Chief Architect of Auroville, Roger Anger.
His close associate, ANUPAMA KUNDOO recalls his vision for the commune There are few people who manage by their very existence to raise standards. Roger Anger (24.03.1923 – 15.01.2008) will be remembered as a person who set a high benchmark. An exceptional architect, he belonged to the avant-garde trend that was emerging in Paris around the mid-Fifties.
At the age of 45, Roger Anger had already executed over 50 large-scale projects, and significantly contributed to modern architecture in France . A Paris guide to Modern Architecture cites seven of his projects. “Simple in conception but complex in treatment” is how his approach had been summarised in French architectural essays of that time. The most spectacular highlight of his work was L'Ile Verte, Grenoble , then the highest inhabited residential buildings in Europe, and awarded the Brussels Premier Prix International d'Architecture in 1967.
Anger's work integrated elements of modern and abstract ornamental art. Having graduated in 1947 from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he was equally passionate about painting and sculpture. His studio was full of artwork that he continuously churned out in large numbers till his last days. He lately worked with recycled plastic bottles and lids, egg crates, and other ‘waste'. He had said that this was where his research for beauty was being conducted.
In 1966, he was appointed Chief Architect of Auroville. Together with Pierre Braslawski and Mario Heymann he developed a concept for the city. Anger had kick-started the experimental spirit through his earliest projects and on a barren, eroded land, sowed the seeds of architectural experiments and research for years to come.
His early houses and schools demonstrated exemplary innovations at various levels. Architects and aspirants who were absorbed into Anger's office, earlier in Pondicherry and later in Auroville, recall the high concentration of creative energy and collective work in those early days when the excitement of this idealistic project was still fresh.
He produced proposals for other towns: Salem , Kudremukh, and Faridabad . His last project — Matrimandir — a highly complex building that could be practically hand-made, thanks to years of assistance from Jacqueline La Coste, his partner; Piero Cicionesi; and a collective effort of the residents is nearing completion in spite of difficult circumstances. For many, it is natural that such outstanding projects take years to build, but Anger maintained that this was unnecessary, and that a lot of time was being wasted.
Roger Anger, like many visionaries, faced a lot of struggle. Ever since his client, ‘the Mother' passed away, Auroville plunged into a struggle regarding collective organisation and decision-making; and Anger's role and authority was endlessly questioned by those residents who had comfortably settled into an organically growing settlement, originally intended and inaugurated as a planned city.
From 1978 to 1985, he had left Auroville, with a sense of hopelessness and paralysis, but reappeared when conditions seemed more favourable. Sadly, he didn't realise any further architectural project. All his energy was spent on creating conditions for the city to come.
His responsibility was to ensure the urban form of Auroville, and his last efforts revolved around the creation of a suitable governance structure that would promote the development of a city rather than a short-sighted one suited for the day-to-day activities of a handful of people. “I am trying to save what can still be saved,” he had said. Roger Anger was a member of Auroville's Governing Board.
Anger had hoped that the Aurovilians would manage to go beyond internal polarities between developing and remaining nostalgic, and finally unblock the city and an urban life as opposed to widespread decentralised communities.
The aim of architecture was to manifest a high standard of beauty, he said, “Beauty has the power of uplifting the consciousness, spontaneously…”
For me, he has been an intriguingly rare personality who could maintain the widest of vision and simultaneously pay attention to the smallest of details. A refined and heroic being, straight-forward and courageous, who led a disciplined balanced life, and rarely skipped his afternoon game of chess, “its one game, where nothing can occur by chance, you create everything.”
(The writer is an architect who practised in Auroville since 1990 and was closely associated with him. She is presently authoring a book on Roger Anger and is Associate Professor at the Technical University in Berlin .)
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A Tribute by Kireet Joshi
“They want to go to U.S.A. for studying architecture, when the greatest architect of the world is here.”
This was the comment of the Mother in late 60's, when a student of the Ashram Centre of Education wrote to Her that he wanted to go to U.S.A. for studying architecture. “The greatest architect of the world” was the phrase used by the Mother to refer to Roger.
This architect from France had earlier visited Chandigarh; and was disappointed, since the concept, design and architectural pattern of that great city of India did not come up to his own standards of aesthetic taste and sensitivity.
