One does not search for misery, does not set afoot bound for the depths of hell, or make haste for the dwelling of pain. This sentiment however, befalls upon the advent of my first 3 days of the 10-day course. For 10 days one must live like a monk, saying goodbye to one’s beloved steak and potatoes, 8 o'clock alarm, and warm, insect-free shower. There are only five activities one finds himself performing. In order of time allotted: meditating, sleeping, eating, walking, and cleaning. This overzealous allotment of activities provides for a rigid program, and combined with the dissociation of sexes, makes any architect's gears begin to turn.
There are two main roads, which trisect the site and separate meditation spaces from the residences & dining hall. Between these two roads lie three Dhamma Halls and the pagoda. The main Dhamma Hall is on axis with the pagoda, as the two smaller Dhamma Halls lie aligned, creating a central courtyard. The number of gentlemen to ladies was 3 to 1, thus giving president to the males in occupying the central Dhamma Hall, and leaving Dhamma Hall 3 to the ladies.
The Dhamma Hall itself was in the midst of 3500 sqft. The hall was naturally lit and ventilated by windows at base level, as well as clearstory. Twenty four ceiling fans ran at full blast making it the coolest space at the center, an unexpected luxury for the 48 men who sat on 9 sqft of beaten and mashed, rock hard pillows. The teacher sat aloft on a blanketed chair facing the students, as his assistants sat on the right facing him. This configuration was held upwards of 10 hours a day.
I imagine that when Adam brought Eve back to his bachelor pad, it resembled the living quarters. Quite bare and lowly, the importance rest in the essentials of opposing windows, acceding to the much-needed cross ventilation and window screens. However, these were rendered useless by the 3/4-inch gap at the base of the door and the bug sized vacancy sign in the form of the glowing fluorescent bulb beyond. Homage must be paid to our guardians “the geckos,” which occupied our rooms to rid us of the pesky intruders to which we were sworn to not extirpate.
The pagoda, to which its true meaning must mean oven, is a circular collection of private meditation cells. There are three circumambulating corridors, double loaded, and elevated in height in regards to proximity to the center. The center itself is left open, observant and objective like the mind of the enlightened. Every meditation is to face this center when meditating.
I asked my teacher about the layout of the complex, to which he stated that every meditation center conforms to the same layout and has been so for the history of the center. Also, it must be located outside the city as to avoid such auditory nuisances, but no more such that it becomes inaccessible. And of course, it is to be surrounded by nature, full of flora, trimmed lawns, and shady trees, and contain walking paths for exercise.
And alas, we reach my critique. Firstly, I must address the lack of adequate walking paths. There exists only a football field's length of beaten gravel in which one is to walk from a vine-swallowed fence, to a small sign indicating the boundary for our mortal selves. There is no meandering, no quiet garden nooks, not even a bench to occupy while one ponders his sanity. Secondly, program adjacencies were such that women were bound into their corner of the site, and left exposed to the prodding eyes of hungry men while pacing their 100 yards. Lastly, the dining hall lacked the use of natural day lighting and cross ventilation to which the other structures were accustomed. Perhaps dismembering its rooms would allow for flanking windows.
The center itself is shackled from design to philosophy. It survives solely on donation of students, and as slow as students come, is as slow as the center is built. There are no funds for extravagant feats and costly materials here. Perhaps a Vipassana meditation center in Malibu could collect sufficient monies for a Koolhaas programmatic reinvention.
The pagoda and flanking Dhamma Halls
Complex site plan
Walking path and Dhamma hall
A monk's quarters
The dining hall
An Indo Inquisition is a thirteen-week train expedition across India. The journey will document the influences of international modernism and British occupation, as well as compare the effects of wealth accumulation, culture, religion, and poverty with economic growth and their effect on the built environment.