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National University of Singapore isd5105 Principles of Sustainable Urbanism April 2015   A report by

Adithi Moogoor A0109749R & Samudyatha Mysore Subbarama A0123459A 1 EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

Adithi Moogoor A0109749R

Samudyatha Mysore Subbarama A0123459A



introduction to Auroville: the uropian township of india _ physical and geographical context _ auroville the universal township _ Sustainability in the context of Auroville _ Urban Context: Planning : A manifestation of spiritual symbolism Land Uses embedded into the symbol _ description of the six zones _ Mobility Economic and Social factor _ Auroville and its neighbouring villages: _ Auroville :A brand _ Safety ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS _ Management of Water and Land _ Land Management _ Integrating strategies for Land and Water _ Water Practices and the Community _ Conclusion for Land and Water Management in Auroville : _ Decentralizing the Waste management _ Research and Experimentation for Renewable Energy _ Food Security _ Creation of Built Environment and associated Sustainability practices Comparitive analysis of Auroville to other experimental towns such as Findhorn, and Acrosanti Conclusion references list of figures


ABSTRACT We look at Auroville with a critical perspective, examining it from the larger regional and national context, moving to smaller scales of town planning, built enironment and sustainable innovative practices and research in renewables, construction, and resource management. the case of auroville is analysed as to how it currently functions in the regional south indian context and whether it would be a model that is replicable in the national scale. We begin the journey with aurovilles conception, and examine how that has informed its planning and land use patterns. the water-land-energy-food nexus is then examined from the regional to the scale of the building. Various practices that are associated with sustainability are illustrated. Conceived as a ‘utopian’ town, a brief comparison is undertaken of various other initiatives such as arcosanti and find horn. to examine whether these towns are economically viable? Socially inclusive? And are as environmentally conscious as they claim to be.


Introduction: Auroville -The

Utopian township of India

The word Utopia as described by Sir Thomas More in his book Utopia in 1516, which means ‘no-place’, a non-existent society. Utopian values where people distanced themselves from the day to day life of the society, built a world of their own. Sharing a unified idea of thought that by a group of people following the leading a life with no context to the urban phenomena which the rest of the world is facing. The case of Auroville also was established with the vision statement of the founder, “ There should be somewhere up on earth a place that no nation could claim as its sole property, a place where all human beings of goodwill, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme Truth”. (Bhati 2009) Insistence on the need to create a ‘Universal City’ that would generate a universal spirituality led to the evolution of a self proclaimed Utopian city in India called Auroville.

Figure: Map showing the Location of Auroville in a larger context Source: Planning the Township, 2001

GOVERNED BY A STRONG PHILOSOPHY The postcolonial concept of uplifting the society, bridging economic disparities, unifying humanity called for a place that was above the dogmatic tensions of a city and rural conditions yet be grounded on earth based on strong principles of two visionaries, namely an Indian freedom fighter Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) and Parisian spiritualist Mira Alfassa, known as the Mother. The Mother founded the township in 1968, with its own charter under the pretext of a fundamental concept of ‘all people are equal’ and spirituality should bind people together negating religion completely out of the township.

However at a regional and national context, India is an ambiguous amalgamation of spirituality, religion and culture. Thus Auroville is considered to be a collective experiment devoted to human unity and international understanding attaching itself to a global context. “Without predefined bylaws or being bound by the conventions of human society, a multitude of expressions materialised in the course of Auroville’s development”. (Kundoo 2007)


PHYSICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT Auroville is located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, 160 km to the south of Chennai, 6 km North of Pondicherry (Puducherry) near the Coramandel coast. Pondicherry being a post colony of the French has a high influence on Auroville’s philosophy.

Though Auroville was initially located on a barren land, there are a few distinctive features around the township which have enabled Auroville to tap into those resources. As portrayed in most of Auroville’s information centres, definitely the barren land posed as a constraint for urban development, but the claims of the township as a successful development model is not solely dependent on its efforts. In fact due credit has to be given to geographical resources surrounding it that act as a major support system to the site.

Kaliveli tank, a lake which is an environmental resource in the region is located just 10 km to the north of Auroville. Ustery tank, major water body is an important source of irrigation which lies to the south of the site. There are six village settlements within the township area. A rural population of 40,000 in about 13 existing villages surround the site.

Auroville with a proposed population of 50000 is an unhurried expanding township of 2345, people from across the globe consisting of 80 settlements. (Verma 2014) The land area occupied by the township is 19.66.sq km. There are people from 50 nationalities and foreign population constitutes of about 58 percent of the population.

