Auroville, a city conceived with a vision to create a universal place placed self-sufficiency and independence as its primary ideals. Dubbed “the city of dawn”, Auroville founded in the 1960’s was envisioned as a sanctuary of peace, harmony and togetherness; to realise the vision of unity of mankind. The town plan is visualised as a vast out-spreading cosmos, an organic spiral spanning outward with a five-kilometre radius. The Matrimandir, the spiritual anchoring point of the city lies at the centre of the plan; with the city divided into functional zones like cultural, industrial, international and residential all surrounded and encompassed with a thick green belt creates a very unique city morphology, unlike any other. The project is dedicated to the promotion of bio-diversity, organic farming, reforestation and sustainable research as a means for development. Keeping these ideals at the core of all their pursuits, the built structures in Auroville use earth as a primary component in the construction of their buildings.
The Auroville Earth Institute created in 1989 has developed a technology for Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB) which uses manual and automatic presses to employ high compression and produce accurate earth blocks which can be used as bricks. Earth, a material available in almost every part of the world; was used as a building material extensively in traditional buildings. But the technique had lost its relevance in 20th century architecture. The Egyptian architect. Hassan Fathy is credited with its revival. The Auroville Earth Institute’s primary objective is to equip people with the skills and means to create and build their habitat themselves, they research, develop and promote earth-based technologies which are energy and cost efficient. They conduct several training courses, workshops etc to achieve the same. The Institute has developed several technologies to advance its vision, the Auram press equipment and the press 3000, two machines designed to manufacture compressed earth bricks are used extensively at the institute and for construction around Auroville; additionally, they are sold worldwide. The machines are compatible with a variety of moulds and form over 70 types of different block profiles. The idea is to minimise the need for steel, concrete and reinforced cement concrete.
There is a plethora of buildings in Auroville constructed with earth blocks.
The Vikas Settlement, a living community in Auroville designed and constructed using CSEB from the foundations to the roof. It comprises of several blocks with apartments which had common facilities to foster community living. The construction was done in stages through 1992 to 1998, the sites for excavations of the soil were pre-planned, the foundations made with stabilised rammed earth. The roofs and floors were made as flat vaults and domes using “free-spanning technique” in CSEB. The architecture of Vikas settlement reflects on the need for community living, with spaces like the common kitchens; the goal is to maximise interaction between its occupants. It also lays an emphasis on the self-sustainability of the overall project; the soil used to make the bricks was the soil from the excavations of the basements on site. Further, to counter against flooding of the basements, percolation pits were incorporated into the sight seamlessly with landscaping to allow for collection of rainwater and prevent run-off. Thus, the overall design incorporates many passive features to achieve a sustainable design and accounts for the smaller details of daily living.
Another defining structure in Auroville, The Visitor’s Centre by the architect Suhasini Ayer. It is a very important building in the city as it elaborates to new visitor’s in the city the mission and vision of Auroville. The site has an information centre and a reception area to apprise visitors about Auroville. It further has an exhibition space which showcases the ideals of the project. The entire project is constructed using ferrocement and earth bricks. An emphasis is placed on the load bearing capacity of arches and domes, which are employed throughout the structure to reduce the need for steel reinforcement. Pre-fab ferrocement blocks were used for elements like doors and overhangs thereby eliminating the need for wood. The design has a contemporary take on the classic elements of domes and arches and places great emphasis on natural light and ventilation.
These are just few of the many buildings which follow an alternate approach to building to create structures which are in sync with the ideology of Auroville.
Today we see less and less of vernacular structures, they are losing their place in the community and being replaced by dummy buildings which are considered “fashionable” and have no basis or essence. These buildings often incorporate elements from various regions and adapt different vernaculars to create a juxtaposed form which alienates the strategy required to maximise the potential of the site. Auroville stands out in such a scenario in trying to define its own architecture, to maximise all the opportunities available and generate an outcome which is sustainable and efficient in the long run.
Asis Kaur, a student of Architecture with an inquisitive outlook, striving to curate her jumble of constant thoughts and ideas of architecture into a succinct composition.