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Matrimandir Newsletter

August 2008

 

Replacing the discs: July 7th 2008

Eight men take their stations around one of the large golden discs resting on a wooden platform high above the equator of Matrimandir. On a word from their leader they lift the 200 kg disc into an almost vertical position against the outer skin of the building. It is a moment of intense concentrated effort, with some supporting the disc above their heads while others, positioned higher up, pull the heavy disc into position. The platform on which the men are standing is three meters wide and is bordered by scaffolding pipes at waist height for safety reasons. Far below, several people watch the operation in progress - for it has been some time since we last put up discs on the outside of Matrimandir.

The lifting and mounting of the heavy components of the new stainless steel crane on the top of the building at the beginning of the year had obliged us to remove a vertical section of some 30 discs on the eastern side of the building so that scaffolding could be erected for the lifting. And now that the crane is up and in operation, its first task is to lift up the discs that had been removed from the rib.

The new crane fully extended on top of Matrimandir

 

It is quite magical to watch the crane from the ground as it unfolds from its hidden position on the top of the building. From much of the gardens area the crane is totally invisible when not in use. Then in the space of a few minutes, as the crane rises on its hydraulic legs, one sees first the telescopically collapsed set of its four boom arms which are nestled horizontally one inside the other. As another set of motors is activated, the horizontal arm grows longer and longer extending the booms in the manner of a fishing rod (for those of you who have seen collapsible fishing rods!)

When the arm is fully extended, it stretches out some 23 meters from its central point of support. There is no counterweight on the back end to balance any load the crane may lift. This balancing effort is taken up entirely by the concrete ribs of Matrimandir itself: the crane base has been bolted in a very solid way to the concrete top ring and the massive ribs of the structure by means of 20 heavy bolts passing through holes drilled through these ribs. A thorough engineering analysis of Matrimandir's concrete structure was made, both here and in Germany, to confirm that the building could withstand the stresses that the crane would place on its top ring and ribs while lifting loads of up to half a ton.

During the month of June several trials were made as the crane installation was finalized and the electronic controls and safety mechanisms were installed. We had one setback near the end of June when the site was struck by lightning during a thunderstorm, knocking out some of its sophisticated controls. But now, having installed replacements, we are back in action and the process of refitting the discs has begun.

A large disc is moved to the building to be lifted up

 

The disc fixing team has wheeled over one of the 2.4 m diameter discs from the storage area after giving it at a good cleaning -- the golden tiles look fresh and new in the July sun. The south pillar is being used as the lifting point, for there is no scaffolding in the way there. The crane hook is lowered, one man on the ground with a hand-operated remote guides the operation of the crane. As the hook comes down two men fix the double crane hook to loops on the back of the disc and then take hold of the long guide ropes.

With a last look up to make sure that all is clear, the man in control pushes the up button and the disc floats upwards, its 200 kilos little challenge for the lifting power of the crane. The two men with the ropes hold tight, for it is a windy day and the large sail-like disc begins to sway and swivel as it rises above the sandstone-clad tips of the petals and catches the wind. They are well experienced at this, having controlled the lifting of almost 2,500 discs already, for we have put them on (and taken them off) twice during the last nine years (you may recall that they were removed a few years ago to redo the waterproofing).

When the disc reaches the required height, three-quarters of the way up towards the top of the building, the man on the ground hands over control of the crane to a second operator waiting on the roof with another remote. He is in a better position there to oversee the next phase of the task. His first job is to swing the crane around by 90 degrees to face the eastern pillar of Matrimandir where the team of eight men is now waiting on a platform on the scaffolding to receive and fix the disc. With seemingly no effort, the disc does a one-quarter turn around the building, and then the job of laying it gently down on the high platform begins. The men there lift up their arms to catch hold of the disc and gently guide it to lay flat on the high platform. The crane's job is done for the moment.