Figure: Demographic break down of the resident population Source: Auroville, Auroville info, 2014


Figure: Map showing the neighbouring resources Source: Edited Google Earth EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

The Auroville Universal Township: Envisioned solely by the Mother, the Master Plan reflects a ‘Nebulus’ concept supposedly lending itself to international, national and local thinking. A French Architect Roger Anger designed the master plan which resembles a galaxy that spirals over 5 sq km emerging from The Matrimandir, ‘a place for spiritual realization’, as the epicentre. A dynamic spiralling Master Plan in a rotated movement has rigid zones dedicated to : 1. 2. 3. 4.

Residential Zone International Zone The Industrial Zone Cultural Zone

Figure: The conceptual Zoning Plan of Auroville Source: Auroville, Auroville info, 2014

The four zones are encased within the ‘Green Belt’, an area which is dedicated for promoting and regeneration of the bio-diversity along with carrying out experimental activities on organic food production and sustainable innovations.

Sustainability in the context of Auroville Carrying different taglines and labels such as Ecotownship, Architectural laboratory and international spiritual community, Auroville, is acclaimed for its wasteland reclamation. It has been successful in transforming the barren land to lush green vegetation. The regenerative vegetation has led to the plantation different crops bringing innovation in farming. Housing 23 architectural design workshops and studios, it is an architectural laboratory experimenting on various green buildings that are local in context (city, 2014) .

The Auroville cultural centre hosts visual arts, performance arts and literature events. It also houses around 125 commercial units that facilitate job to the local population. In the following section, we critically analyse Auroville in terms of its Planning: Focusing onto the land use planning, mobility and economic and social factors. We then focus onto the green practices of the estate comprising of water, waste, regeneration of land and green buildings. food production and sustainable innovations.



Urban Context: Planning : A manifestation of spiritual symbolism “The vision of the community is to shape the available land the optimizes the land needs and maximizes economical development which is achieved through innovative and optimum mix of various densities and new typological urban forms and amenities, which is surrounded by a green fertile belt which houses the research activities of farming, waste management, soil conservation, forest development and regeneration assisting the development of the community”. (Planning the Township, 2001) The Auroville Foundation Act of 1988, formulated by the Government of Indian was a stepping stone to have a broad planning framework for Auroville. A participatory process of all the residents, gives a democratic approach to take decisions on the Master Planning of the site. Though envisioned and conceptualised by a single person (The Mother), designed by a French Architect, currently the process has broadened its prospects considering and accepting views from the Government and the residents. “The powers and function of the governing board shall be 1) to prepare a Master plan of Auroville in consultation with the resident’s Assembly and to ensure development of Auroville as so planned” ( The symbolism of Auroville which has a dot at the centre representing unity, the inner circle which resembles the city and the petals which represent power of expression has been translated directly onto a Master Plan without considering the context of the site. It is of observation that many local architects have critiqued the Master Plan formulated by a foreign architect questioning his knowledge on local environment.


Land Uses embedded into the symbol

inner peace zone

residential zone

international zone

industrial zone

cultural zone

green belt

Figure: showing a series of different zones across the site Source: Auroville, Auroville info, 2014

Figure: : Population density of states/ union territories of India Source:population, 2011

With a rigid segregation of different zones, it contradicts the idea of an urban scenario which has different overlapping functions to provide mixed use typologies. At a juncture where mixed use zoning is considered a reasonable solution to sustaining a city, Auroville’s rigid stand in mono usage of functions questions the usage rate of these areas. An overview of the current scenario highlights the built areas

existing in isolation with no network systems that binds them together to function as a whole. The density of population is 117.25 persons per sq km. The average population density of India is 382 persons per sq km and Pondicherry ranks third highest densely populated state/union territory of India. (population, 2011) With such low density and only 12% of the land area built in 46 years, the resilience of the township is questionable.



Figure showing the Master Plan (Source: Masterplan, 2015)


Figure showing an aerial view of the exsiting conditions on site( Source: Google Earth) EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

The Land Use distribution of Auroville 5.70% 19.55% Peace Area


Residential Zone


International Zone Industrial Zone


Cultural Zone

Figure: Pie Chart showing the land use distribution in the city area (inner circle). Source: edited-Masterplan, 2015

Residential Commercial Industrial 18.13%


9.37% 14.87% 4.07%

Matrimandir 4.07%

11.41% 7.74%

Pavilions Educational & Cultural


Administration Open Space & Recreation Transportation & Communitcation

Figure: Pie Chart Showing the overall land use distribution of the entire site. Source: edited-Masterplan, 2015 11 EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

description of the six zones THE PEACE AREA, consisting Matrimandir gardens and a lake constitutes about 5.7% of the city area (inner circle). The landscape of this area mainly comprises of a dome building surrounded by huge spaces of lawn areas. Considering the hot and humid climate of South India, most of its area cannot be utilised.

