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Report from the International Zone Group, December 2006

A development concept


Summary of the work done by the International Zone Group (autumn and winter 2005 and in 2006)

 

For the past three and a half years, the International Zone (IZ) Group has a regularly functioning office in the Unity Pavilion where it holds its weekly meetings. The main purpose of the IZ group during the past 4 years has been to prepare the ground and conditions for the pavilions and other upcoming projects. For this we have been working in two main directions. One is researching and understanding the role and purpose of the IZ and clarifying the main ideas that are relevant for the pavilions and the International Zone as a whole. A number of workshops were organised where these main ideas were addressed. As a result of this research a number of compilations were prepared from the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. A new brochure on the International Zone was published recently by Auroville Press with the financial support of the Government of India through SAIIER. The brochure is meant mainly for people from outside and those who are new to the ideas of the International Zone. Another direction of the work has been the planning and development of the Zone. Two members of the group have been APDC representatives for three years. All the building applications from various projects and new buildings in the Zone were discussed and studied by the Group prior to the approval of the APDC. A database was created and is being regularly maintained. Planning work for the IZ had gone though different phases and attempts. The latest developments in the field of planning are described below.


Recent developments

 

New energy to develop the International Zone came in with the Italian Pavilion having a donor willing to sponsor the building of the Italian Pavilion. In autumn 2005 he agreed to a time frame of one year to do the actual construction of the building. The preparations included, besides allocation of a site and making the building plans, a general agreement of the layout for the International Zone. With the Russian pavilion group being in a similar situation – means and energy are there to start with the planning and building of a Russian pavilion – we felt that in order to move forward some basic agreements needed to be there. The first agreement to reach was on the grouping of the national Pavilions.

 

In the past, research had been done (based on Sri Aurobindo's and Mother's works) and many discussions, including what in today's world context might be appropriate, took place on this subject. Although there are people who do see other solutions to this question, we in the International Zone Group concluded that the idea of Continental groupings is most adequate. Also, in a joint meeting with some European Pavilion Groups in Auroville, we agreed in principle to Helmut's development model for the European grouping, which has at its core a focal point (plaza or shared area) from which buildings would develop.

 

Together with members from the pavilion groups a letter was drafted to Roger, asking him to endorse this approach. In answer, Roger and Aurofuture invited a delegation of the International Zone Group and the Italian Pavilion Group to a meeting. From the IZ Group, Helmut, Ruslan, Aster and Ingo were present at that meeting. Roger did not respond to our request for an endorsement. The outcome of the discussion that took place at the meeting was a Plan of Action with deadlines to each of the agreed upon points to follow. According to the plan of action Roger was going to work out an integrative plan/layout of the Zone, having in his hands the proposals of Helmut and Peter. As a next step, Helmut and Pino were to make a detailed plan for the European Zone. At the meeting itself all parties agreed to the proposed process. A few days later Helmut wrote that his commitment to the plan of action will depend on the new plan and “as well as on the outcome of an examination of Roger's proposal by the people concerned within the International Zone Group.” The Plan of Action was supposed to speed up planning and let those pavilions that are ready (Italian and Russian) start with construction work soon (the plan of action is available on request).

 

On January 24 th, the International Zone Group together with some individuals from AVI and the Pavilion groups were invited to a meeting with Roger and some Aurofuture members where the outcome of Roger's effort was presented. The new plan has at its base Roger's original plan for the International Zone made in the 90s. It incorporates some features from the other proposals: for example, it foresees a European complex with a kind of plaza. In the new plan the European area is located behind the Tibetan pavilion which collides with the site given to the Americans for developing their pavilion. The new plan, particularly distribution of areas for different continents, ignored the fact that the US pavilion (its Student's Dormitory) had been partly built.

 

The next steps indicated in the Plan of Action never took place. The main reason was Helmut's disagreement with the new plan. Helmut withdrew from IZ group work after that for some time. The IZ group in its turn discussed the plan and wrote a letter to Roger, Aurofuture and APDC. The letter states that the overall plan/layout is acceptable in principle, but that certain areas affected by the plan would require detailed studies and discussion in order to find agreeable solutions. These areas are namely: US student's dormitory; environmentally sensitive areas along the canyons and the risk of underground water pollution; the situation with the extension of Kottakarai village (Bharatipuram) into the Zone. It was also stated in the letter that common infrastructure and landscaping should be developed collectively by pavilions which would share the cost of this work. Consequently, a meeting dedicated to the situation with US Pavilion and its student's dormitory took place. Present at that meeting were the IZ Group, the US pavilion group, Roger and members of Aurofuture, some AVI members from USA and other countries. Some proposals were made and possible solutions suggested. The process is continuing (a document that describes the process that took place in relation to the US pavilion is available on request since it is a three page document).

