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May 2002

A model village opens its doors

- by Carel


Mother's sketch of the city with her indication of the 'Labourers Colony'

The first phase of Sangamam, a model village situated near Utility, was declared open for habitation on Tamil New Year, April 14th.

Layout of Sangamam

The opening of the first phase of the Sangamam model village on Tamil New Year was a happy occasion. The first inhabitants, four couples with their children and one bachelor, were given the keys to their brand new accommodation in an atmosphere of joy and laughter.

Frederick and Meenakshi handing the keys to the first inhabitants

Sangamam marks the beginning of the materialisation of a vision of The Mother to create housing for those who work for Auroville. In one of her early sketches Mother had indicated that there would be a kind of 'labourers' colony'. This concept finally evolved into Sangamam, meaning 'confluence', a meeting place for the villagers and Auroville. "We have envisaged Sangamam as a demonstration centre. It shows how a village can be planned, what type of appropriate infrastructure is suitable, and how, using low-cost building technologies and creative eco-friendly architecture, a village can be built," says Joseba. "Following this strategy, it has been possible to raise the funds for the first phase. We hope that ultimately, when the next phases of the project have been finalised, the village can become an example for other villages in India."

Double housing unit at Sangamam - photo Pino

It is due to Joseba's and his partner Anandi's untiring efforts that the project got its initial funding. They secured a donation of US $61,000 from the government of Navarra, Spain, for the first phase of the project and acted as its project managers. Auroville contributed by making two hectares of its land available next to Utility. "The complete project will comprise 48 houses, dormitory and guesthouse facilities, a community centre, a 3-chamber water tank, a waste water treatment system and an extensive infrastructure including two bridges over the canyon and a causeway," says Joseba. "In the first phase we have created six houses, the community building, and all of the infrastructure. I have high hopes that we'll able to manifest the entire project within a few years."

Double housing unit at Sangamam -  photo Pino

Architect Anupama and builder Dhanapal have been responsible for the design and construction. The house design is simple. Alternative technologies such as rammed earth techniques have been used as much as possible. As is the standard in Tamil Nadu, the houses are small (the living and cooking area is about 30 sqm) with bathroom access from the outside. The cost amounts to slightly less than Rs 2 lakhs (US$ 4,200) per house, cheap if one takes the quality of the finishing into account. The community centre consists of a large meeting cum television room and other common spaces.

The community centre of Sangamam - photo Pino

"The water tank is unique," explains Josebas. "It consists of three chambers: the top one is for potable water, the second one for recycled water and the third for harvested water. Recycled and harvested water will be used for flushing toilets and gardening. The wastewater plant is another prototype. The Indian Central Pollution Control Board has donated the money for this research plant, and also pays for 2 engineers to supervise its operation for 2 years."

Meenakshi is responsible for the social aspects of Sangamam. All residents are selected by Auroville and have to contribute ten percent of their salaries as a monthly rent, which will be used for the maintenance of the village facilities and infrastructure. Residents participate in educative programs to encourage the understanding of the value of the project, so that they are motivated to fully participate and maintain the village. A management committee composed of representatives of the village and representatives of Auroville is reponsible for the overall management of the project. The project team plans to open up the next phases of the project to other architects. It will also invite individuals who would like to help their employees to live in decent houses to co-fund houses in Sangamam - they would pay 50%, and so would the Sangamam project.

"The project team has cooperated very harmoniously to manifest this project," said a beaming Anupama at the opening ceremony. "I hope that this atmosphere will continue here in Sangamam".

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