THE RESIDENTIAL ZONE: A dedicated area of 189 hectares this zone is governed by a policy of a maximum 30 sq m living space per person which seems a luxury considering the compactness of Indian cities. The crown road which is encompassing the Matirmandir (centre of the township) comprises of recreational centres, retail, display areas, health centre and utility needs as a support system to the residences. (Auroville, Residential Zone, 2014). While the existence of such amenities in a pure residential area does provide some relief for the sustenance of residential development, the location of it on the edge of the zoning towards the centre is far reaching to most part of the residential zone.

figure: The residential zone, with the amenities aligned along the crown road Source: edited. Masterplan,2015 12 EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

Figure: International zone housing pavilions representing different countries forming a world. Source: Auroville, Auroville info, 2014

THE INTERNATIONAL ZONE: Under the concept of “an open ended planning” where a Master Plan cannot be ‘frozen’, there are a lot of pavilions which form a mini world when put together. The pavilions have low usage and occupancy rate and have no connection to each other. THE INDUSTRIAL ZONE: Small and medium scale industries are situated in this zone. Most of the industries are clean and non-pollutive industries providing job opportunities to the neighbouring villagers.

THE CULTURAL ZONE: Following the ideology of ‘higher and truer way of living culture’ (Auroville, 2104), this zone educational institutions like schools, cultural studios and exhibition centres.

THE GREEN BELT: Encompassing all the zones is the green belt which has been a land for reforestation, farming and field laboratory for eco friendly practicing techniques. Being one of its kind for research and a test bed for sustainable practices, Auroville has set up an initiative that lot of researchers can look into. But the concept of green belt and its location reflects the green belt concept of garden city conceptualised by Patrick Abercrombie, F.J Osborn and Raymond Unwin. Similar to the original concept, the green belt in Auroville is acting as a separation between a town and country, trying to limit its growth within predefined boundaries and segregating the villages through a defined belt of green. Portraying a modernist vision through strict zones and the green belt, it definitely form a township. In a broader perspective looking at the regional level of Pondicherry, Auroville resembles an urban sprawl, escaping the hustle bustle of urban phenomena. A township closer to nature but is not easily accessible to all.



Mobility According to Auroville’s proposal master plan for modes of transportation have to be clean, green and sustainable. The radiating green fingers from the central Peace Area consists of shaded pathways for pedestrians and cyclists. Ironically, the Mother’s vision of a car-free, garden- like environment did not match up to the mobility needs of the residents. “And a major difficulty, apart from negotiating existing roads into the overlay of the future City plan, is the fact that major thoroughfares pass through land which does not, or perhaps will not soon, belong to Auroville” (Posch, 2011) Figure: Image showing the concentric lines of walking distances, with pedestrian and cycling networks.


The Crown Road is meant to be accessed mostly by pedestrians and cyclists. Motorized vehicles are forbidden from accessing this road, unless they are ambulances or vehicles for the disabled, or service vehicles transporting goods. The Outer ring road with its various nodes, allow motorised forms of transportation. There are options of walking or using shuttle buses , cycles or rickshaws for the visitors or community members, arriving at this point by any motorized form of transport. Finding a public mode of transportation is very difficult as there are buses servicing this area on regular intervals.

Figure: The dirt roads around the site designated for cyclists and pedestrians. Source: Edited, Posch,2011,MasterplanEXAMINING 2015 SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

Mobility contd. Most of the roads are dirt roads which can kick up dust in the air during summer making it inconvenient for the motorists and cyclists to drive. With very little signage, one can easily get lost for hours. To top it all considering the hot weather of Tamil Nadu, it is very inconvenient for people to cycle or to walk. On a personal note, when we visited the place, commuting was quite a task due to the climate until a villager offered us some water to continue our journey in search of spirituality and architecture.

