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Latest revision as of 09:21, 15 February 2020

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Meet the architect

=1 interviews the architect of Auroville, Roger Anger.


=1: Auroville may be said to be the progressive manifestation of the vision of a great psychologist and sociologist, Sri Aurobindo. That manifestation is thrust forward by the Mother's realising power and shaped by the technique and arts of our time. As you, Roger Anger, are the originator of Auroville's architectural conception, we should first like to know you better: what was your activity up to now? ... What creative principles do you follow?

Roger Anger: Very kind of you to ask, but such questions are relatively unimportant: what I will be as Auroville's architect will certainly differ a great extent from what I have been up to now. If, at present, the responsibility of Auroville rests on me, my strong intention is to open the doors widely to other architects. In France, a group has already been formed and is at work on the project. The universal nature of Auroville calls for the meeting of different trends of architectural creation in order that the city may become a true planetary achievement.

Well, if I must... about myself... like any French architect I studied at the Beaux Arts. Very soon I had the opportunity to build a good number of spectacular projects. In France I am considered as belonging, not to a revolutionary, but to an ‘avant garde’ architectural trend. At the beginning of my career, I was very much concerned with the renewal of shape, with an architecture very strongly centered around the study of space. For a certain number of years now I have been led to devote myself to an architecture concerned with man viewed as a social being and to conceive a kind of architecture with which man would actually be merged. The group of architects I am working with is studying pan-social architectural forms. They constitute a preview of the flexible type of architecture necessary for Auroville's first modules and could meet the dynamic imperatives of its construction through the years. Inevitably, I became more and more interested in the principles of urbanism and have utilized them for Auroville's successive layouts and, even more so, in the latest model of the town.

Would you agree with =1's opinion that the first object of a town is to facilitate the meeting of man with man?

Obviously yes. Just as obviously, it has been forgotten in the recent past. It is inconceivable that we could forget it. In order to achieve the integration of man with his social community, we had to rediscover what made those small towns of southern Europe successful – they were so beautiful and the inhabitants were happy living in them. One reason for their success came from their construction on slopes: one could discover constantly new viewpoints, new angles for seeing space and shapes. Another reason is that they not only offered a dynamically permanent environment but also an environment adapted to man's dimensions. In our effort to bring together all these factors of success we developed a concept of urbanism now called ‘volumentric’. ‘Volumetric urbanism’ consists in recreating on selected artificial sites progressive levels with multiple perspectives. The town consists of a macrostructure, created with terraces on successive levels, that looks like a real pyramid when stripped to its essentials.


Macrostructure air view.jpg


The pyramid is fitted on its exterior planes with levels of habitation which give an extraordinary contact with nature. Inside, one finds a complete complex of things necessary for living: cultural and recreational centres, commercial outlets etc. The pyramid's vertical axis contains systems of high speed elevators and escalators offering quick circulation with and between the levels and easy communication to residential sectors. Such a pyramid constitutes a complete organic unit for ten to fifteen thousand inhabitants. When several are positioned on the ground, interconnected by causeways, a growth pattern is established which could finally contain half a million people. Each unit enjoys naturally its own life and relations with others. The number of people in each organic unit is limited so that intimate human relations remain possible, so that a kind of open fraternity can exist, a necessity in the town of the future. We feel that an important number of contacts between individuals is so necessary for a balanced community existence that, with the help of modern technology, we conceived an architecture which aims at inducing this cohesion, this warm mutuality. In short, we start with artificial platforms, terraces on which we have positioned a highly concentrated habitat.

Running against this conception, modern western urbanism for the last twenty-five years has been geometric, horizontal – it has killed human relations and been a dramatic failure. People are isolated, lost, within a living unit neither self-sufficient nor self-contained, separated from others by lawns and linear lots. Redensification is today's necessity. Citizens of these new cities may enjoy once again (as was the case with streets and forums of the past), the dialogue of man with man.

What field does Auroville offer for your urban research?

Auroville is positioned on the Coromandel coast at a place where land is relatively flat. We intend to build artificial levels, a circular macrostructure which will give the town its outlook and will constitute the highest densification zone. Approximately twenty-five thousand people will live in this ‘ring’. It will not be an opaque mass but will offer, on the contrary, many transections, fantastic views from outside to inside and vice-versa. We will create a shade-architecture (a must in a tropical climate), that will allow for undercover traffic and sudden outbursts of light within patios and elevated gardens. Within this ring a bustling life will exist, the town's vital soul.

