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Indian Express Article on Didi Contractor

Journalist Shiny Varghese has written a lovely and insightful article for the Indian Express about celebrated earthen architect Didi Contractor, who is Professor Emeritus of Dharmalaya Institute’s Internship in Vernacular Eco-Architecture, having cofounded the internship programme with Mark Moore in 2013.

The story follows Didi from her roots in the US through her move to India in 1951, her work restoring the Udaipur Lake Palace (which brought the limelight to her), and finally her move to Himachal Pradesh, where her interest in earthen architecture flourished.

Dharmalaya Institute’s Cofounding Director Mark Moore was interviewed for the article, and enjoyed a warm conversation with Ms. Varghese when she visited Dharmalaya Institute. In the end, Mark was paraphrased and slightly misquoted (as often happens when journalists take notes by hand), but even though the words presented in the article were not exactly what he said, the basic meaning conveyed is mostly correct.

Didi Contractor and Mark Moore in 2013To clarify for the record, Didi and Mark first met in the 1990s, but it was in 2008 that they began discussing Mark’s vision for the Dharmalaya Institute and Didi generously volunteered to design the main building, and to help train and guide Dharmalaya’s team. They then had several in-depth conversations over a period of weeks (not just ‘a few questions’, as was written in the article). In these probing conversations, Didi sought to gain deep understanding of the kinds of activities that would be taking place at the Institute to be built. She was particularly interested in what those experiences would feel like, so that she could design a space that supported the programmes not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. 

Those conversations culminated in a visit Mark made to Didi at her home, in which he shared with Didi a utlitarian conceptual sketch just to give her a more practical sense of space requirements and to serve as a visual aid for conversation. After Didi had heard all she needed in order to understand the vision for the Institute, she sent Mark home and, as Didi tells the story, she dropped the thoughts from her mind to allow it to rest with a blank canvas, and went to bed. During the night, the design for the building began to take shape in her dreams, and she awoke before dawn to begin sketching what she had seen. Before 6am, she messaged Mark saying, ‘I’ve got it! Come see!’

Mark rushed back to Didi’s house to meet her and was ecstatic to see her sketches, and awestruck by the depth of Didi’s sensitivity that allowed her to connect so deeply with the intentions that Mark and Dharmalaya’s other cofounders had for the Institute. Mark was particularly inspired by the way Didi had envisioned the movement of light through building during different phases of the day, and how that would affect the feeling in the space.

Didi’s first sketch of Dharmalaya Institute’s main buildingIndeed, those who visit Dharmalaya Institute today and pay close attention to light and shadow and the wealth of other subtle details in the building Didi designed are rewarded for their own sensitivity to these nuances.

You can read the Indian Express article here.


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