Figure: The dirt roads around the site designated for cyclists and pedestrians. Source:Metras, 2014


Economic and Social factor With the intention of the township being economically sustainable, there are lot of entrepreneurial strategies it has ventured into. The township and the villages are interdependence and mutually benefit from each other. Under the Auroville village development programme which has been active for the past 13 years engaging neighbouring villages, it has been able to absorb human resources to its advantage and establish a wide range of industries. Some of the initiations are as follows: Manufacturing sector: There are more than 100 small and medium manufacturing units operating here. The manufacturing products range from engineering products, computer softwares and alternate technologies such as windmills, biogas systems, solar lanterns and heaters. the cottage type industries use local materials , producing products such as candles and incense products,, garments, food processing and printing. The overall turn-over of these units is about Rupees 25.50 million in 1999-2000 (Auroville, 2014)

With the intention of the township being economically sustainable, there are lot of entrepreneurial strategies it has ventured into. The township and the villages are interdependence and mutually benefit from each other. Under the Auroville village development programme which has been active for the past 13 years engaging neighbouring villages, it has been able to absorb human resources to its advantage and establish a wide range of industries. Some of the initiations are as follows: Manufacturing sector: There are more than 100 small and medium manufacturing units operating here. The manufacturing products range from engineering products, computer softwares and alternate technologies such as windmills, biogas systems, solar lanterns and heaters. the cottage type industries use local materials , producing products such as candles and incense products,, garments, food processing and printing. The overall turn-over of these units is about Rupees 25.50 million in 1999-2000 (Auroville, 2014)

Service sector: This sector comprises of construction and architectural services. There are also training sectors such as renewable energy and building materials technology related to efficient resource

Service sector: This sector comprises of construction and architectural services. There are also training sectors such as renewable energy and building materials technology related to efficient resource




Auroville and its neighbouring villages: The relationship that the surrounding villages share with Auroville is complex and dynamic. The various socio-political forces at play here make the entire relationship contradictory. Though the villages have benefitted from the existence of the township through employment opportunities, there is still a concern over the fact that residing population is foreign while the working population is local. With a working population of 5000 employees, 2800 are mere labourers. When Auroville was established lot of land from the farmers were bought at below the market price. The farmers also willingly sold their land to be liberated from the agrarian society post independence. In the journal Auroville: An Utopian Paradox, Bhatia highlights that though they recently received freedom from farming, there was a fear of slavery once again. “The Westerners never regarded the locals as equals and the various cultural differences and colonial mindsets made it easy for them to abuse the Tamilians�. (Bhatia, 2014)


Auroville :A brand Auroville has been not only selling the products it has produced with its own brand name but also itself as a destination for tourists both local and international, researches keen on exploring sustainable practices, architects, students. retirees and so on. It has caught a lot of attention in tourism sector. Pondicherry, known as the post French colony, attracts a lot of tourists. Auroville situated just on the outskirts of this city, absorbs these tourists into their township as well. The Visitor’s centre is a group of buildings which pass on information of though exhibitions and multimedia and presentations.

Figure: Branding of Auroville in various forms source: Boutique, 2014

The buildings by sustainable which sets an example through demonstration of water management, rain water harvesting , ground water recharge and so on. There are a lot of hostels and international pavilions that cater to tourists. A substantial amount is generated from tourism as well. The Government of India owns and manages the Auroville Foundation, and is adopting it as one of the sustainable townships under exploration. Subsequently it finances a small part of the township’s budget. The rest are mainly formed by contributions from commercial units that constitute 33% of their profits to Auroville’s Central Fund, and by donations.

Figure: online shopping source:


Safety: Public safety also is an integral part of a city which contributes to sustainability. But there are lot of issues relating to safety considering the fact that the zoning is so segregated, low density population and isolated buildings. One of the architects who has worked and lived there says -” i do not leave the house after 7 p.m as it is not safe. Even having a motorised vehicle is not beneficial to commute at night”. (Ravichandran, 2013)

The vast vegetation, narrow dirt roads and lack of street lights are also adding to the problem of safety. However there are lot of initiatives that are in progress to tackle this problem, “The only way to make a real security blanket is to weave in the local villages, as it will also benefit the residents of their respective village too” (Maga, 2013)

Figure:Safety in Auroville. source:

Auroville, in its attempt to create a local context with global ideologies, it has physically detached itself from the mundane life of a city. Though philosophically the doors are open to everybody who believe in the ideals of the Mother, the elongated selection process to be an Aurovillian limits the intake of the residents to a selected few in contrast to the statements of embracing people from all walks of life. Spatially disconnected and established on a green field site resulting in tabula rasa may not be the most suitable solution to a country like India. 19 EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSIDERATIONS Sustainability cannot be prescribed to a place. It is defined by the context of place, society, politics and economy. The tabula rasa of Auroville is a result of excessive subsistence farming. The Barren land, which has been successfully reforested as aforementioned, then had to be fit for Human existence. It starts off with the creation of resource for consumption. In this section, the use, creation and management of various resources such as Land, Water, Energy, Shelter, Food, and the treatment of Waste has been critically analyzed for the Auroville township.

