and they produced something like ten or twelve wooden pavilions, and in this case they were in the woods and some were very spectacular and beautiful. They make photos and maybe even they throw them away! But here we could do something like that and the pieces could stay. We are a pretty big organization and if Rinpoche likes the idea, maybe we can try and organize something like that. So at the same time we can have pieces from different architects and different styles. Also it will bring people in to have contact with the Community, which already happened with Saviana’s workshops in the past.
Before at Dzamling Gar, we had a kind of competition with the theme of a kind of health center and we did not insist very much because it was at the very beginning, and a lot of students did a lot of entries – we had something like eighty entries – for brainstorming about plans for this place, and it was a competition, with a winner and everything.
M: Do you have anything you would like to say to the Gars and Communities around the world about the future of Dzamling Gar?
BT: I am very impressed by how the Master considers Dzamling Gar so fundamental and so important; so I think it is important to come, for all the Gars to participate and put their personalities in the houses, because this is the will of the Master. The Master decided that each Gar has to take care of one of the houses. So there will be individuality and each one will give ideas on how to use the space and how to manage. I suppose in the end we will all manage together, because it is very difficult to do everything individually. But I think it is very important to start, to come here, and to start to have a place, because if the Master has this in his mind it means it is really very important. So we are doing a little bit the exterior, helping, but then everyone must participate.
M: Benedetta, thank you very much for your time.