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(From an article based on an interview with Peter Anderschitz on the design of an urban cluster in Auroville)

"A building language was developed, based on certain criteria that would repeat themselves again and again, responding to the need for close living, yet fulfilling the more individual needs.."

The real struggle in any search for new patterns of urbanisation is to derive a relevant concept of habitation. The solution quite clearly lies in collectivity. What is not so clear is how to introduce new patterns with smooth transitions, so they can work in co-existence with the older ones.

To study changing patterns in relatively new township experiments like Auroville is a challenge. Especially as the town was conceived by the Mother with the intention of presenting the ideal township rooted in collective living. In her own words: "A new creation beginning with a model town and ending with a perfect world."

Auroville is located in Tamil Nadu, some 10km north of the union territory of Pondicherry. This 1968 galaxy concept of town planning was visualised by French architect Roger Anger and his team, encapsulating an anticipated population of 50,000 in an area approximately 2.5km in diameter.

Accommodated in a dynamic spiraling movement are four distinct zones - the residential, industrial, cultural and international. As directed by the Mother, they evolve harmoniously from one to another around the centre, containing Matrimandir, the soul of Auroville, and its 12 radiating gardens. The central ring road or crown, along which all services are to be arranged, is to be the main distributor, the pulse.

Encircling the township, as a protective barrier against dust, noise and external interferences, is an extensive dense forest, the green belt.

The guidelines for the high-density residential development were planned in the form of several curvilinear structural outlines; 500-600m stretches of housing with varying densities in a sloping arrangement, dropping gradually uniformly from 18 floors at the higher end to around three. Whether this idea is applicable today in Auroville is debatable, though the zoning and circulation structure are well recognised.

That living patterns will swing variously during the adjustment to a growing number of inhabitants and newer definitions of their aspirations is well anticipated. First living experiments of community settlements had to be conducted at the outskirts of the township in order to study them under the test of time. Through such a series of designs, more appropriate solutions for actual execution in the model town are to be evolved. As it is, all the land belonged to Auroville and to no-one in particular.
The early community engaged in extremely close living, sharing almost every space and facility, with little consideration for individual needs. Auroville now experiences a growing peripheral, sub-urban development of highly individualistic lifestyles. More and more individuals have opted out of the collectives into their own, self-expressionistic houses; not finding answers in the vacuum of the much awaited organised structure.

The individualised trend towards housing, with houses cropping up haphazardly, was clearly undesirable and detrimental to the development of the town. Housing solutions had to be directed towards more relevant community living.

"…A new statement towards the urban pattern of built up space.."

The first effort towards building a more 'urban' settlement, Samasti, now stands as a new statement in Auroville towards the urban pattern of built-up space. A positive outcome is that it shows what could be a tangible massing, apart from details and aesthetics in terms of collective living and going forward towards higher density. In that sense it is a stimulant, an inspiration..

In another sense, being very spacious for such few people, it doesn't hold much meaning for the city to come. Then again it was a special case of artistes, each needing their own work and expression spaces, integrated within their living areas.
It was not meant to stand as a model for a standard of living, which is rather high here.

As a stepping-stone, then, and the next step?
To move further and further away from readymade architecture, towards a building system that involves more actively its users designing their own spaces. To find appropriate organisational patterns… particularly, financial… making the architect, planner and contractor act as guides, advisors and consultants.
Otherwise it gets just like the wild developments in the city, where the one with the biggest elbow shovels his own way, blocking other developments. It blocks the growth of a common building language based on certain materials and patterns for built-up and open spaces, for concept of a growing house and city. Away from the rigid planning approach with the architect, the all powerful visionary..

Instead merely drafting the main outlines regarding spaces, their inter linking communications… leaving in addition to the bare minimum spaces that are informal play-fields for self-expression.
Do it yourself is what's been happening at Auroville, but not in response to neighbours and a vision of the larger whole, creating only problems by getting into shells and lacking communication. One pays for such a spread out infrastructure, and now there is an urgent need to organise the guidelines for the development and growth of community living, and to concentrate on the very meaning of Auroville, find its centre, and grow from there.

Adapted from an article by Anupama Kundoo,
published in 'INDIAN ARCHITECT & BUILDER', January '91

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