The crane lifts the disc and swings it towards the team waiting on the platform

 

Then, with a truly major effort of concentrated action, the team lifts the heavy disc up into place over the fixation bolts. This large disc has nine stainless steel legs about a meter long which have to be fixed to the strong anchorage bolts embedded in the concrete structure. I hold my breath as they struggle to match the position of the first leg with its anchorage. This moment is very precarious, for any relaxation of effort, any slip or wrong movement can result in broken glass tiles, or in the need to put the disc down on the platform again. Sharp commands are given: “Lift a little more, lift together now! “, “OK, fix that leg in position”, “Now quickly, bring another nut, fix this lower leg.” And so it goes, with a practiced flow the team executes the dozen steps needed to secure the disc on the building. I relax and breathe a little easier after the first few legs are fixed, for I am not part of this team, only an observer perched on top of a disc high up on Matrimandir. It is always riveting to watch this intense phase of the disc-fixation process.

 

In the cramped space behind the disc, crowded with the steel legs of neighboring discs, the members of the team push and pull a little more to adjust the level of the remaining disc legs. One man, with his back to the ferrocement outer skin uses one of his legs to push the disc out to get just the right distance. Back and arms and legs work in a well practiced effort to make the needed adjustments.

Arms and even legs are used to push the disc into position

 

With the disc now fixed in place, the team members climb up under cover of the discs to the roof level where they take a look around at the green, hazy horizon and then head back down the stairways to bring up the next disc. In the course of a morning three or four discs will be fixed in placed, and then the scaffolding team has to come up and lower the platform to the next working level, since the discs are being fixed from top to bottom on the eastern rib.

Watching all the steps of this amazing process, one is reminded of the immense efforts that have been put in by so many people over the 37 years of Matrimandir's construction. Virtually all of the men now at work on the discs weren't even born when the construction started. It is a remarkable story, with the sustained energy of almost four decades moving towards the goal of completing the main structure of Matrimandir.

 

Finishing the entrance shield

Lower down on the structure, on the same rib, is another team. The staircase in this eastern rib has been used by the workers as the entry point to the structure for many years, and it is here that the finishing touches have now to be made. The major work being finalized at this level is the placing of the last panels of long golden tiles that make up the “shield” framing the eastern entrance to the building. The shields on the other three entrances are now complete. Final touches are being given to the tile work here: the last specially shaped gold-in-glass tiles have to be measured, fabricated and then glued in place with black silicone. The joints will then be filled with a yellow silicone to give an even finish to the work. This phase is almost over. And when the disc fixation above is done, the scaffolding will be lowered and modified so the large flower disc with its round rose-colored center, marking this entrance through the Mahalakshmi pillar, can be placed above the doorway.

Final touches are given to the golden shield on the underside of the Matrimandir

 

Other works pending for the full completion of the structure

Apart from replacing the discs on the eastern rib and the finishing of the entrance shield there, the remaining works now pending are:

  • installation of the topmost row of discs close to the crane (which will help to further conceal it);
  • replacing the foils on all the ‘porthole' windows in the outer skin with a different colour (this will change the colour of light projected onto the inner translucent skin and will require some research to perfect) ;
  • fixation of a set of 700 aluminum rings around the ‘portholes' of the outer skin to help seal the waterproofing Kemperol layer (this work has just begun and will take a few months for one team to complete);
  • the finalization and installation of the drive systems for the main sliding doors in each of the four entrances;
  • the soundproofing of the Chamber AC system on the north pillar (the south side soundproofing has just been completed with marvelous results); and,
  • the completion of the crane's “gondola” (now under going trials) which will allow two people to be suspended from the crane and to attend to the cleaning of the discs (we will definitely show you a photo of that as soon as the gondola is functional).

Once these few jobs are done we will really be able to say that the structure is complete, though there will always be bolts to tighten and lighting effects to be perfected, not to mention the overall maintenance, a huge and multifaceted job.

And of course, two major adventures still lie ahead: the establishment of the Matrimandir gardens and the creation of the water body that is to surround it all, which means that we will be reporting to you for quite some time to come!

 

 

Address for donations and correspondence:

MATRIMANDIR – AUROVILLE 605 101 – TAMIL NADU – INDIA

Tel: Bookings +91-0413-262-2268, 262-2204; Finance, 262-2228;

Email: matrimandir@auroville.org.in

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