He had spoken of this to the Mother. Hence, when the idea of building up an international township of Auroville began to be conceived by the Mother, a letter was written by Her from the Ashram at Pondicherry to Roger, who was at that time in France , asking him if he would like to build up Auroville as its architect. When Roger answered the letter in the affirmative, the Mother was greatly pleased, and when She wrote to him in appreciation of his positive response, the Mother commented that his response was not a surprise to Her, because She had already known him as the “Man of the Project” (L'Homme de Projet)!
At that time, Roger was already a famous architect in charge of a number of projects. He had already executed over fifty large scale projects, and he was reputed for his significant style which had its own uniqueness and distinctiveness. At the age of forty five, he was a leading figure in the world of modern architecture. The most spectacular highlight of his work was “L'Ile Verte, Grenoble ,” then the highest inhabited residential buildings in Europe .
In the sixties, when the initial work for Auroville had started, I used to see Roger from far as an admirer who had heard of him in glowing terms, but who had no courage to approach him, – such was the awe that he had inspired in me for him. Soon, an occasion arose when my colleague and friend, Tanmaya (Jean Raymond) and I were struggling to find a solution to the problem of expanding the premises of our Centre of Education. During our conversation, Tanmaya suggested that we should discuss the problem with Roger. This was the most welcome suggestion, because this provided to me a ready opportunity to seek an interview with that greatest architect. Tanmaya knew Roger quite well, and he could soon secure an appointment for us to meet him. It was a most refreshing experience, when Tanmaya and I met him at his residence in Pondicherry , not far from our Centre of Education. He was extremely warm, informal and friendly. He was unassuming and he took no time to understand the problem that we wanted to explain to him. Within a few minutes, he gave a solution, - a solution on the lines which had not appeared within the horizons of our thought and imagination. Roger was a great worshipper and creator of beauty; he could never think of patchwork or any clumsy or grotesque expansion or chopping. He suggested a beautiful architectural design of building a marvelous expansion by creating a large basement of extra-ordinary beauty. I asked him innocently, if such an underground structure could be possible. He smiled and said, “Perfectly practicable, perfectly realizable, - perhaps a model with extra-ordinary beauty, which would be a lesson for architects, for students and teachers alike.” I was amazed and thrilled, although we could never execute his idea, since the need for expansion came to be halted, when teachers of the Centre of Education showed their preference for smaller classes and the programme of new admissions came to be greatly diminished. But my first experience of Roger had left a permanent mark, and even now when I think of that experience, I feel a living impact of that freshness, that youthful smile and that spontaneous ease of a genius.
Thereafter, I did not have many occasions to be directly in touch with him. But whenever I met him, I always found in him a genius whom one cannot fathom and yet a friend, in the waters of whose affection one could easily swim. My sphere of work was far removed from Auroville, and although I felt a tremendous admiration and intimacy with the developments of the work relating to Auroville, the only time when I got the opportunity to get interwoven with a major programme of Auroville was, when the Mother assigned to Tanmaya and to me the task of organizing the participation of the youths who were to come to Auroville for depositing token soil from their respective countries in the foundational urn of Auroville on the occasion of the inauguration. The inaugural ceremony was to take place on the 28 th February, 1968 . This task had intimate connection with Roger because he was the living spirit behind the numerous activities that were connected with the gigantic inaugural ceremony.