Management of Water and Land In the 1960’s, as we observe the early landscapes at the Auroville site, we may discern that the rejuvenation of land and water resources was priority. Auroville lies on a plateau where the monsoon rain would wash away the fertile soil, as there was no reservoirs in the path of this watershed the land, rendering the land unable to hold the water. The Lands fertile soil needed to be restored and this brought about an integrative practice wherein the residents with the help of the surrounding villages, to hold the runoff water and therefore also hold the fertile soil on site, created check dams to control the erosion of soil.

Figure: Early Landscapes of Auroville Source:

Regenerating the secondary forest Two million saplings were planted on 598Ha comprising of 34% of Auroville’s site. Five decades later we see a lush secondary forest that has revived the fertility of the soil and brought about a change in the microclimate. (Auroville Innovative Urban Management, 2014) 20

Figure: reforestation efforts Source: EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

Regenerating the secondary forest,


The regenerative practices in Auroville has brought about the proliferation of indigenous plant and animal species. Auroville is an experiment in process to develop new methods to conserve soil, manage water resources, recharge the land, and restore the environment. Government gave financial support for India projects such as Waste Land Regeneration, Watershed Management and Reforestation projects. One of the integrated Land and water management strategies was to plant the Acacia tree species.

The trees were planted along the aforementioned terraced, slowing the erosion process. The leaves of the Acacia had the ability to retain moisture after shedding in the Fall, thereby increasing the humidity of the land therefore taking a small step forward in the regeneration of the land. Additionally the fallen leaves would act as fertilizer, completing the ecological cycle.

Integrating strategies for Land and Water In examining the case of Auroville we may observe that of the 20sq. km under its purview, 88% of its land us is that of Agriculture. Agriculture as we all know takes a lot from the land and water as a resource. Therefore sustainable management of Land and Water is critical to the success of Auroville as a township. Lets illustrate some of the threats that are imminent in this context. Auroville’s location in the landscape of India dictates that it also has to take measures with respect to sea water intrusion. Despite Efforts maintained by the Aurovilians to regenerate the land, undertake ecological farming practices, prevent water runoff and soil erosion, the salinity levels in the groundwater table was an on an increase coupled with a decrease in water table levels. According to the Rainfall graph for Auroville where we observe that there is an annual rainfall of 1144mm.

If We assume that 80% of the water can be caught off site we may see that in order to catch the fluctuating monsoon rains, check dams were built. But this first series of damns failed to work due to a miscalculation of scale. Working on this methodology, large earthen dykes were built, which served the dual purpose of holding the agricultural fields. To further prevent erosions lines of trees were planted along these terraced fields. Multiple integrative solutions in brief helped the quick regeneration of the Land. The microclimate of the region also saw improvement during the undertaking of these measures. Eventually the Aurovilians had to look at a larger bio-region of Auroville, in order to create a more resilient water system. In this regard, their efforts should be appreciated, as it is one of the first systems in India wherein they have conducted GIS surveys and developed information systems in order to get a comprehensive view of the situation.


Integrating strategies for Land and Water Learning from the hydrological map that was generated, it was learned that due to large rock outcrops in the watershed region, the salinity in the ground water systems were increasing, it has been acknowledged that this is a problem that cannot be solved in a human lifetime. The salt water from this rock outcrop may soon infiltrate the water reservoirs in the region, which may render null and void all the sustainability measures taken at site. (ThompsonSmeddle, 2007) (Auroville, 2014)

This was confirmed by a statement of Gilles Boulicot, the Executive of Water Harvest “The efforts conducted so far have not altered the trend of groundwater degradation. Auroville depends on the bioregion for its water management and a large part of this area is under immediate risk of a major environmental crisis.”

