Architecture, Planning and Modernism in Pondicherry & Auroville, Tamil Nadu

ECAF Fellowship report from Dr. Tariq Jazeel, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Sheffield

ECAF Centre: L’Ecole Francais d’Extreme Orient, Pondicherry, India

I was awarded a BA-BASAS European Consortium for Asian Field Study Fellowship to conduct research on tropical modern architecture in South India. This award gave me a Visiting Fellowship at L’Ecole Francais d’Extreme Orient in Pondicherry for 7 weeks during the summer of 2012.

L’Ecole Francais d’Extreme Orient provided an excellent and collegiate base for my research during this period, which focused on the planning and architecture of the Experimental City ‘Auroville’, situated 12 km from Pondicherry in the Viluppuram district of Tamil Nadu. Founded by Mirra Alfassa, known as ‘The Mother’, the spiritual partner of Sri Aurobindo Ghose and founding member of the Sri Aurobindo Society, Auroville received UNESCO and Indian state backing in 1968. The Society appointed French architect Roger Anger as master architect and urban planner, whose Galaxy Plan for the town remains a blueprint for an experimental city still in-the-making. The Galaxy Plan anticipated the growth of the town’s population to around 50,000 within 25-30 years. Its population is now just over 2000. Nonetheless, Auroville has a thriving, close-knit and mixed community, a healthy internal economy and a core of municipal institutions built in a wide tapestry of experimental modernist architectural styles.

My research aimed at finding out the role that architecture and planning continue to play in the formation of this utopian society and experimental community; a society whose declared purpose is ‘to realize humanity’. In practical terms, I spent time in Auroville’s official archives working through the abundance of planning and architecture related documents (planning reports and applications, architectural publications, planning meeting minutes, and architectural mission statements, for example). In addition, I was able to conduct interviews and do site visits with a number of practising Aurovillian architects, self-builders and residents.

I am currently in the process of working through this material, from which I plan to write a series of journal articles on Auroville and the architecture of Utopianism.