Jetavan Buddhist Centre


Edmund Sumner

In Buddhist mythology ‘Jetavana’ refers to a sacred grove of trees, where the Buddha gave the majority of his teachings, in Northern India.

Af Nina Tory-Henderson

The aptly named Jetavan Buddhist Centre its own sacred grove of sorts, situated in a densely forested pocket of rural Maharashtra in western India. The site lies on the campus of a sugar factory, and acts as a spiritual and skill-development center for its workers and the surrounding Dalit Baugh Ambedkar Buddhist community, providing spaces for meditation and yoga as well as training and skill development.

A requirement of the brief was that no tree would be removed from the site for the construction of the center. The plan weaves a series of pavilion-like structures through the existing arbor to create a lush grove, as its name implies. Interior and exterior spaces progress into one another with little distinction made between the two: the generous roof canopy shades the exterior pathways, the lifted butterfly roof brings the surrounding forestation inside, and the pavilions enclose two sunken courtyards that act as exterior rooms.

The Jetvana Centre is a bricolage of locally sourced and recycled materials. It has been made with what was on hand, using construction methods that employed existing materials. The load-bearing rammed walls are a composite of basalt stone dust (waste from a quarry 13 kilometers from the site) and fly ash (a by-product of the adjoining sugar factory). The roof truss repurposes the salvaged wood of sea vessels from a ship-breaking yard in Alang, and the Mangalore clay roof tiles are sourced from local demolition sites.

Materials and construction methods were developed in collaboration with sP+a, the local community, and Hunnarshala – an institution based in Bhuj, Gudjarat. Their work centers on the revival of local artisanal knowledge, technologies, and skills, working with communities to develop the capacity to shape their own habitats using their own methods. Through this collaboration, the Jetavan Centre makes the most of both new and old techniques, an assemblage of traditional, modern and developed building processes and materials.

Our approach to the Jetvana project looks to extend the idea of the regional paradigm whilst separating it from the pervasive ‘image’ of what defines the local.
— Sameep Padora, director of sP+a Architects

There is a strong modernist aesthetic in the rectilinear forms of the concrete-looking rammed walls, boasting massive concrete box gutters with an impressive span. Much of the building’s construction, however, relies on local artisan skills. The flooring uses a local traditional technique of compressed mud and cow dung, known for its cooling and antiseptic properties.

Local techniques were used in the roof insulation system, a series of wooden batons covered by jute cloth and dipped in wet clay — a method developed especially for the project.

The design of the Jetavan Centre is practical, crafty and efficient. Almost entirely made from recycled and locally sourced materials, it is highly sustainable. But sP+a’s use of material is much more than ‘green’. The building’s tectonics are imbued with narrative; its materiality and construction tell a story of context, tradition, and history through an embodiment of local knowledge and labor. This story is clearly told through the strong articulation of its structure; each joint reveals exactly how it was made, how it connects one thing to the next. Surfaces are left unfinished and exposed, with nothing clad or concealed. This is not a claim that the building is ‘honest’, but that its design shows an understanding that architecture is inherent with the potential for expression, through engaging with the layered realms of history, material, and knowledge of place.