Water Practices and the Community While dealing with a priority resource such as water we see that the social and economic aspects of site are intrinsically linked. In light of this, the agriculturally based demographic and land use of Auroville, the farmers of the region had to be trained to conserve water and farm following organic principles. A GIS study brought to light the need to incorporate the surrounding villages into the planning of Auroville. In the Water management of the area the villages that lie in the watershed of the Kaliveli tank that supplies water to the town of Auroville were polluting the waters through massive dumping of garbage waste and human excrement that posed a threat to the water supply of the region. Hence sanitation systems were developed for the villages that lie in this region. A second step was to tackle the way water was managed in the surrounding industries and agricultural lands who were contaminating the groundwater through untreated effluents and heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers. The Auroville Water Harvest advocated reuse and treatment of waste water and using waste such as sludge to generate energy through processes of incineration in a gasifier for the surrounding textile and manufacturing industries.

A NOTE ON WATER SUPPLY & WATER USAGE The water supply of Auroville is entirely dependent on Underground Water sources. To father strain the resilience of water, Auroville is located in a district that has already utilized 90% of its recharge potential of the existing ground water reservoirs. It therefore becomes very important to recycle and conserve water and recharge the groundwater reservoirs in the region through comprehensive planning and hydrological design. “Auroville consumes about 4.5 million liters of potable water/day for domestic, industrial and gardening purposes is considered excessive and measures are being taken to bring it down to reasonable standards” (Auroville Innovative Urban Management, 2014) A recommendation in this regard would be to reconsider the lawned area around the Matrimandir, which other than setting of the monumental architecture, does little to stand by the ecological principles that Auroville preaches.


Conclusion for Land and Water Management in Auroville Integrating various practices and understanding the nexus that exist between the Land, Water and Nature, Aurovilians have successfully regenerated the land that had been deemed worthless due to decades of heavy subsistence farming practices. Working through trials and tribulations, testing out methods and working with failures to finally achieve minimal water runoff, prevent soil erosion, the efforts of the people have helped restore life back into the exploited land. The question that we ask of Auroville is, while it has had far reaching progress in terms of developing new methods and practices of ecological farming, progressive water monitoring and management systems, will large scale natural mechanisms such as that of sea water intrusion, affect the future of the township? Will the process of densifying the population of the township do more harm than good to the water resources in the region which are already at levels of scarcity? Could they look at creating small scale reservoir systems that could harvest rainwater at the scale of the region? Therefore intensifying the smaller network of check dams and earthen dykes built?

Figure: Check Dam at Utility Canyon Source:

Figure: Plan of Check Dam at Utility Canyon Source:

Figure: Construction Process of Building a Check Dam Source:


Decentralizing the Waste management Solid waste disposal by a body known as the Eco Service in Auroville. Two thirds of the waste generated at Auroville is organic waste and generally composted at the site level itself . The rest is recycled or incinerated at the local plant. Auroville as a community advocates the recycling and sorting of waste at the site level of the building itself.

Figure: Eco Service at Auroville Source: Figure: Garbology 101 Advocacy Efforts Source:

SEWAGE & SLUDGE TREATMENT Auroville following the principle of decentralized systems has brought into existence sewage disposal systems at the building level. All residential Units have their individual sewage disposal systems. Larger community level treatment facilities use various processes and technologies, some developed at Auroville such as the Imhoff tanks, baffle reactors, root zone and lagooning systems. The Lagooning system looks at treating black water to an extent such that it does not lower the quality of the ground water but is still being tested on an experimental basis. (Auroville Innovative Urban Management 2014) Mobile de-sludging units are deployed to clean septic tanks, septic baffled reactor tank, planted filter, rootzone treatment system, aeration bed and other waste water treatment systems. The sludge after treatment through various processes such as Effective Microorganisms and rich Carbon treatment then acts as a fertilizer for the agricultural lands and the existing green belt that encloses Auroville.

Figure: Decentralised Waste Water Treatment Source:

Figure: Waste Water Treatment System, Settling tank Source:


Research and Experimentation for Renewable Energy Auroville has been one of the pioneers in India for continued research and implementation of solar energy, Funded and in co-operation with the Indian government , Auroville has installed a 36.3 KW solar PV plant at the center of the settlement, making it one of the largest stand alone solar power plants in India. A well known technology in Auroville is the solar bowl (solar collector) installed on the roof of the solar kitchen generates enough electricity to cook for a 1000 Aurovilians per day. A large number of residences use Solar PV for their lighting and

Figure: solar power plant at Matrimandir 36.7KW Source:

heating requirements. Water for everyday usage is pumped using energy generated by 140 solar and 30 wind driven pumps. While research in renewable, waste management, is made possible due to multiple organizations which market, produce and develop different renewable energy systems, due to limitations of technology and production, the township to this day still draws a large amount of its power from the state electricity grid, and therefore when measuring self sufficiency with regard to energy, Auroville still remains only a testing bed for renewable as opposed to the perceived model township that is self sufficient with respect to energy.