The ring – itself encircled by a hundred-metre-wide canal where artificial islands will provide a rhythm, a dwelling place for various aquatic birds, where 21st century gondolas will leisurely circumnavigate – will be the intersection of all sectors, the town's centripetal focus. This is where, in addition to the fairy-like charm of canals, the main commercial centre will be located. Here one will find theatres, sports-grounds, recreation halls, gardens for meditation, forums for meetings, hotels... visitors galore, of course, since Auroville is not a closed town, but a town open to the world and the urbanist must never forget this essential openness.

What have you planned to facilitate the meeting of man with man?

Auroville will attempt the rehabilitation of streets, a change from rush-ways to a satisfying and happy system of circulation for man, from meeting place to meeting place: squares, fountains, gardens, pools, staircases, wings of shade, sudden shafts of sunlight, perspectives, auditoriums, amphitheaters, theaters, sports-grounds, research and leisure centers, restaurants and shops...

In the residential zone these streets, with all their meeting places, will become arteries for creative neighborhoods (not dormitories) of people enjoying some particular common activity that will be their distinctive mark, a source for unique offerings to others. In the central ring, other meeting places will be found to accommodate several such groups. Finally, in the cultural zone, installations will be built where the whole town may enjoy festivities with as many as a hundred thousand present.

Auroville is being deliberately conceived as an experimental town. What does that imply from the urbanist's viewpoint?

Auroville will be a totally unprecedented psychological, social, educational and architectural experiment which, as with all experiments, might reveal errors. In truth not errors, but lacunae in man's urban consciousness. We would like Auroville to be a progressive, an evolving town, full of meaning, never to be ‘finished’. This continual growth does not refer to the number of inhabitants, which will not exceed fifty thousand, but to an evolution of the physical body, of the life of Auroville, of its society and also of its genius. This is why the most plastic formula will be the best from the urbanist's viewpoint. Here, by the way, we come to what will be the principle of tomorrow's urbanism: giving the town basic lines of power, main penetration channels, through a macrostructure that shapes the outlook and facilitates an inner direction. Then, just as with a bottle-rack, a mobile macrostructure is fitted in, and can be changed, modified according to the needs of the town, the zone, as well as the individuals. Urbanism cannot be separated from plastic, open-ended architectural vision. Both are striving after an environment where man can live and evolve with joy. A macrostructure, like a mountain, cannot easily be changed. The macrostructure is an arrangement of space involving an underworld of sewage pipes, of water and electricity connections, main circulation ways wandering through the surface relief, natural or artificial climatic conditions bathing the whole complex. Once the macrostructure is positioned, everything becomes possible. On this structure is laid an outer skin, changeable and plastic so that it may be stretched, so that its color may suddenly be altered all along an avenue by a play, let us say, of revolving panels. Such an approach is the only one that will allow an evolution of the town in time and within a given space. The clothing of the town may be changed, renewed without drastic destruction.

Has Auroville evolved, even before starting to take a physical body?

Naturally! Several successive layouts have already been made and each represents a different state of a consistent conception. In fact, we would like Auroville to materialize according to its own dynamism so that real communion establishes itself between those who will live in Auroville and those who will create it. This is for architects one of the most difficult problems to solve. Anyhow, we have no intention of building arbitrarily. Not even one single area will conform to an exclusive architectural design. Many different teams must be at work and collaborate, each contributing very different expressions, under the coordination of a group empowered to unify this diversity.

Auroville's construction will start in 1968. What other urbanistic problems can you mention?

Auroville's main lines of strength have been determined for a long time: the main penetration ways, the ring and the four great sectors (residential, cultural, industrial and international) that meet within the ring, achieving their unity at the town's center. The international sector, an area with a low density of population, causes little or no problem. In the industrial sector we plan extension space for each industry. Residential and cultural sectors are the most difficult to keep plastic and evolutive. At present, we still lack the financial means to build the macrostructure on which will be situated the more heavily populated part of the town. We shall then start with areas of lesser density.

But the way, all trees now on site will be kept as they are.

There have been talks about successive aspects of Auroville and even about many Aurovilles?

