Auroville, international tropical-eco-spiritual enclave
After the exhibits, the university closes for a holiday recess + I am happy to use these 2 weeks in Auroville for an inquiry to the many experimental initiatives planned and/or practiced in this ca 50-year old egalitarian living experiment. So here I am, one week into my stay, typing away with internet that comes and goes, among other guests that come and go – the majority from India, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, USA, China. I am surprised that I meet people of all ages from toddlers to a young 80-year old.
I am noticing posters and campaigns to conserve water, recycle, compost scraps. There is almost zero single-use plastic here, no red meat (many vegans), no alcohol or smoking. The one sore spot is car and motorcycle traffic. Only a small portion of e-bikes. (PS: no pictures, no Instagram you ask? well, with my Auroville internet coming + going, it can take 5 minutes to upload a 300k photo. I’ll be adding some when I am back to ‘regular internet’ at Srishti. >> that is now!)
One of my best experiences so far was a 1/2 day visit to Sadhana forest. https://sadhanaforest.org/. A community of residents and volunteers lives at the ca 16-year old reforestation project. They reverted a near desert to a lush forest, mainly with native plants + were able to raise the water level by about 6 meters. All live a completely circular economy, eating vegan, composting all waste (including human), building palm-thatched houses of local material. Apart from biological concerns they practice a gifting economy and non-hierarchical respect for all creatures. I am not sure how scalable this project is – but even urban dwellers can implement many of the parts. Is our human survival not worth a ‘little inconvenience’? If that little ‘inconvenience’ quickly becomes a habit, then we are ready for more steps.
My wish to all who read this is such an inconvenient but fulfilling 2020!
(December 29, 2019, Auroville)
Auroville Sustainability project selection
I spent the 2 weeks collecting + researching some of Auroville’s Sustainability Projects:
More on Sadhana forest – It was started by the Israeli family of Yorit Rozin, The 8 min Doc tells the history FROM MY LITTLE HUT IN THE FOREST ,2018, Link: https://youtu.be/G5OE5RFNvs0, URL: https://sadhanaforest.org/
I participated in a foraging workshop that resulted in making our own lunch. Krishna, a British ex-pat started the farm 24 years ago. The farm mixes wild and planted greens. We picked + collected about 30 of those plants and made them into a smoothy, a salad, + chutney. The farm uses no pesticides, produces no waste (all scraps get composted). They run an open-air lunch restaurant that prepares about 80-100 daily thalis (same mixed plates for all) with choices of self-made juices and drinks. https://www.auroville.org/contents/2897
more in this short doc: EAT LOCAL WEEK AT SOLITUDE FARM AUROVILLE , 6 min
“As an experiment, they only ate what was locally grown, three meals a day, for one week, under the guidance of Krishna, the founder of Solitude Farm in Auroville. Watch and discover all that is locally grown in Auroville and the health benefits and delicious recipes they learned. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpF3GtewiMU
PS: At the workshop I met Tom, a Biochemist-engineer from Yorkshire, who came with his wife, a Yoga teacher, BY LAND (for a reduced CO2 footprint!) on a ca 2-month journey. They travelled through the tunnel to France, on to Moscow, with the Transsib to Mongolia and Tibet by train, by road to Nepal + India, and again by train south to Auroville. Admirable!
I looked up several architectural initiatives:
Other than traditional palm-thatched housing, much of contemporary architecture in Auroville is built by local architecture studios or experiments using sustainable methods. The early modernist architecture from the 70-ies – in a “pre-sustainable” era were typical concrete-heavy constructions.
Much of the housing is not privately owned but belongs to the Auroville community. Rents are determined on a sliding scale. Utilities used to be cheap but paid by for by residents. Later electricity was made a free service.
When talking to Adil Writer, an internationally known sculptor, potter + architect who founded ‘Mandala Pottery’ (https://www.mandalapottery.com/) about 2 decades ago he made me aware of this problematic decision. While he had installed solar panels on his roof for all his household + some of the firing kiln needs, many of the formerly energy-conscious residents resorted to replacing fans with AC and other energy-hungry appliances. So, unfortunately, despite a general awareness, the wrong behavior was incentivized by making it free.
The Suhasini Ayer owned firm ‘Auroville Design’ has built the light and airy Auroville Library with multiple sustainable considerations and a design that relies on ventilation rather than electric cooling. https://www.aurovilledesign.com/pdfs/auroville-library/ And across the street they are in the process of building an apartment complex: Humanscapes. https://www.aurovilledesign.com/pdfs/humanscapes/
The Auroville Earth Institute, down a red, earthen road is a non-profit Resource Centre for Asia of the UNESCO Chair “Earthen Architecture, Constructive Cultures and Sustainable Development”.
They have built residential and community buildings, are teaching workshops and have assembled an exhibition room with building samples and photographs of their 30 years of work. Bound copies of a dozen case studies are available for a low copy fee (under 700 rupees or $10) + include concept, photos, blueprints. http://www.earth-auroville.com/
The ecological housing project of architect Manu Gopalan and his team of educators, biologists, masons, and students are building ‘Sacred Groves’ a 3-part prototype built with mud bricks, rainwater harvesting, solar panels, use of palm wood etc. The project serves as a hands-on workshop for architecture students and volunteers who live in dorms on the site and maintain a permaculture garden/kitchen. In addition, some experimental 1-room houses are under construction, designed by students. Also gender roles are clearly different here. Two girls with a wheelbarrow pass us.
The girls’ dorm on stilts with a tent-shaped thatched roof included a hummingbird nest they were preserving. The small solar lamp I give to my guide Shavi will get her a dorm some light at night. http://sacredgroves.in/
Comment: Bill, a young German architect I met, observed that the different initiatives do not seem to benefit from each others’ experiences as much as they could. Some at ‘Sacred Groves’ did not seem to be aware of the Earth Institute’s materials and documentation – are their building materials different – is competition a factor?
This concludes my Auroville experience. It so happens that next week is the Auroville Film fest. I hesitated but decided not to delay my own project + lose my flight, so I bookmark sustainability-related films/shorts next (+ plan to watch the trailers/movies over the next weekend)
I end with two images of a timeless India before I go back to modern Bangalore.