Newsletter August 2007
June 25, 2007. This was one of those days that should be marked on some cosmic calendar of significant days. This was the day that the very last of the pipe scaffolding was removed from the interior of Matrimandir. These scaffolding pipes have occupied this interior space for more than 20 years, having served first during the 1980's to help support the upper rows of precast concrete beams of the spherical space frame as it was being built. After that they served to create working platforms for many operations in turn, from the fixation of the top rows of the outer skin ferrocement panels during the '90's to the painting and finishing of the two spiral ramps which link the second level to the two chamber doors and, recently, for the lifting and installation of more than 700 panels of the inner skin.
The transformation of the interior was very rapid and dramatic during late May and the month of June as the southwest and then the northwest quarters of the inner skin were completed and the scaffolding was removed.
By the 25 th of June, the work on the final quarter - the southeast - had come down to the point where scaffolding was no longer required to install the last three rows of the lightweight aluminum-framed triangles.
A team of 12 young men undertook the job of pipe removal with gusto, enjoying this last chance to work with the scaffolding here. By 2 p.m. that day, all the pipes, planks and clamps were gone, lying on the plywood- protected first level of the building. By 4 pm all this material been removed from inside the Matrimandir.
It then took just five more days to install the triangles of the lowest three rows so that by June 30th the inner skin of the sphere was complete, revealing a marvelous space indeed. Seen from the second level, where the two ramps start their spiral journey up to the Chamber doors, the appearance of the interior is now one of wideness with the white curving lines of the ramps and second level seen against the glowing spherical shell of the inner skin. The space is light and very peaceful. It was a wonderful moment, seeing this space whole and complete for the very first time.
Panorama photo of interior
While the scaffolding was being removed from the building, and the last rows of inner skin triangles installed, another intense action was going on inside the structure. The space on the first and second levels was being rapidly transformed. Till now, these areas had looked and felt very much like work spaces, with plywood sheets covering the marble surfaces, tools boxes stacked around, temporary electric distribution boxes mounted at many points for supplying power to welding machines, lights, vacuum cleaners and polishing machines.
The methodical removal of all this paraphernalia has now exposed the white marble of the interior. Over the space of a few weeks in June and July, we saw the marble benches, floors and steps emerging from beneath their protective coverings, as well as many artistic details than had been finished, covered and unseen for some years.
Marble staircase from the first level to the interior.
Then came the task of giving a final cleaning to all the marble and granite surfaces of the interior. Teams of people brandishing diamond polishing pads in their hands worked to bring all these areas up to the peak of cleanliness. Then a final coat of transparent sealant was applied to the marble floors so that should any of Auroville's red dust make it into the building, it would not be able to penetrate the porous marble surfaces.
Final polishing of marble on first level in progress
Within the space of a few weeks, the interior of Matrimandir was transformed from the rather rough and ready working place that it has been for decades, to a space that is all white, gold and shades of light grey: the whole interior, and all the lines within it, have taken on a new and much more refined look.
As of today, in mid-July, there are still some important aspects of the work inside the sphere that remain:
The completion of the glass ceilings and wooden benches and handrails in the vestibules just outside the Chamber doors;
The laying of the white carpets on both ramps;
The special lighting effects in areas such as the vestibules, central staircase and the four marble fountains between the ribs, yet to be worked out;
The final adjustment of the color of the plastic film covering the round glass windows of the outer skin so as to achieve the desired shade of pinkish light coming through the inner skin panels during the day.
The first two tasks we intend to finish by mid-August, while the third and fourth, concerning lighting, will necessarily be works involving some experimentation. Only now that the inner skin is complete and the building has been cleared of scaffolding and protective floor coverings can we properly assess the effects of these tests that will be carried out in phases during the coming months.
While the last touches were being given to the interior of Matrimandir during July, work resumed on the roof to prepare for lifting the structural elements of the maintenance crane. With the heaviest of these pieces weighing two and a half tons, a very solid scaffolding has to be constructed in the form of a steeply sloped ramp from the ground level right up to the top of the building. The plan is that each of the eleven main pieces of the crane will be pulled up this slope by means of a big hand-winch that will be fixed at the top of the scaffolding. This project reminds us of the time, in 1979 or 1980, when we lifted up the four sections of the old Matrimandir crane. Those pieces too were hauled up by a hand winch and assembled on the roof to make the crane that stood on top of the concrete structure for over twenty years, lifting up all the elements that were used to make up the spherical globe of Matrimandir. This new hydraulic crane will be used for the maintenance of the golden discs which cover the globe. It will be collapsible, in the sense that when it is not in use it will draw in its long arm and sit low down on the roof so as to be mostly invisible, concealed behind the upper rows of discs.
Building the scaffolding for lifting the crane
Out in the gardens the summer months have proved to be a very severe test for the different varieties of grass that were planted during the spring on several petals and on border areas of the future gardens. In response to a growing awareness of the scarcity of ground water in our area, we reduced the volume of water being discharged through the sprinkler system to a level lower than some of these grasses were used to. We needed to know which of the varieties could make it during this season of hot dry winds and no rain. And we needed to know how much precious water really had to be distributed through the sprinkler system to maintain them. The test was difficult to continue as we watched the more delicate grasses begin to dry out and go brown under these trial conditions.
By mid-June we had understood that the “water ration” had to be increased to restore the condition of the less robust grasses. Nature joined the recovery effort on June 15 th by bringing in an extended period of cloud cover, lower temperatures and eventually even a little rain.
The bonus of this test was that by the beginning of June we had been able to definitely identify the two grass varieties that had surprisingly fared best under the harsh summer conditions. First place went to Calcutta Doob, and the runner up was Auroville Bermuda. From the beginning of July we have set up new plots to propagate these two grasses and will use them soon to plant the many remaining border areas of the gardens which require grass.
Out in the park area beyond the borders of the inner gardens, the production of compost has proceeded with a lot of energy over the last several months. The production was given a huge boost by the mechanization of the sieving process as two electrically-powered sieves fed by conveyor belts made short work of cleaning mountains of topsoil and compost. By mid-July almost 2,000 cubic meters of prepared soil, 50% topsoil and 50% compost, had been sieved and mixed in anticipation of the planting of grass on the border areas mentioned above. With the arrival of some good thundershowers in mid-July, the work of planting this grass was resumed.
A word about the financial situation: Even though some of the phases of the work are reaching a conclusion and there is an accompanying gradual reduction in the work force here, there are still many areas of work in full swing with an active workforce of some 280 people. This situation is going to continue for quite some time to come and indeed, as the work on the gardens picks up over the next year, new types of expense will surely arise.
All this to say that financial support is still needed, and your help in this regard will be very much appreciated as always!
Address for donations and correspondence:
M A T R I M A N D I R - A U R O V I L L E 6 0 5 1 0 1 -
T A M I L N A D U - I N D I A
Tel. (91) (0413) 262-2268 ; 262-2228 (finance). FAX: (91) (0413) 262-2053;