The Retreat Hut Project
It has been a long-term wish for Tushita to be able to improve its personal retreat facilities, to provide more supportive and conducive conditions for retreatants wishing to do personal retreat. At present, our main retreat facilities are the highly rustic A-Frame huts in the forest at the back of the property, which were built in the mid-70’s. There are currently 3 of these A-Frame huts.
Finally, this year, the right conditions have come together to be able to initiate the project. We’re now completing the initial planning stage. This has been a fascinating process based on the collaboration of one, extremely kind & hard-working volunteer architect from Germany, Ms Stefanie Hofer and our keen & progressive local architect Mr Manjeet Singh.
Stefanie & Manjeet were animated by the design discussions. These photos were taken admist crucial discussions which took place at Manjeet’s Dharamsala office during Stefanie’s final days here. Their collaboration will continue across the net.
This summer (2011), Stefanie spent 6 weeks at Tushita working on the project. Throughout this time, we were blessed by the collaboration of several local consultants as well as a consultant architect from Delhi and an experienced German builder who have each contributed to the designs in a significant way. It has been extraordinary and heart-warming to witness all the help that has come Tushita’s way. We are also very thankful to a local structural engineer, an 81 year old lady eco-builder/designer, a local building consultant as well as colleagues of our volunteer architect back in Germany.
Delhi Architect Mr Ashish Ganju agreed to be a consultant for the project. Here pictured with his wife and Reiner, the German builder, who happened upon the project at Tushita and was keen to get involved. It was a warm international exchange of ideas and advice.
Some of Tushita’s dedicated teachers & staff were also keen to join in this creative design process and added useful advice from their experience. Glen Svensson was very kind to give us feedback on different aspects of the design at several key stages.
For more than a year before the designs began, it seemed vital to discuss with experienced long-term personal retreatants to get different views on what were the key elements when building a conducive retreat space. All the advice was collated and then the main key points became clear.
One key factor which came through comments such as “maximize the space” / create a “portable-changeable space for each individual” was the importance of the adaptability and spaciousness of the environment. Throughout the design phase, we have focused on the main room of the retreat hut as the heart of the project. This will be the main meditation/retreat practice area, so it is vital that the space supports the practice. Thus, there is room for meditation, prostrations, a moveable desk and optional sleeping area (as there is a second sleeping area available in the gallery above the kitchen/bathroom if preferred).
We were fortunate to receive design advice from 2 long-term practitioners who had been retreatants in our exisiting A-Frames back in the 70s when they were originally built. (You can see pictured above and right, one of the original A-Frames being made).
Concerns about the heating and insulation, lead to recommendations of double-glazing and insulation suggestions. The use of rammed earth has also appealed to us particularly due to its both insulating and cooling qualities.
The Environmental Aspect
A key factor from the recommendations was to keep the new huts “in balance with nature”. To continue in the tradition of the exisiting A-Frames which blend so naturally into the forest environment, we would have to create a new design which also respected the natural area.
We have emphasized from the offset, the use of local, natural materials as much as possible. We have chosen rammed earth for the main room walls and local stone for the others. Local slate will be used for the outer walls. We looked into natural, local fibres for the insulation and the use of coconut fibre has come out best due to its local availability and its resistance to moisture. Plus we are currently researching ways to include individual rainwater harvesting units for each hut.
Elements of Vaastu (the Indian Feng Shui system) have been incorporated to make the design more energetically conducive as a retreat space. As well as the fact that building at Tushita always poses interesting concerns ranging from heavy monsoons to mischevious monkeys which all must be factored in to the design. (NB. Some of the design elements are still under discussion, so there may be further changes to the ideas presented above – August 2011)
The Initial Designs
Keeping in mind those wishing to do long retreat of 6 months, 1 year or more, attention was made to make it a “live-able, breathe-able” retreat hut space. Hence, the balcony and the gallery areas are also multi-functional so retreatants can create a space personal to their needs.
A flexible use of light from the central windows and bamboo shutters on the balcony gives the option of making the hut as private a space as required.
Reflected in the choice of building materials, the emphasis has been on the local material, the natural material the better to create a harmony and support around the retreatant from the physical conditions.
This is Just the Beginning
Our first task will be to rebuild the 3 exisiting huts. Then from the new retreat hut model, further huts will be built around Tushita. Our most precious Guru, Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche said that this is “a very important project for Tushita, so Tushita can become more useful” (March 2010). We are making strong prayers that Tushita will soon be able to provide better retreat conditions for those wishing to come and do personal retreat.