Figure: Wind Powered Pumps at Auroville. Source:

Figure: Solar Collector at Auroville Source:

AUROVILLE’S PLANS FOR THE FUTURE “Auroville is now drawing 2.1 million KW of power per year from TNEB and its demand in the first phase would be in the order of 20 million KW per year based on the present per capita energy consumption. Conservation measures are expected to bring this down to about 14 million KW. In order to fulfill its energy objectives Auroville is considering two important avenues: To build a wind farm in southern Tamil Nadu that would supply energy to the TNEB grid, which could be drawn at Auroville. To build gasifier plants in Auroville to draw energy from biomass resources in the region. Proposals for pilot plants of 3 MW total capacity are under consideration.” (Auroville Innovative Urban Management, 2014)



Food Security 940 Ha of land has been given over for agriculture which is almost 54%, more than half the land under the Auroville foundation, another 50Ha has been devoted for development and research of new farming practices. Food security is an issue that Auroville clearly hopes to achieve self sufficiency in. There are many workshops that are conducted in Auroville that train people in organic farming practices. Subsistance farming has been replaced by what is termed as Ecological Agriculture which is based on virtues of soil and water conservation, efficient manage ment of resources, and reforestation practices. “Current research in the field of farming includes: experimenting with agricultural ecosystems, use of green fertilizers, inter-cropping in agriculture to increase soil fertility, agricultural forestry, harnessing solar and wind power, energy reduction in agricultural equiment etc. “ (Ecological Agriculture, 2003)

Figure: Annapurna Farm at Auroville Source:

Figure: Overview of Solitude Farm at Auroville Source:

Figure: Green Advocacy at Auroville Source: 26 EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE

Creation of Built Environment and associated Sustainability practices Auroville has approached building the settlement through imbibing and redesigning passive practices of orienting the building to lower solar gain, insulation, usage of local materials such as the red earth, earth bloakcs and researches largely in the use of Ferro cement, supported by the local and voluntary labour force. A large number of Architects have set up shop in the area, a general critique would be that the sparse, location of the beautifully designed building to date run at low capacities. While the buildings perform great in terms of sustainability, as they are personal responses to site and climatic conditions, reuse/ reinvent traditional construction methods, in the context of low usage, the need to built itself is questioned. There are more buildings than what the current population can occupy, while the Buildings may occupy picturesque locations, the feeling of community is lost due to an absence of linkages between the scattered buildings, that is usually represented through street elements.

Following the principles of built to meet needs, Auroville has used its local resources and labour to develop new building construction methods and practices, a critique of the settlement would be that these building experiments while great are disperesed and largely unoccupied due the transitorial nature of a part of the community. A commendable work would be that of building structural resilient housing and community facilities such as schools and so on for the surrounding villages, at the same time adopting new building construction methods, materials and passive house strategies. In an educational context, it has encouraged a lot of students to explore and rethink conventional architectural practices, and therefore challenging the market led ‘green’ movement.

On the other hand the buildings are to a large extent self sufficient, in terms of generating thier own energy and recycling of waste. Rain water harvesting is not utilized to the maximum, due to the nature of the Indian Monsoon is still largely drawn from the grid.

Figure: New Construction techniques Source:

Figure: Auroville Earth Institute Source: EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE


Comparitive analysis of Auroville to other experimental towns such as Findhorn, and Acrosanti.

This exercise starts of with the view that sustainable, spiritually/ideologically conceived towns, while they are great testbeds for “sustainable experiments” cannot be compared to high density megacities that are the norm today.

Auroville LOCATION “City of Dawn” Viluppuram district, Tamil Nadu, India, 6km from Pondicherry.


Ideology/ Philosophy/ “A universal town to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all ESTABLISHED BY: politics and all nationalities.” MIRRA ALFASSA

“Urban Laboratory” middle of the Arizona Desert, 110 km from Phoenix


Moray, Scotland



Philosophy/ Imbibe philosophies of Architecture and Ecology, conceived as a response to the ESTABLISHED BY: suburb and consumerism. PAULO SOLERI

