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Russian translation

Courage

The 'build-your-house-in-Auroville' adventure

Calotropis procera, Mudar. Mother's name for this flower is "courage: bold, it faces all dangers".

A young Aurovilian describes here, from her own recent experience, the ins and outs, and ups and downs, of building a house in Auroville. Although frictions between architect/designer and constructors are quite universal, in Auroville constructing a house can throw up many more of these frictions and challenges.. One gets amply confronted with frequent, unexpected unavailability of materials, sometimes the inexperience of designers or builders, sudden absence of entire work crews (gone to another job for some time), price hikes, nation-wide strikes, festival days and so on..
Building a house in Auroville is, therefore, a true test of one's (assumed) yogic capacities.., to stay 'cool' throughout the entire procedure is a real feat, as yet rarely achieved..

 

From Dream to Courage

In June this year, the first inhabitants of 'Courage,' formerly called "Rève" (meaning: dream) moved into their new apartments.

It all started a long time back. In October 1997, alarmed because of the housing deficit and price explosion, the first thoughts on a new low-cost housing community started to take shape. But it was not until two years later that the ideas had taken concrete form, the then Development Group had approved and taken official charge of the project and a name for it had been agreed upon: Rève, meaning Dream, would build 36 'affordable' apartments including a common infrastructure in the first phase and many more in a second phase. 'Affordable' implied that costs were to be kept low, estimated at a maximum of Rs 3.920 per square meter. The apartments were to be designed to allow, within limits, for individual preferences and requirements. Per individual, the apartment would have 84 m2 floor space including covered terrace space that could also be used for extension.

However, the money for the first phase was slow to materialise, and finally it was decided to start phase I with 16 apartments. Five apartments were paid in full with the usual 10% overhead for the Housing Fund plus 10% for infrastructure participation; another four were paid 'at costs plus 10% housing Fund contribution which went back into the project; and the remaining seven apartments were subsidised by donations from individuals and the community. The foundation ceremony took place in September 1999, the building started two months later.

 

The beginning was slow but encouraging because all the future residents were involved in the project. There were many meetings, talking for hours with the architects, going on site, exchanging ideas, trying to pass all the information from one end to the other and listening (often without hearing) to everyone's opinion on the subject. All the parties agreed: we want to build a community, not just a settlement! For us, this meant a lot.

We could choose where to put our walls, windows and cupboards in our 84 square metres. The only imperative was to organize our space around six pillars. It sounded great ! So we all paid our part: the full amount, so that it wouldn't be on our mind later. From a donation received, the Housing service paid for four youth apartments plus one newcomer unit and the Development Group for the community infrastructure.

But after a few meetings, we started to realise that we wouldn't really get what we wanted. There were too many walls, windows, shelves for the budget! So we had either to cut down on our requirements or pay more. Most of us were forced into accepting the first solution. Till then things were still going ok, but soon a conflict developed between the architects and the Development Group into which the future residents, inadvertently, were drawn. This compounded the misunderstandings and a great loss of time was the consequence. Of course, no one would take responsibility for the delay , it was always the other's fault. It put a great damper on our initial enthusiasm. The speed of the construction on site was chaotic. The building would go very fast for a couple of weeks and then, for some time, there would be only four or five workers on site. That was the way it went. When the residents threw a tantrum, the Development Group would respond, there would be a small upheaval in the activities but then things would again drag on as normal.

 

And then, we moved in, carrying our furniture through the raw red earth, stepping over the trenches for the telephone cables, negotiating the mud and discovering each day a new detail to be fixed, or something which had been badly done or "forgotten." And we still await the moment that the overhead water tank will be ready.

 

The costs have been kept reasonably well within the original estimates: Rs 3,600 per square meter without infrastructure, Rs 6,000 with infrastructure included. That, by itself, is an achievement. However, design imperfections, some made in collaboration with the clients (such as kitchens that are open to visiting animals, thieves and the weather and free standing pillars that have not been concealed within the walls) will create additional costs in future.


Is this a new story? No, I suspect that it will bring a smile of understanding to the lips of nearly everyone who has built in Auroville and gone through a similar process. But don't we learn from our mistakes ? Apparently not…

 

We have awakened from our 'Dream.' And we agreed to call our community Courage, as this attribute of the Mother was the only one of her twelve attributes that hasn't yet been used to name a community in Auroville. An appropriate name, as the second phase of the former Rève project, which is intended to house 60 or 70 people, will start in August 2001. It will consist of three apartment blocks, each consisting of a ground floor and two more floors, each consisting of 6 apartments, and will be built at a greater density than phase I. It will also have a building like Golconde in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, consisting of individual rooms and shared bathroom and kitchen facilities.

Courage. We'll surely need it to create that great new community we all aspire for.

 

Swadha

June '01

 

Project: Rève phase I
Project holder: Development Group
Size: 16 apartments
Apartment size: from 30 to 84 m2.
Architect: Brand New Day
Contractor: Atmarati

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