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  Matrimandir

 

Construction phases
1970 - 91  and  1992 - 2000

 

 

Matrimandir site survey

 

Beginning of excavation 

 

Final stage of excavation

 

Foundation laying ceremony

 

Scaffolding for the pillars

 

The pillars coming up...

 

Inner chamber work

 

Space frame structure

 

Outer skin

 

Gold discs

1970

It all began with a vision the Mother had in January 1970, which was taken up by Roger Anger, the French architect she chose for the project. After this, Roger presented her with various possible designs, and in 1971 the final, approved globe model for the structure was presented to the Mother and to the residents of Auroville, and work could start. The foundation stone was laid on February 21st 1971, and the practical work of overseeing the engineering requirements for the construction was given to the Aurovilian architect/engineer Piero Cicionesi who lead the development up till the completion of the Inner Chamber.

From 1971 - 1973

Excavation and foundations

Research into the design of the structure went on simultaneously with the excavation of a ten metre deep crater at the centre of Auroville for the foundations.

Consultancy for the structural design was graciously given by Dr. T.K. Santhanam of SERC (Structural Engineering Research Centre), Chennai. The detailed construction drawings, the design and fabrication of the staging and shuttering, as well as the overall organisation and execution of the construction, were done by the Aurovilians under the guidance of Piero.

The foundation stone was laid at sunrise on 21st February 1971 - the Motherís 93rd birthday. The excavation was started in March by Aurovilians and Ashramites, but was later taken over by a paid local work force more equal to the task.
In February 1972 the excavation was completed, and measured over ten metres deep and fifty metres in diameter. The next phase of the work was the casting of the four huge pillars which emerge from the bottom of the crater up to ground level to support the sphere. In June 1972 these footings were cast, and by November 1972 all the pillars were concreted up to ground level.
Construction of the sphere started with the erection of a steel-pipe scaffolding, anchored on the foundation. The scaffolding reached a height of ten metres to support the 400 ton weight of the first slab of the sphere. Wooden scaffolding and temporary towers for hoisting had to be erected on the four pillars. Steel mountings to hold the discs planned for covering the outer surface of the finished structure had also to be fixed in a regular pattern.
Then came the concreting for the first slab, which went on without rain interruption for six days during the peak of the monsoon season. It was completed at the Western pillar summit at 7.25 p.m. on the 17th of November 1973, in perfect weather.
It was later discovered that this first slab joining all the four pillars - each named for an aspect of the Supreme Divine Mother - was completed at the very moment that The Mother left her physical body in Pondicherry.

From 1974 - 1979

The pillars

During January and February of 1974 preparations proceeded for concreting the first layers of the four pillars which would form the framework of the sphere. Casting of the second level slab was completed in March 1974. During the autumn of 1974 construction entered a new phase with work on the four pairs of cantilevered arm-brackets joining together the four rib pairs in a ring-beam at the centre; situated more than 14 metres above ground level, these brackets and this ring-beam would support the floor of the inner chamber. This beam was cast in December 1974.
By the beginning of 1975 work on the ribs at all four pillars had reached the half-way point after a steady succession of concretings. By September 1975, the ribs had begun to curve inwards and upwards and preparations were underway to join the ribs in a ring beam at the top of the sphere. This beam was finally cast in a two day concreting which began on the 28th of May 1976.

At 29 metres above ground level a final ring-beam supports the roof of the interior chamber. In June 1976 the pipe scaffolding was taken down and for the first time the interior space of the Matrimandir was visible.
Concreting of the floor of the Inner Chamber took place in November 1976, and the work on the walls of the Chamber began. These were poured in layers using a specially fabricated steel shuttering.
Simultaneously, ramps which would join the second level to the Inner Chamber were being fabricated in sections in the Matrimandir workshop.
Construction of the roof began quarter by quarter, and was cast through numerous concretings over the next two years.
Meanwhile a crane, made in Matrimandir workshop, was set up at the centre of the construction to reach the very top of the Matrimandir. This crane -still there in 2001- has hoisted everything from loads of cement to all the half ton beams which make up the space frame.