5000 75

Find Horn Ideology/ LOCATION

2.32 km2 built 17.31 km2 unbuilt

administration The Auroville Foundation is an autonomous body under

50,000 2345

Arcosanti LOCATION Ideology/

land use

the Ministry of Human Resource Development

land use

0.08 km2 built 16.35km2 unbuilt administration Cosanti Foundation


Philosophy/ combine Ecological practices, develop sustainable technology and maintain low C values ESTABLISHED BY: FINDHORN FOUNDATION

land use



administration The Findhorn Foundation



water small percentage of rain water harvesting. Deep water wells. largely draws from GRID energy ~10% self Sufficient food 15% Self Sufficient

water State Grid energy connected to the STATE GRID food 0.5% selfsufficient

water State Grid energy ~10% self Sufficient food 50% self sufficient

economy Training workshops manufacturing service : softwar, garments, incense. Organic Farming future looking at developing physical and social infrastructure for a population of 15000

economy Sale of ceramic and bronze cast bells designed by Soleri. Workshops, and Donations. future looking at developing physical and social infrastructure for a population of 15000

Comparing the Three towns across various geographical locations globally, we find that these envisioned townships of small organisations, spiritual leaders and architects, are eventually low in population, have an economy that is largely supported by the marketing of sustainable ideologies, practices and products. But by themselves are not entirely self sufficient in terms of natural resource and economy. Auroville claims prominence, by sheer virtue of size of community and land among the compared towns. It, like others professes an ecological worldview. While these towns are essential to developing new techonologies and act as test beds to experiment with sustainable models, they do not singlehandedly, represent a model that can be replicated in the scenario of current global urbanization. At what cost is Sustainability achieved in such utopian townships?

economy The project supports approximately 300 jobs in excess of ÂŁ5 million per annum future looking at developing physical and social infrastructure for a population of 15000 EXAMINING SUSTAINABILITY AT AUROVILLE


Conclusion Utopian towns, are definitely a way forward in the current consumerist context. While they may easily morph into Dystopia, it is critical that we learn lessons from these towns. As we have observed the utopian townships, even though supporting a low population, they are all a long way from Self sufficiency. A resource crunched Earth, will only allow townships like the Auroville experiment to be a good test bed to check practices of sustainable living. As a township it has displayed significant integration in all aspects of town planning such as advocacy of good water, waste and land management practice, concepts of regenerating the land at the scale of the township, harbouring biodiversity. R & D institutions numbering to almost 30 are actively engaged in the research and development of new technologies, use renewable sources of energy, using progressive GIS mappings of the bio region, to take informed decisions for ecological farming, and managing the resources. They have been successful in developing building methodologies that incorporate locally sourced material, taking into account skill levels, and in turn imparting skills to the laymen. Auroville is also known for harbouring the various arts and cultural activities. A grass roots movement, wherein neighbouring villages are empowered through education, by improving agricultural methods and providing livelihoods in the manufacturing sector. These successful ideas can and should be incorporated into mainstream practices in the national and global scale.


However the township is exclusive both physically and socially from the regional and national context. It needs to draw synergies from the existing Townships and cities for it to be part of the region. With the rigidity of its segregated land use plan

inspired from the Mother’s vision poses a challenge when it is executed on grounds. A modernist European plan that sits in an Asian context has set itself apart from the rest of the country, still moulding its way through to be amalgamated with the surroundings. Inspite of its low density of 117 People/km2 it has not completely achieved self sufficiency of resources. In terms of mobility, the dedicated cycling and pedestrian tracks is way forward for the rest of the townships in the country to look up to, but with no alternative collective mode of transportation, the township is not easily accessible from the outside as well as from within. The ties with its neighbouring villages is very delicate. While it has acted as link to integrate all the villages to work as a collective form , the notion of the locals working for a township resided by foreigners is still a concern. Owned and safeguarded by the Government of India , is definitely a positive initiative for the township to flourish and be embedded with the rest of the region. With approaching Climate Crisis, looming water scarcity, global warming, rising urban populations, and the energy-food and water nexus, integrated sustainable urban development is the need of the day. While Auroville can be a playground to develop new technologies and ways of building, in the current Indian context, where aspirations to build 100 new smart cities, rising populations and exploding metropolises, experiments like Auroville, while functioning well as a testing ground for new sustainability practices and experiments may remain only a test bed. While such experiments are a boon for Research and Development for success at the national scale, they shall have to be tested in the context of integrated cities and metropolises. Will auroville remain a township , that is a test bed for sustainable technologies or can it grow to accommodate people and livelihoods and still maintain its sustainability status?


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Auroville examining sustainability  

A critical analysis of Sustainability practices in the utopian township of Auroville in South India.

Auroville examining sustainability  

A critical analysis of Sustainability practices in the utopian township of Auroville in South India.