In my own personal life and in my sadhana, this occasion was momentous. All the arrangements of the youths had to be done in Pondicherry , and it was my responsibility to ensure that all the youths assembled at the right time at our Centre of Education so that they could be transported by buses which were to be furnished by the Sri Aurobindo Society. Roger was to receive the youths at Auroville, and the rest of the ceremony was under the charge of Roger. Thus Roger and I had to synchronize very carefully many aspects of this work. But how greatly I was shocked when the Sri Aurobindo Society informed me late in the evening of the 27 th February that the buses, which the society was to arrange for the transportation of the youths, would not be made available to me, and that I should make arrangements on my own. This was a terrible disabling breach of the promise, and it put me in a gravest state of crisis. This is not the occasion to narrate this incident in detail. But as can be imagined, I would have failed miserably to transport the youth from Pondicherry to Auroville and to hand them over to the charge of Roger at the appointed hour. I almost failed. But I was seeking earnestly some miraculous help from the Mother. I knew no transport agency, and none whom I approached was better in this respect. Something seemed to be helping me to remain very quiet. It was about 1a.m. that I could reach some deep level of being where I heard the Mother telling me, “Go and meet Udar”. I went to the residence of Udar, but it was naturally all closed. It was too late to wake him up at that late hour. At 5a.m. I knocked the door of his residence. Fortunately, Udar, whom the Mother had described as a “man with golden heart”, understood my predicament and promised to help me. The time available to him was so short that it was impossible. And yet, miraculously, he succeeded. At 8a.m. the buses arrived at the gate of the Centre of Education. The time left for me to arrange was extremely short. But I received maximum help from Tanmaya and teachers and students of our Centre of Education. I gave some anxious moments to Roger, since there was considerable delay in transporting the youths to Auroville. Nonetheless, Roger, although extremely anxious, showed no impatience, when he received the youths along with me at the site of the inauguration, and outwardly nobody could detect any external sign of the delay that had occurred. Everything happened punctually, and when the Mother's inaugural message came to be relayed from the Mother's room at Pondicherry, there was perfect calm and serenity and nearly five thousand people who had gathered on that momentous moment of the inauguration got enveloped by vibrant and gentle breeze of ineffable delight of the creative moment. It was Roger who had designed and created the beautiful urn in which the youths were to deposit the token soil of their respective countries and were thus to gather the entire earth in that unifying vessel of the foundation of Auroville. It was Roger who had beautifully designed the pavilions around that vast ground of the inaugural site for all those who had assembled to witness that great moment of the birth of Auroville. The entire organization of the programme, the sequence and the punctuality of every unfolding moment were meticulously executed, and it was evident that Roger manifested palpably and concretely the Divine Mother's power of perfection, - particularly the genius and skill of Mahasaraswati. I cannot forget the smiling and shining face of Roger as it seemed to me floating over the entire movement and scene of the inauguration. Yes, “the Man of the Project” was spread from that Banyan tree (the Centre of Auroville) in all the spreading circumference of Auroville.
“L'Homme de' Projet!” – These words of the Mother for Roger sum up splendidly and gloriously all that was so beautifully packed in that great artist, visionary, sculptor and architect. Auroville, as we all know, is the Dream of God in the process of materialization on this earth. That Dream of God was articulated and firmly established on that 28 th February, 1968 , when the Mother's Charter for Auroville was declared and relayed so that the Ideals of Auroville could echo and reecho in all the corners of the earth. To live in Auroville, the Mother had said, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness. She had spoken of Auroville as a place of unending education and of a youth that never ages. Here was a field where one can afford to have only one allegiance, allegiance to the Truth and Truth alone; and here was a field being created for constant progress through material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of a Human Unity.
To symbolize this aspiration preeminently was the privilege of Roger. The task that the Mother had given him for Auroville remained for decades and decades throughout his life the sovereign occupation. He tried to fulfill that task as an instrument of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Like all adventurers who have striven to participate in a new experiment that has universal dimensions, he had to forge ahead through enormous difficulties, internal and external. How often he used to tell me during the seven years, 2000 – 2007, when I came greatly in close touch with him: “The Mother has given me the task; would you not help me?” Indeed, he had sought help from everyone in Auroville and he had received enormous help from the team of architects and engineers of Auroville, from the organizers of Auroville, from the workers of Auroville, and from rare and capable individuals to whom Matrimandir has been the sole breath of their lives.
From 1964 to15 th January, 2008, - the date on which he left his body, his life was dedicated to Auroville, and his first priority was Matrimandir, which the Mother had described as the soul of Auroville.
The Mother had said that the first task was to accomplish Matrimandir, and that once that is done, she would do the rest.
