Landscapes and Gardens of Auroville

the transformation of the land

— Concept: Franz Fassbender


Price: Rs 650

Pages: 171
Dimensions (in cms): 21x24
ISBN: 978-81-928152-2-0
Soft Cover
Publisher: PRISMA, Auroville

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About Landscapes and Gardens of Auroville

This book, printed entirely on art paper, presents Auroville's gardens and landscapes in 310 photographs, with accompanying text from various sources. Many of the gardens featured in the book are inspired by Japanese garden design. The book contains essays and pictures on such themes as the creation of the Matrimandir gardens, Auroville's afforestation work, and the water challenge facing the community. The first sixty pages depict the history of the development of Auroville's landscape.


Published by PRISMA, Auroville
— Concept: Franz Fassbender

Auroville Form, Style and Design

Landscapes and Gardens of Auroville

Auroville Architecture

I have had the three volumes on Auroville on my bedside table for a while now, mixed up with two of the Mother's volumes and a few copies of Sri Aurobindo's Action. I have browsed through them and assimilated their essence. As I now the pick up the pen to write this review, I pause ... for I feel "beautiful".

It is not necessary that every man should be an artist. It is necessary that every man should have his artistic faculty developed, his taste trained, his sense of beauty, insight into form and colour and that which is expressed in form and colour, made habitually active, correct and sensitive. It is necessary that those who create, whether in great things or small, whether in the unusual masterpieces of art and genius or in the small common things of use that surround a man's daily life, should be habituated to produce and the nation habituated to expect the beautiful in preference to the ugly, the noble in preference to the vulgar, the fine in preference to the crude, the harmonious in preference to the gaudy.

—Sri Aurobindo, The National Value of Art

This universal ideal spelled out by Sri Aurobindo has now started to manifest in the shape of Auroville, the City of Dawn. These three volumes, with concept and layout by Franz Fassbender, will put the reader in touch with the spiritual and physical foundations of Auroville, its growth from 1968 to the present, and its future.

I marvel at the thought of how many cities throughout the world, those we call great cities, have had their birth and rebirth in war and strife and disease and slavery. Here, in Auroville, we are looking at the foundation of a city steeped in beauty and harmony and being readied for noble souls of the future.

That all three books are based on design, architecture, landscape and construction should not keep away readers who know nothing of these fields, for if we look into history, much that we know about lost civilisations comes from the remains of their architecture and art. On the contrary, Auroville gives us a chance to imagine what this civilisation, whose foundations are so beautiful, shall be like in the future.

Auroville Form, Style and Design

The book starts with a beautiful black-and-white photograph of two bare-bodied children running in a barren canyon with the summer sun beating down on them. Beside this picture are the Mother's words, captioned "A Dream", outlining her vision of Auroville. It all seems like a miracle to us but the Mother had said that "the whole organisation...was ready in the subtle physical".

The book leads us on a visual tour through the early stages of the construction of the Matrimandir and the first settlements and schools in Auroville, including even the details of floor patterns and new roof forms—showcasing how in letter and spirit the Mother's vision was being worked out. The pages are awash with colours and forms, but it is the words quoted from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother that are the most touching. They make you pause and delve a little deeper into the pictures to discover an aspect, unknown yet near, of life and beauty. Carpentry, ceramics, painting, architecture, sculpture, and calligraphy light up the pages, which end symbolically with a photograph of the solar collector, fifteen metres in diameter, atop the solar kitchen. This is beauty in efficiency, sustainability, skill and technology.

A letter from Sri Aurobindo to Dilip Kumar Roy sums up the power of the various arts to touch the extremes of aesthetic delight. On deeper study, it suggests to us how much of the noble that we miss in our daily lives is because of our general apathy to art.

Landscapes and Gardens of Auroville

The title is something of a misnomer, as the first pages of this extremely well-made book actually reveal the making of "The Garden" called Auroville. Today, the biggest story about the building of the city of Auroville is the man-made greening of its absolutely barren landscape.

