An architect’s paradise, Auroville is the pristine abode to some amazing architecture and spirituality. One of the finest attractions of the place is the Matrimandir and its 12 gardens along with many vernacular structures and forms. With his extensive contribution to the design process of the mandir, Paolo Tommasi became a front-runner in the overall development of Auroville henceforth. From being a visitor to shifting his base and dedicating his life to this small and beautiful township, his journey is worth reminiscing.
Paolo arrived in South India in his mid-thirties being a painter and architect in Europe and found his calling at Auroville in the presence of ‘The Mother’ Mirra Alfassa, the founder of the town. He assisted Roger Anger, a French architect in the designing of the mandir, and proposed elaborate designs for the 12 gardens surrounding it. Adamant on creating this magnificent cosmic ball, he convinced the Mother and along with Roger Anger created drawings for its construction.
This was during the 1970s and the space-framing of the ball was almost complete by 1987. The frame was constructed using hundreds of precast concrete beams joined in nodes cast in situ, in the shape of a sphere, which was extraordinary during that time. Paolo and Roger had proposed two different options for the exterior skin and the people of Auroville went ahead with Roger’s golden disks proposal as we see it today.
A dodecagonal plan with a conical roof inside a sphere! Surely sounds like a unique masterpiece.
Paolo then worked towards creating exquisite interiors with the help of another architect. The inner chambers that are used for meditation and chanting are located in the upper hemisphere of the mandir, with its floor located at the widest point of the shell. The chamber is dodecagonal in plan I.e a twelve-sided polygon with a conical roof. For its materials, Paolo used marble in the walls and white carpet on the floor. Spiral ramps provide access to the spiritual and peaceful chamber.
The focal point of the chamber is the crystal globe which is placed in the center and a device called the ‘heliostat’ has been designed to direct the sunlight onto the sphere. The heliostat is a device that consists of a plane mirror that keeps turning as per the earth’s rotation to project the sun rays in the desired direction or location. When the sun is not shining, artificial lighting is projected on the device to simulate the effect of natural light. This is the only source of illumination in the chamber and no external lights are used.
Paolo’s next creations- The 12 gardens surrounding the Matrimandir. A series of intricate paintings were developed by Paolo to express his vision of the gardens that were to engulf the mandir. He felt extremely inspired during this period and took two years to create them, large photos of which are displayed at the Auroville archives.
His earlier works also include an installation that was part of an exhibition under a Banyan tree at Auroville. The exhibition held during Auroville’s Inauguration Ceremony on 28th February showcased his vision for the ceremony including the tree and festivities around. Along with being an architect, he was an ace painter and a creative head.
Paolo traveled to and fro from abroad and later shifted permanently to Puducherry. He said, “In no other place do I feel my soul reawaken and do I achieve that inner work that gives meaning to my life: becoming more aware of myself and the mystery that surrounds us.” In his Pondy house, he would paint striking images that were even published in the book ‘Immagini sull’ Invisibile’ – ‘Images on the Invisible’ and exhibited in Savitri Bhavan in 2016. Unfortunately, he lost his life to the novel coronavirus in July, at the age of 92.
Paolo Tommasi has been a front runner in shaping up the intricacies and essence of Auroville and especially the Matrimandir. Dedicating the crucial time of his life to the architecture, culture, and people of South India, his work is still remembered today and is praise-worthy. With an exponentially creative mind, he developed the township and as architects, we should be thankful for the exemplary Matrimandir that we can proudly call ours!