Founded in the year 1968, Auroville near Pondicherry in South of India is an international township recognized by the Government of India under special Act of the Parliament passed in 1988. Out of necessity in the first years and later out of a growing awareness for the environment, building construction in Auroville lays emphasis on sustainability. In fact, right from its inception, the residents have experimented with natural materials and construction processes for building eco-sensitive built forms.
Auroville conceived for 50,000 inhabitants from around the world is located on a low lying plateau on the south east coast of India, some 10km north of Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. At the centre stands the Matri-mandir, a place for individual meditation and spiritual concentration. Radiating from this90ft high, gold disc-clad sphere are four zones, the industrial (North), the cultural (Northeast), the residential (South & Southwest) and the international (West). Each zone focuses on an important aspect of the township life. Surrounding the city area is the green belt consisting of forested areas, farms and sanctuaries.
Auroville Master Plan is in the form of a circle of 2.5 km radius encompassing 20sqkm with
Its development inextricably intertwined with the surrounding villages. Most of the land is generally of poor quality for agriculture and the entire area was identified as a backward area back in the ‘60s. There are a number of village settlements located within and in close proximity to the township. Thus, its development is closely linked with the development of the surrounding villages. The improvement models evolved in Auroville township, be it plantation, regeneration of land, water harvesting, education, building technology, etc., are benefitting the entire region.
It is not a city based on a fixed ideology, geographical, economic, political or religious factor, but is a city that aims to be a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. The activities of the inhabitants are multifarious including afforestation, organic farming, medium and small scale businesses, education, building construction and other services. The architecture of the place too is the reflection of its society and has a symbiotic relationship with the landscape.
Architecture & Building construction
In the first decade, the city adopted the vernacular building materials of casurina, keet, palm leaf and thatch. The builders took these materials of construction to high forms of self-expression and imagination, and worked in close interaction with the local artisans.
The creative freedom of the 70’s and the early 80’s in experimenting with building materials, technology, design and life-styles resulted in present day serious applied research offering advances in ferro-cement technology for roofs and interior fittings as well as compressed earth blocks for load bearing structures.
Not having pre-defined by-laws or being bound by the conventions of human society has allowed a multitude of expressions to manifest in Auroville´s development. The architecture here, in its multiplicity of styles and typologies is an expression of its core values and reflect the socio-economic, cultural, ideological, ecological and climatic factors of the location.
Technology plays an important role in the pursuit for sustainable living. The word generally misconstrued as advanced engineering and materials is also learning from the past, using the basic materials in a most innovative ways and building structures that are user friendly and sustainable in the long run rather than being iconic buildings with no relevance to its context, natural surroundings and the user. Several research institutes at Auroville are working on innovative processes by modifying and integrating new and existing technologies. More than 40 architects are working in Auroville and there is no competition as everyone who comes here finds work, big or small. The focus for every designer here is to learn something new, test new concepts and create sustainable buildings rather than count the number of projects. Many research projects, design processes, and infrastructural developments are initiated in response to sustainability challenges. Aurovillians create their own context and constraints guided by the personal leanings. The client is not just the paymaster, the architect not just a supervisor and the craftsmen are not reduced to laborers. Each is a respected part of the building process working closely to experiment and develop details with local materials and new techniques.
-Ar. Shivani Varma
IVS School of Design