The Mother wanted that there had to be aspiration from men and women of the world that can rise up to call down the Grace from above. For more than forty years, Matrimandir had been under construction, and the fact that this construction has at last been completed is due to the devoted labour of thousands and, priceless contributions of materials and money, as also unprecedented researches that were required in every nook and corner of the splendid edifice meant for the habitation of the Supreme Mother's Consciousness and Force. Right from the manufacture of the crystal to the manufacture of golden leaves that shine today in the dome of the edifice, incalculable and meticulous care was bestowed on every aspect of the work by hundreds to whom Matrimandir meant a mission. And yet the one factor that gave the form to the Matrimandir, the one factor that guided Matrimandir's overall development, and the one factor that brought about the incarnation of surpassing beauty, majestic grandeur, and immortal glory, - that factor was Roger. Before he left his body, this great genius had accomplished the mission of his life; he has left behind him a glory that will never fade.
Roger's life was a life of great struggle: even those who appreciated him opposed him from time to time, and there were distressing moments of frustrating disappointment. From time to time, he had felt that he was not understood and that his was a voice in wilderness. And yet he was not entirely alone, and there were hundreds who admired him and were ready to collaborate. And there has been Jacqueline, a rare companion who always understood him and stood by him and shared intimately the lot of his battles. I must record my first unforgettable impression of her when I met her in Geneva . I can never forget that divine greeting, as she was taking leave of me on that day in 1985. In that greeting, there was such depth of her entire being in which one could fathom her sense of unconditional reverence for the Divine Mother's Wisdom and Power and Love. That reverence disclosed to me the secret of her entire personality and the secret of her unfailing fidelity and service that she rendered to Roger for the fulfillment of the Divine Task that the Divine Mother had assigned to him.
In this personal tribute to Roger, I should like to narrate that episode which brought me closest to Roger. That was in the year 2001. That was the second year of my Chairmanship of Auroville Foundation. I had come to learn a great deal of the problems that the Matrimandir was confronted with. I had heard praises of Roger. I had heard criticisms of Roger. I was struggling to understand the truth beyond praises and criticisms. The cacophony in Auroville about Matrimandir and about the role of Roger in Matrimandir was so noisy that I was unable to get at that source of information where I could glimpse and understand the real truth that could unlock the great obstruction that was blocking the progression of Matrimandir. I was praying to the Mother to guide me and to help me.
That guidance came to me at an unexpected moment. On 31 st March, 2001 , I was being wheeled to the ICU, just after my heart surgery in the Apollo Hospital at Delhi . I had hardly recovered my consciousness, and as I was being put on the bed, I was just waking up from my deep slumber. Suddenly, I felt greatly gripped by intense pain. I knew that it was not physical pain; I felt that it was the pain that touched the central part of my life and work in which I was involved at that moment. I asked the Mother inwardly: “What is this pain, Mother?” The answer that I received was: “Matrimandir”. And as I looked deeply into that answer, a deep guidance flowed from my inmost being and soul. The Mother was whispering to me: “Follow Roger.” There was immense silence, and there was a deep sense of release, and my pain had vanished.
During the next six months, I followed up the revelation and the guidance that I had received through my inner experience. I critically examined all that I had heard of Roger and all that I had heard about Matrimandir, - praises and criticisms, - in a state of relentless inquiry and self-criticism. I came to the conclusion that what Roger was telling me of the Mother's intention about Matrimandir was true, and the more I read the original statements of the Mother, the more She led me to the right path and to the real understanding of Roger. And I have deep gratification that I could become a channel of facilitating the advancement of the work of Roger regarding Matrimandir, even though I have deep regret that the harmony and unity that I had striven for earnestly could not be attained because the power of resistance to that harmony was too great.
After the expiry of my term of Chairmanship of Auroville Foundation in 2004, I have not been able to return to Auroville, but Roger and Jacqueline repeatedly asked me to be with them and to work with them for Matrimandir, for Matrimandir gardens and for Auroville as a whole. Roger and Jacqueline asked me to write to them what I thought should be the design of the Matrimandir gardens. It was a tall order, but under their loving pressure, I went on scribbling. Whatever I wrote was greatly appreciated by them. My notes are still incomplete. Whenever, however, they spoke to me on the phone, I have felt deeply moved. Roger had spoken to me from France for the last time only a few weeks ago; his voice was choked with deep emotion, when he told me that I should be with him in Auroville.
Yes, I had promised to Roger, and I shall always crave to work with him.
Roger, please accept my gratitude and my love.
Kireet Joshi, 28/1/2008