Like a crouching tiger, the new Matrimandir crane is hidden on top of the Matrimandir.
The crane mounted on top of the Matrimandir
How does one clean the outside of the Matrimandir? This question was solved about five years ago when it was decided to position a foldable crane on top of the Matrimandir.
The brief was that the crane should be invisible when not in use, so that the beauty of the building would not be marred.
Three German firms worked out the technical details. In view of Auroville's weather, the crane had to be made of stainless steel. It would also have to be raised as only from that position could the telescopic arm move outward. It had to be able to rotate 360 degrees, and at maximum extension, be able to bear a load of half a ton.
When the engineering homework was done, the weight of the crane was calculated at a staggering 12 tons. A thorough engineering analysis of Matrimandir's structure followed to confirm that the building could withstand the stresses that the crane would place on it while lifting half a ton. Then the order was placed, and in February 2007 the crane arrived in various parts in Auroville.
The most impressive was the almost 3 ton base plate. “We had long discussions about how to get it up,” says Gilles, one of the Matrimandir's executives. “We couldn't hire another crane to do the job, as none exists in this area whose arm can reach over the petals. Moreover, such a crane would damage the pathways. Finally we built a steep slope of scaffolding, up which the pieces could be winched by hand.” The biggest hand-winch available was positioned on top of the Matrimandir, and with four people cranking on each side of the winch handle, the lifting began.
The winch was strained to its very limit. The winch body was seen to flex and deform with each turn of the winch drum. Another winch was added. After hours of nail-biting tension, the piece arrived on top of the scaffolding and the team heaved a sigh of relief. The other pieces slowly followed and then the crane was gradually assembled. By the end of July 2008, the work was ready and the crane could be used.
“This crane is unique. It is a real tour de force of mechanical, hydraulic and electrical engineering,” says Vladimir, who supervised its assembly. He presses a button and, in a few minutes, the crane rises on its two hydraulic legs. Then another set of motors is activated and the four arms, which are telescoped within each other, glide slowly outward. Fully extended, the arms stretch 23 metres. From its tip, a gondola can be hung.
Vladimir operating the controls
“From the gondola we can clean any part of the Matrimandir to two levels below the equator,” says Vladimir . “It carries two people who will clean each disc with a special soap solution and cotton cloth. The dirt is absorbed by the cloth, it doesn't drop down.” The lower levels of discs will, for the time being, be cleaned from a mobile lightweight scaffolding structure.
The crane's expected lifetime is 25 years minimum.