From 1979 - 1987

The space frame

The space-frame to support the skin of Matrimandir is a grid of triangles of varying sizes which runs 

the length and breadth of the sphere. It allows for a double skin, and though many possible materials could be used to cover the triangles of the space frame, the original plan was for cement inside and outside (subsequently, ferrocement was chosen as the most adaptable material for the outer skin and tinted glass for the inner skin). The outer skin will finally be covered by golden discs. Precasting of the 1,200 concrete beams that form the grid began at the end of 1979. Fitting them took 8 years, and was completed on 15th August 1987, Sri Aurobindoís birthday, making that one of the most spectacular aspect of the structure.

Meanwhile, the ramps were completed and underwent a successful loading test of 20,000 kg on the first ramp. In 1985 news came from AVI Netherlands that Zeiss (Germany) would be able to manufacture the crystal globe planned for the focal point of the Inner Chamber. During the same period the Italian marble quarried in 1977 from the mountains of Lasa, near Bolzano in northern Italy, and destined to grace the walls of the Inner Chamber, arrived. These pure white slabs of marble were stored underground in the amphitheatre for several years, before finally being mounted on the walls of the Chamber. An enlarged planning team was also working on the design of the inner gardens.

From 1988 - 1991

The Inner Chamber

During three years of concentrated work the Inner Chamber took shape. After years of research into the best materials for the Chamber - and raising of the funds needed - all the various elements found their place:

  • seamlessly welded and galvanised zinc columns of sixty centimetre diameter imported from Italy

  • the Makrana marble to cover the floor from Rajasthan

  • pure white marble for the Chamber walls from Italy

  • a temporary heliostat designed to direct a single ray of sunlight onto the crystal

  • the seventy centimetres diameter crystal globe manufactured by Zeiss, Germany

  • the tools for engravings on marble slabs, made in the workshops.

Meanwhile initial research into the Chamberís air-conditioning system was done, plus experimenting on the mirror of the heliostat to eventually safely direct light onto the crystal globe.

During 1990 the twelve columns were given a lengthy treatment to give them the perfectly white matte finish desired. The first stages of preparing the symbols - to support the crystal globe - went on simultaneously with laying of the marble on the floor. Over 1,200 of slabs of white marble were mounted, and slowly the colour of the lower reaches of the twelve-sided Chamber was changed from cement grey to dazzling white. Staircases that enter the building through each of the four pillars up to the first level were meanwhile under construction.

A new spiral staircase was begun, to connect the first level to the second, where the spiral ramps that lead to the Inner Chamber begin. Each of the four pillars required a substantial extension at the base. This had already been done for the Mahakali pillar (to the north) and in June 1990 the concrete was poured for the Maheswari pillar (to the south).

Then came 1991, the year of the crystal. It was hoisted in a wooden crate with a plexiglass top, visible to all, and on August 15th that year - Sri Aurobindo's birthday - the Chamber was opened. By then all the construction materials that had been cluttering the room for years had been removed, though the crystal was not yet in place. It was finally put in its correct position, on a gold plated mount comprising four Sri Aurobindo symbols, on August 22nd.

Special consultancy and support for this work was given by Paolo Tommasi who has been involved in the conception of Matrimandir and its Chamber from the very outset.

Three major works

In the meantime work on the concrete reservoir for rainwater under the sphere of Matrimandir had been ongoing. Fine white marble was being purchased for the mosaic finishing on the first and second levels of the structure and for the double spiral staircase which connects the two levels. A large Auroville construction group took up the three major works of producing the ferrocement elements for the outer skin, building the twelve outer petals, and tiling the existing Amphitheatre with natural red stone from Agra.

 

>> From 1992 - 2000

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