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I m p r e s s i o n

An over-the-shoulder look at Auroville's architecture

 

The beginning

Some time in the year 1967, the plan that is popularly known as the Galaxy plan came to be accepted by the people concerned as representing the concept of the city of Auroville. This plan was very appealing to the visual senses and gave a marketable symbolism to the new ideal city. At the same time there was the parallel reality that was stubborn in its aridness, lack of infrastructure, trees, capital and willing competent architects and builders.

First years

The years 1968-80 saw a pragmatic approach to development and architecture in Auroville, during which limited manpower and capital was imaginatively used with local materials and techniques by the Aurovilians to house themselves. Roger Anger (the chief architect) meanwhile had started to work on developing the area along the Coromandel Coast to establish the Auromodele settlement.

As the name implies, this settlement was to be a model for the city of Auroville, with a projected population of 3,000 people. There was a cluster of houses and a couple of educational buildings in the Aspiration area that were built.

Self-built structures

These buildings were in direct contrast to the minimal vernacular of the self-built structures generally used at the time. The latter were curvilinear and earth-hugging, and they changed the popular mindset of what built space should look or feel like. The spaces within these houses and schools were also curved both in plan and volume, so the apertures were more than windows to look out of or to ventilate the space inside; they became something to look at in their own right.

The seventies

The decade of the '70s saw a lot of structures coming up imitating this style in houses and community spaces, as in the settlement of Djaima. Of course there were architects who were designing clusters of residential and non-residential buildings which were in styles that evoked a temperate clime setting, like in the settlement of Certitude. The industrial architecture of Fraternity was a full-fledged play in the use of asbestos for roofing, walling and openings. While the official planning and architecture office of 'l'Avenir d'Auroville' (presently 'Auroville's Future') was designing and model-making for a series of projects that were hopefully going to be built in Auromodele or in the city area of Auroville, the residents were struggling with the pressing reality of evolving survival techniques.

Sustainable practices

The pace of development was marginal in the decade of the '70s and the mid '80s, during which the public buildings of Matrimandir and Bharat Nivas were commenced as acts of faith. The trend changed some time in the mid '80s, when development picked up with a reversal of Auroville's fortune. With the post energy-crisis awareness there was a trend towards more sustainable practices in architecture in terms of materials used, implementation of designs that were more climate conscious, and incorporation of recycling and renewable energy
systems.

Local materials

From self-built houses in earth and ferrocement to public buildings, projects like the Visitors' Centre, Vikas community, Solar Kitchen and the Kindergarten school were done by various architects through the Auroville Building Centre. Many architects now systematically began to experiment with vernacular materials, styles and spaces - as in the settlements Petite Ferme, Yantra and Samasti.

New language

We seem to have come full circle at the end of the millennium, with both the architects and the users having this uneasy feeling that it is not enough to be just sustainable, or worshippers of pure architecture, no matter how convincing the style.

Auroville has now to come up with a language of architecture and development that will reflect the uniqueness of this experiment without losing the sense of rootedness to the plateau of land on which Auroville is sighted. There is an urgent need to explore options that can give a free rein to our imagination within the carrying capacity of this bio-region.

 

Contact: suhasini@auroville.org.in

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