A young Aurovilian describes here, from her
own recent experience, the ins and outs, and ups and downs, of building
a house in Auroville. Although frictions between architect/designer
and constructors are quite universal, in Auroville constructing
a house can throw up many more of these frictions and challenges..
One gets amply confronted with frequent, unexpected unavailability
of materials, sometimes the inexperience of designers or builders,
sudden absence of entire work crews (gone to another job for some
time), price hikes, nation-wide strikes, festival days and so on..
Building a house in Auroville is, therefore, a true test of one's
(assumed) yogic capacities.., to stay 'cool' throughout the entire
procedure is a real feat, as yet rarely achieved..
From Dream to Courage
In June this year, the first inhabitants of
'Courage,' formerly called "Rève" (meaning: dream) moved
into their new apartments.
It all started a long time back. In October
1997, alarmed because of the housing deficit and price explosion,
the first thoughts on a new low-cost housing community started to
take shape. But it was not until two years later that the ideas
had taken concrete form, the then Development Group had approved
and taken official charge of the project and a name for it had been
agreed upon: Rève, meaning Dream, would build 36 'affordable' apartments
including a common infrastructure in the first phase and many more
in a second phase. 'Affordable' implied that costs were to be kept
low, estimated at a maximum of Rs 3.920 per square meter. The apartments
were to be designed to allow, within limits, for individual preferences
and requirements. Per individual, the apartment would have 84 m2
floor space including covered terrace space that could also be used
However, the money for the first phase was slow
to materialise, and finally it was decided to start phase I with
16 apartments. Five apartments were paid in full with the usual
10% overhead for the Housing Fund plus 10% for infrastructure participation;
another four were paid 'at costs plus 10% housing Fund contribution
which went back into the project; and the remaining seven apartments
were subsidised by donations from individuals and the community.
The foundation ceremony took place in September 1999, the building
started two months later.
The beginning was slow but encouraging because
all the future residents were involved in the project. There were
many meetings, talking for hours with the architects, going on site,
exchanging ideas, trying to pass all the information from one end
to the other and listening (often without hearing) to everyone's
opinion on the subject. All the parties agreed: we want to build
a community, not just a settlement! For us, this meant a lot.
We could choose where to put our walls, windows
and cupboards in our 84 square metres. The only imperative was to
organize our space around six pillars. It sounded great ! So we
all paid our part: the full amount, so that it wouldn't be on our
mind later. From a donation received, the Housing service paid for
four youth apartments plus one newcomer unit and the Development
Group for the community infrastructure.
But after a few meetings, we started to realise
that we wouldn't really get what we wanted. There were too many
walls, windows, shelves for the budget! So we had either to cut
down on our requirements or pay more. Most of us were forced into
accepting the first solution. Till then things were still going
ok, but soon a conflict developed between the architects and the
Development Group into which the future residents, inadvertently,
were drawn. This compounded the misunderstandings and a great loss
of time was the consequence. Of course, no one would take responsibility
for the delay , it was always the other's fault. It put a great
damper on our initial enthusiasm. The speed of the construction
on site was chaotic. The building would go very fast for a couple
of weeks and then, for some time, there would be only four or five
workers on site. That was the way it went. When the residents threw
a tantrum, the Development Group would respond, there would be a
small upheaval in the activities but then things would again drag
on as normal.
And then, we moved in, carrying our furniture
through the raw red earth, stepping over the trenches for the telephone
cables, negotiating the mud and discovering each day a new detail
to be fixed, or something which had been badly done or "forgotten."
And we still await the moment that the overhead water tank will
The costs have been kept reasonably well within
the original estimates: Rs 3,600 per square meter without infrastructure,
Rs 6,000 with infrastructure included. That, by itself, is an achievement.
However, design imperfections, some made in collaboration with the
clients (such as kitchens that are open to visiting animals, thieves
and the weather and free standing pillars that have not been concealed
within the walls) will create additional costs in future.
Is this a new story? No, I suspect that it will bring a smile
of understanding to the lips of nearly everyone who has built in
Auroville and gone through a similar process. But don't we learn
from our mistakes ? Apparently not…
We have awakened from our 'Dream.' And we agreed
to call our community Courage, as this attribute of the Mother was
the only one of her twelve attributes that hasn't yet been used
to name a community in Auroville. An appropriate name, as the second
phase of the former Rève project, which is intended to house 60
or 70 people, will start in August 2001. It will consist of three
apartment blocks, each consisting of a ground floor and two more
floors, each consisting of 6 apartments, and will be built at a
greater density than phase I. It will also have a building like
Golconde in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, consisting
of individual rooms and shared bathroom and kitchen facilities.
Courage. We'll surely need it to create
that great new community we all aspire for.
Project: Rève phase I
Project holder: Development Group
Size: 16 apartments
Apartment size: from 30 to 84 m2.
Architect: Brand New Day