In 1965, Shree Maa (Blanche Rachel Mirra Alfassa or simply, Mother) the spiritual collaborator of Rishi Aurobindo had presented her sketch depicting the basic concept for the international township of Auroville. It had a basic central segment representing the radiation of thoughts surrounded by 4 other divisions.
In the distant dreams of Mother, Auroville, the international city with no boundaries already existed; it only had to be built as per her parameters and vision to bring about its existence in the modern times where its people would excel utilizing their best of abilities and give rise to a model city which would inspire thoughts.
Roger Anger, the French architect was given the task of planning and converting her ideas into reality. He also took charge to overall develop the plan for the physical development of the city.
The basic plan encompassed the idea of a galaxy in which many tributaries or Lines of Force radiated out from the central region, where today stands the Matrimandir — a place for mediation, splurge of ideas and thoughts or as rightly stated ‘the true soul of Auroville’. Four basic zones, namely the northern or the industrial zone, north-eastern or the cultural zone, southern or south-western or the residential zone and western or the International zone surround the central segment.
Around the city is a verdant, green belt area comprising of farms and forested regions for green work enthusiasts. After several stages of planning, Mother finally accepted the concept and guided the work as long as she lived, inspired architects and allowed them the freedom to bring about their ideas. The most interesting thing about this plan is that nothing is fixed, and everything is flexible and the city is still in the process of building and transforming itself. The plan was endorsed by the government of India and UNESCO.
The concept of the invention of Auroville allowed experimentation with various aspects that are involved in architecture which include, building technology, materials used for building like keet, palm leaf, earth, and casuarina. Other aspects included eco-friendly architecture to suit the natural surroundings and integrating it successfully with the environment, geomancy, geometry, cost effective building materials, the design of spaces worth utilizing, concepts of rainwater harvesting, and methods to bring down energy consumptions among others.
A creative revolution sparked in the city as it showed promise in the fields of applied research in architecture, showing ways in which building material and technology could define a way of living. The Ferro cement technology for interior fittings and roofs, use of compressed earth blocks forbearing load, and earthen flooring to bring down temperatures in a tropical nation like India, have won national design awards and received grants for continuing innovative works.
A special mention of the Auroville Earth Institute is very important which is now working in more than 35 nations to transfer and promote knowledge of earthen architecture. During my days of living in Auroville as a solar engineering intern, I realized how the constructions with earth made the inhabitants feel connected to nature, inculcating the sense of admiration and appreciation of the place in its raw form.
CSEBs or the compressed stabilized earth blocks are manufactured in Auroville which contains 5 percent of cement. Their production uses lesser energy (10.7 times less energy) thus reducing pollution and can be done at the site of construction. The Solar Kitchen, Visitor’s Centre, Vikas community and Pitanga are some of the best examples making use of this technique.
Auroville Earth Institute is now an Asian representative of the UNESCO Chair. With hollow and interlocking CSEBs, earthquake resistant technology has been developed by the body which found vast scale use in Gujarat post the 2001 devastating earthquake, and has received a go-ahead from the Iranian Government.
Another significant building material is bamboo. It has been realized as a natural renewable building material with good tensile strength and has the ability and flexibility to withstand strong winds. It does not heat much and is suitable in a country like India as it does not store heat. A combination of Ferro cement structure and bamboo is highly recommended as it prevents the buildings from collecting heat throughout the day and brings about a reduction of radiation at night as well.
Currently, architects are working with these concepts in and around Pondicherry and Auroville. As the township gains acceptance globally, more budding architects are expected to flock to this place to revive local skills and add their own expertise to expand the township to benefit and bring about improvement in the qualities of lifestyles beyond its boundaries.
Ref book: Auroville Architecture-Towards New Forms for A New Consciousness by Franz Fassbender