We are now approaching the practical aspects of construction. After looking at Auroville as a whole, we must look at each aspect separately according to the growth of the town. Technically, with up to five thousand inhabitants we may utilize existing facilities, connect the power-lines to Neyveli's supply and use artesian wells for water. With a population of twenty-five thousand, water problems become more acute in a district where water is scarce. We envisage then a sea-water desalinization plan. (This may not be the ultimate plant, as in the end Auroville will possess its own thermonuclear power unit). The same thing holds true for roads: we will make use of those now in existence up to the moment when the first deviations become necessary.

A first set of single-storied thatch-roofed polyhedric houses without foundations will allow, within six months, a grouping of ninety people around a small community building, a small shopping center and a small maternity clinic where Auroville's first babies (two boys) have already been born.

This organic unit will grow into another, three times bigger, which in turn will be integrated in a similar manner... each larger unit will be fitted with more and more cultural and sports installations. It may be that our first colony will not exceed one thousand persons. When we reach two or three thousand people, a first section of the future city will have been built. Our experimental colony may later become a part of Auroville or remain as an ‘historical site’ or be completely rebuilt.

And so Auroville will have started, not unlike a big holiday village... to become ultimately one of South India's most important technical and cultural centers.

At a stage between five to ten thousand inhabitants we shall see what we call Auroville's first visage. Between ten and twenty-five thousand its second visage and the third from twenty-five to fifty thousand. Above fifty thousand, new Aurovilles will start being built, let us hope, for Auroville is being devised to help solve community living problems all over the world.

Would you like to take us on a science-fiction pre-visit to Auroville... by car...?

… to the residential sector. Huge parking areas await us, since no cars run within Auroville.

We first come to a zone of gardens and of private single-story houses. It is a rather flat area, with widely diversified foliage, where houses are integrated into the terrain, by both color and building materials. Earth-colored reddish tarmac lanes contribute to this cohesion. They meander up to the main ways.


Macrostructure side view.jpg


As one goes deeper into this huge garden where pools scatter sunlight, one sees slightly higher houses, mostly two-storied, giving a striking impression of variety: no house is similar to another. Though their shapes are very audacious, they all retain a common look of simplicity, of tranquility. They open widely on very private patios. As we move forward, building materials and colors begin to shift according to a strange gradation, like a subtle rainbow weaving its own bridge of light and colors through the town.

Now lanes begin to look more like avenues or rather like mosaic-paved interconnections of a multiple building. None is straight but all lead to delightful fountains, squares, miniature multicolored arenas. It is a never-ending succession of discoveries and perspectives.

We are approaching the ring and the canal of the Great Curve where thousands of waterfowl play freely, and we go over one of the town's few bridges. As in a fairy-tale, we starting climbing intriguing staircases rising and turning so softly and capriciously against the sharp edges of great terraces that one may promenade for hours, contemplating all the faces of the town. Strolling along covered passages we discover handicraft makers and artists holding continual exhibitions; we play hide-and-seek with light and shadows, with activity and tranquility, stopping at last at the edge of a sculptured open space. At the foot of this regal balcony, on the inner side of the ring, stretches the Garden of Unity, encircling a shining lake whose running waters supply Auroville's canals, waterfalls, fountains and paddy-fields. From this lake rises a symbol of all manifestation, the intersection of all intersections, an unattainable white and golden island, burning like a high flame. This is the center of Auroville, not a geometrical center, but the core around which the ring gravitates in two waves, two helicoid movements trying to catch each other like Yin and Yang, like to facing complementary galaxies, a symbol of Auroville's deepest dynamism.


Auroville, the town of the future.jpg


Two very beautiful symbols of Unity and the Two-in-One. Have you other symbols in Auroville?

Water is for me a very powerful symbol. At rest, adorned with lotuses in pools, gliding along waterways, springing in fountains, coming alive with waterfalls, its presence is always a creation of force and beauty. I would like many waterways and pools in Auroville, though it may be quite an achievement in a country with such a water scarcity.

A specialist in our group is planning the creation of architectural forms giving birth to spheric plazas. A sphere is also a fine symbol. We are studying solar roofs that would allow each separate house to enjoy its own production of energy. Wouldn't it be a beautiful symbol of the global, solar consciousness that wants to manifest in Auroville?

But everything is a symbol in Auroville.

For us, the whole town and all its details are an expression of unity within diversity, the key not only to a happy architecture but to happy individuals, to a happy society and finally to a happy planet.


See also