The Realization project is new in two aspects: it is the only collective housing project that is being built with compressed stabilised earth blocks; and it is the only project where the future inhabitants are invited to participate in building their own apartments.
“Welcome to a collective Realization!!!” says the Realization website. “Realization aims at building sustainable and affordable homes for Auroville with people's participation. It aspires to contribute actively to the development of Auroville as a conscious community and as a city of never-ending education. Hence Realization proposes alternative ways to answer the present housing demand. The neighbouring villages do not have enough labour for the construction sites of Auroville and it is now hard to find construction workers. Hence Aurovilians, Newcomers and volunteers need to work with their hands in building Auroville”.
It was the acute housing shortage that propelled a group of Aurovilians and Newcomers to start Realization in October 2007. Coordinated by the Auroville Earth Institute, they embarked on an ambitious project to build over the next 4 to 5 years 70 apartments for around 170 people. On February 29, 2008, a Realization tree (Delonix Regia) was planted on the site, marking the start of the first phase of 17 apartments for about 25 people. So far, 11 apartments have been booked.
Sharing labour and resources
“Realization differs in many aspects from other housing projects in Auroville. A major one is that we want the future inhabitants to share resources to help those with low budgets,” says Satprem, the executive of the Auroville Earth Institute who is the architect and driving force behind the project. “People should give what they can: money and/or work, so that everyone gets an apartment according to their needs and not according to their financial means. We want people's involvement to be according to their abilities: some help in making bricks and building the units, other are involved in communication, or do accounts, or help find the additional funds needed to fully materialize Realization.”
This was the way it started. Since November 2007 more than 200 people (Aurovilians, Newcomers and volunteers) from over 25 countries have been working on Realization. Most of them got involved in making the Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB) required for the project. Earth was brought to the site by trucks and then was turned into bricks on the Auram machines. “Echoes of Russian, Italian, Tamil, Hindi, French, German and a few other languages linger in the bricks,” says Satprem. And he adds, “And each brick also contains a substantial amount of volunteers' sweat.”
But the enthusiasm of the early days gradually cooled. Today, no future residents are involved in the construction. “We have been forced to hire local labour,” says Satprem. “Realization started as a participatory movement of young Aurovilians, Newcomers and guests. The first months were exciting for them and they had a lot of fun, playing and sweating while making earth blocks. This went on till the construction of the caretaker's house that we built in 64 hours in February 2009. Then gradually all the young people disappeared as they realized that building Realization would be a long endeavour; they were not ready for this. Nowadays, the intended residents are older and their other activities do not allow them to work on site. In a way the initial spirit has disappeared.” The first phase of the project is expected to be ready by the end of 2009.
Building and living in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner is a second major objective of the Realization project. The appropriate building technologies and renewable energy sources that will be used include stabilised earth blocks as the main building material, solar and wind energy, recycling wastewater treatment and rainwater harvesting systems.
“The biggest innovation,” says Satprem, “is the planned earth tunnel to cool the apartments”. Earth tunnels have been used in Europe and Canada, and are now being experimented with in India and Nepal. The temperature of the earth at a depth of more than 3 metres is constant at about 27° C. The Realization system consists of a set of 15 metre long pipes that run through the rainwater harvesting tank at a depth of about 6 metres. “According to our calculations, the earth tunnel should create a temperature difference of at least 10 degrees,” says Satprem. “We still have to see how we run the fans – perhaps with solar energy or a wind pump.”
The rainwater harvesting system is another important feature of the project. All rainwater falling onto the roofs (estimated at 1,100 m3 a year) will be stored in 4 underground tanks. This water will provide 25 people with 120 litres per day for a year. A wind pump will raise water from the underground tanks to an overhead tank. The overflow from this tank will flow back into the underground tanks while being dynamised with a vortex. Irrigation water will come from recycled wastewater treated with a baffle reactor system.
The free labour which initially went into the block-making was but a fraction of the total cost of the building. This is now estimated at Rs 15,000 per square metre, which includes the basic infrastructure, such as water tanks, electricity and telephone connection and the wastewater treatment plant.
The costs of systems like the earth tunnel, the rainwater harvesting system, the overhead tank and the pumping system and common facilities such as a covered parking shed and a community building with common laundry and storerooms and landscaping with walkways, are not included in the price. “These facilities will again add about 20% to the cost and people cannot afford that. That is why we are trying to raise funds for this aspect of Realization,” says Satprem. “We invite well-wishers to help by either funding a part of the project – say the earth tunnel or the parking shed or the landscaping – or by supporting the project in general. For without outside funding, this project might not succeed.”
For more information visit www.realization.in