Auroville | “experimental” township

Auroville is a planned universal township for up to 50,000 people under development in south east India, located close to the Coromandel Coast some 10 kilometres north of Pondicherry and 150 kms south of Chennai. It was created by the mystical philosopher and thinker Sri Aurobindo and designed by French architect Roger Anger. It’s interesting how they describe the place at Auroville site:

Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity […] The dream of building a new city for the future on a clean slate, with the purpose of promoting research and experimentation alongside integral development, has been attracting architects and students of architecture from all over the world ever since Auroville´s inception in 1968. Not having pre-defined by-laws or being bound by the conventions of human society has allowed a multitude of expressions to manifest in the course of Auroville´s development, as natural extensions of the quest for the new.

We don’t want to focus on it’s mystical face but on the urban design behind it. The site chosen for Auroville was a severely eroded plateau extending eastwards to the sea. An early priority for the project was the environmental regeneration and reafforestation of the area, which in the late 1960s had been officially described in a Government report as being in “an advanced state of desertification.” Tens of thousands of trees and shrubs were planted [to date over 2 million] and erosion control begun, with the result that the area now has a green and widely forested landscape.

The original plan of Auroville was conceived in 1967. It gives, within a diameter of two and half kilometres, some guidelines for construction. But it is not a rigid plan; it is evolving as the town grows, while holding to its basic architectural principle: that of a galaxy. It is constantly being reexamined by some who advocate natural and organic growth, and by others who favour growth within certain guidelines. The four zones have as their focus a huge 29m high x 36m diameter globe-shaped structure at the centre of the township called the Matrimandir, the “soul of the city”.

The overall concept of the town provides for a material focus, the Matrimandir, surrounded by four zones: Cultural, International, Industrial and Residential. In the Cultural Zone, will be located the main infrastructure for an education which will not be given with a view to passing examinations but will emphasize the growth of the soul and the experimental perception of the inner unity between human beings. In the International Zone, the national pavilions will present in a living manner the deep unity of nations and peoples by celebrating the diversity of their culture. In the Industrial Zone, the place for generation of money for this intended self-supporting city, the emphasis will not be on productivity and competition but on relations of emulation for doing better. In the Residential Zone, we will find low as well as relatively high-density accommodation with designs emphasizing easy communication between the residents.

Can we learn something from these kind of projects? Maybe we can focus on them in terms of organization and socio-economic development, as these utopias not-so-utopic [because they’re being constructed] like Auroville, but also including projects as Arcosanti or the towns designed under the concept of New Urbanism, try to demonstrate how urban conditions could be improved while minimizing the destructive impact on the earth.

Seems that these neo-hippies experimental communas are closer to concepts like décroissance than our new no-stop cities like Dubai. It requires a deep and stronger research and study, but we can start the discussion here, isn’t it?


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