 

In April 2006, a public presentation of the new plan with the given urban parameters was organised by the IZ Group. Pavilion group representatives and all interested were invited. Later on, in order to gather feedback from a wider circle we circulated a questionnaire to the pavilion groups in Auroville and abroad in June this year. Some Pavilion groups have responded and a number of points were expressed (summary of the responses and minutes of the meeting that took place in April are available on request). All in all, based on the meeting outcome and the questionnaire we can say that some Pavilion Groups see no difficulty in following the new plan if it can open up the development, and others (mainly those from outside of Auroville) disagree with some features/urban parameters like the specific forms for each of the continents; or in one case reject the new plan entirely.

 

The IZ group requested the APDC to discuss the new plan of Roger and give a feedback, but for various reasons the APDC hasn't done so. Presently the APDC and Auroville planning in general is in a crisis, but there is an attempt in process to create a new planning and development body in order to bridge and harmonise opposing views and groups related to the planning. It is obvious that the overall Auroville planning situation affects the work of the IZ group. We hope that once a new planning body will emerge all the pending planning issues of the International Zone will be addressed jointly.

 

African Pavilion: Last year, following the visit of two students and a professor from the University of Addis Ababa , some work was done on the African sector of the Zone by the planning and architecture department of the Addis Ababa University . Brook Teklehaimanot, who has just graduated with a thesis on the African area, arrived a few weeks ago in Auroville. He is one of seven in his class who have been working on this project. As the most successful, he was selected by Prof. Ashenafi and his team to travel to Auroville in order to present his own work and the work of his classmates. A public presentation was organized where Brook presented the result of this work.

 

Recently the German Pavilion group has expressed a strong intention to start with the construction of the first phase of their pavilion joining the Italian and Russian groups. We hope that the European area of the zone will start developing soon. We feel that everything possible should be done in order to give a chance to the Italian, Russian and German pavilion groups to start construction. For this, some ground work will have to be done in terms of infrastructure, in particular in the European part of the Zone. And of course an agreement to the overall layout/plan for the Zone would need to be arrived at so that a detailed master plan could follow. In order to progress in this direction an office space for planning work was prepared in the Unity Pavilion. As soon as possible we would like to be able for planners and developers to join us and take up the job.

 

In brief – some activities of pavilion groups and other projects in the Zone

During the last year a number of activities have taken place in the Unity Pavilion locality: workshops, slide projections, tea gatherings and youth programs. Some pavilion groups are searching how best to represent the culture of their nations and its soul. There is an effort to organise activities related to the specific pavilions: exhibitions/seminars/discussions or cultural programs. The French Pavilion group is organizing every month at least one event in the Indian Pavilion - Bharat Nivas with its Center of Indian Studies, Tamil Heritage Centre and Kala Kendra received a number of important guest artists, hosted many events, concerts and lectures. Important personalities, educationists and students have visited, contributed and gone away with positive experiences. Efforts are being made to prepare the eventual emergence of various Pavilions.

Savitri Bhavan has developed over the years many different regular classes and programmes. It also hosts talks and art exhibitions besides regularly displaying Huta's paintings on Savitri. During last year an entrance hall with office got added and presently more of its facilities are under construction. This was made possible largely through the financial support of a GoI grant.

The Visitors Centre continues its dedicated work in welcoming visitors to Auroville and in particular to Matrimandir. A new reception cum exhibition hall has been added, also funded by the GoI programme. The boutique spaces have been expanded. You can now also find Kalki there together with a large outlet for food products made in Auroville.

 

For more detailed information, please write to: international_zone@auroville.org.in

 

Members of the IZ Group that were a part of the group last year on a more or less regular basis: Aster, Tapas (Bharat Nivas), Ingo (Swiss pav.), Helmut (architect), Kathy (AVI representative), David, Nadia and Ing-Marie (US pav.), Shivaya (secretary and also Swiss pav.), Oleg, Katya and Vlad (Russian pav.), Peter A. (architect, German pav.), Ruslan Y. (coordinator and Kazakhstan pav.), Sergei (coordinator and Russian pav.), Elizabeth (new secretary), Tekeste (African pav.), Tine (former AVI rep.), Ramnarayan.

Some AVI members joined the group while in Auroville.

 

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