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Auroville Experience

May 2009



- Alan

The Citadines project is situated between two green parks in the habitat area behind the administrative buildings in the city centre. When completed it will consist of 108 apartments for singles, couples and families. The first phase of 30 apartments should be ready later this year.

Model of Citadines. Photo courtesy Sonali.

“Two of the design priorities,” says Sonali, the architect, “were to maximise shade and wind flow.” So all walls are well-shaded or are constructed of double-skin aerocon blocks which are thermally very efficient. Wind-flow is assisted by having cross-ventilation in all rooms, by staggering the buildings both in plan and section and by utilising ‘stack ventilation' – central atriums which allow hot air to rise, pulling in cooler air below (the atriums also function as light wells and sound buffers). Also, by orienting the buildings obliquely to the prevailing wind, positive and negative pressures are created on different sides of the building so causing the wind to be sucked through.

“Noise-reduction was a major factor in designing Citadines,” says Sonali, “so we took a lot of advice from Didier of Sound Wizard. The aerocon blocks are good for sound insulation and we made the walls 40 centimetres thick with a cavity of ten centimetres in the middle. Also, in our sample flat we have acoustic board on the wall which is close to the next apartment – Didier said if at least one wall has a surface which absorbs sound it will help – and in another apartment we have some acoustic panelling both in the ceiling and on the wall. We'll check the sound levels of these apartments before deciding on the rest. The ceilings of passageways will also be treated with sound-absorbent panels.”

A third of the apartments will be fully furnished, others partially, (every apartment will have a furnished kitchen) and all will have an uninterrupted power supply for fans and lights and the phones will be IP (Internet Protocol) phones, allowing high-speed internet access as well as free calls within the Citadines community. In terms of alternative energy, there will be collective solar water heaters and all the lighting in the common spaces will be powered by solar panels. There will be no air-conditioning but there may be a less energy-intensive dehumidification system.

Citadines apartment. Photo courtesy Sonali.Part of Sonali's brief was to minimise private space (the allocation is 35 – 45 square metres per person) and maximise common space in Citadines. Consequently, while the apartments range in size from 35 square metres to 100 square metres, an additional 20 square metres a person within the building is collective space. This includes the whole of the ground floor which will not ‘belong' to the residents but be open to all Aurovilians. Common facilities include a laundry, café, reception desk and management office (responsible for maintaining the apartments: there will be no personal ammas in Citadines), a small internet café and an art centre which will be managed by Dominique Darr. Some apartments will be accessible by lift.

Exterior of first Citadines building. Photo courtesy Sonali.As to the look, “It took me one year to get it right,” says Sonali. “I did many versions of the façade. Eventually, when I felt satisfied, I showed it to Roger who confirmed that I had finally got it.”

But Citadines is much more than an architectural experiment: primarily it is a social experiment. “The basic concept,” as the Citadines brochure describes it, “is that the time, energy and resources of the residents who are fully dedicated to the growth of Auroville will not be scattered and inefficiently used.” The intention is that all apartments in Citadines will be offered free to those who fulfil that criterion. It is also hoped that by eliminating the monetary factor and by providing all the essential furnishings (even down to plates in the kitchens), the sense of ownership will also be eliminated and that people will move in and out freely according to their circumstances.

“It's very ambitious,” admits Maurice, one of the project-holders, “but we wanted to set the bar as high as possible because we know in Auroville that we don't always achieve everything we set out to do.” “You could call it a utopia within utopia”, says Louis Cohen, the inspirer and main funder of the project. He had long thought it wasn't correct that people who had come to Auroville to serve the ideal could not find proper accommodation; that while Auroville was taking responsibility for the health and nourishment of its committed inhabitants, nothing was being done for their housing needs.

But it's not just Aurovilians who can't find adequate accommodation who are attracted to Citadines. Maurice lives in a beautiful house in Auromodèle, but he is one of the long-term Aurovilians who will move to Citadines. Why? “I've been longing for a long time to live in the centre of the city, closer to Matrimandir. Now the time has come, I had to make the move.”

The residents of Citadines will be pioneers in what will become a high-density settlement (Citadines will be the first four floor building in the city). And, as pioneers, they must accept certain restrictions. Among other things, they agree not to have individual domestic help or pets, and music and TV's can only be listened to using ear-phones. Above all, as the brochure puts it, “no rights of property will be accepted”.

Gerard, another of the project-holders, admits that there has been a certain ‘reticence' among Aurovilians concerning living in the city but he believes that the Citadines experience will change all that. Citadines, says Louis, “will allow us to start living the city”. He also hopes that the Citadines experiment will mark the beginning of a more collective consciousness and that the place will ‘vibrate' with that. “I say this with much hesitation, but (I believe) that somebody who does not share the spirit of the project will not be able to come here.”

As to the financing, so far it has been provided mainly by Louis, although Dominique Darr's Foundation is now financing an art centre on the lower floor of one building, two apartments and some collective spaces. In the future, the project-holders would like to develop a Revolving Fund to finance future phases of the project (there is an agreement with the Housing Service that the value of the former houses of Citadines residents will be transferred to this Fund) and a Citadines Maintenance Fund which will maintain the existing buildings. Residents will contribute to this according to their means.
The project-holders are already dreaming of housing 600 people in a future phase of the project. “Beauty in simplicity, a certain quality of life. This should become a model building so that one can't help but say, ‘This is what I would like for the rest of the city'.”


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