The Mother's invitation to people who love adventure to come and join Auroville and build the City of Dawn brought men and women from faraway lands. They believed that their calling was true and stayed to work, despite the almost insurmountable difficulties they confronted on reaching here.

This well-documented book, which contains connecting narrative passages by some of the early Aurovilians, links us to the history of the land and its native population, its temples and its legends, and builds up to the inauguration of Auroville and the construction of the Matrimandir, which the Mother called the soul of Auroville. Symbolically, the greening of Auroville underlines all the material presented here, as it is for this greening or as a result of it that Auroville started to get defined and to grow.

[T]he digging of pits in the soil for tree planting unearthed a number of ancient burial grounds.
There is a definite greening going on in the canyons where, a few years back, check-dams were built. Trees, bushes, creepers and other plants have spontaneously emerged.
Poppo had his first taste in landscaping, transforming the space around the huge banyan tree into a garden (10,000 sqm) in Promesse, the first community of Auroville.
Spending hours tending to the garden, he realised how important it was to work with hardy indigenous plants to save time and water.
Observations such as these reveal the greening in different layers, and the photographs lead us from reclaimed canyons to wild paths, from flower beds to paved pathways, from reflections in a body of water to the raked contours of Zen gardens.

We then arrive at the centrepiece: the Matrimandir gardens. The vision and concept of these gardens, with their ponds and partially realised pathways, their trees, flowers and plants, inspire us to ponder the larger questions of ecological balance. A macro plan explains the impact of the greening of Auroville on its bioregion and the reverse impact of human interventions in the bioregion on Auroville's present and future.

The book concludes by presenting a concrete proposal for a sustainable future for Auroville and its bioregion, including a tantalising proposal for actually realising the lakes meant to surround the Matrimandir. The plan visualises a vibrant, sustainable city of 50,000 inhabitants as envisioned by the Mother.

Auroville Architecture

This book is a fabulous account of the efforts the Mother and her children – "those who thirst for progress and aspire to a higher and true life" – have made in the material realisation of this city of the Future.

At last a place where one will able to think only of the future.
At last a place where one will be able to think only of progressing and transcending oneself.
At last a place where one will be able to live in peace, without conflicts and without rivalries of nations, regions and ambitions.
At last a place where nothing will have the right to impose itself as the exclusive truth.

—The Mother, February 1968

It is wonderful how these words of the Mother represent the power that has liberated the creative spirit that builds Auroville from the clutches of the given into the fathomless lap of the unrealised. What has now started to emerge of the city, the first signs of this great creative endeavour, has been well documented in this book with photographs, quotes, interviews and essays on various aspects of building a city. The early chapters present the Mother's vision of Auroville's city plan: four zones – international, industrial, cultural, and residential – with the Matrimandir at its centre and a green belt surrounding the city area. From Roger Anger, who was Auroville's chief architect, we learn how the final iteration of Auroville's master plan (now known as the galaxy plan) "would allow the distinct zones to be less segregated, and to be interwoven to completely merge at the city centre as a unified whole". We also learn that he heard the term "galaxy" used much later. The Mother informed him that an American disciple had brought a NASA photograph of a galaxy and had discussed with her its resemblance to the Auroville city plan. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Roger Anger's description of the future city in response to his interviewer's request to be taken "through a science fiction pre-visit to Auroville".

A blast of black-and-white photographs of the first settlement, aptly named Aspiration, puts us in contact with the bare earth, the scorching sun and the oppressive humidity. And as you stare longer at the photographs, you see not only the earthen wall and the deep overhangs, but even the hot air escaping through the keet thatch. These early creative experiments led to a few people getting fed up and doing some experiments of their own:

We built it in 1985, very fast. I did the drawings in two weeks, and the third week we started digging foundations. In five months it was finished. After living under keet for some time, I'd had enough of the dirt. So in this house, the roof is a mixture of vermiculite, sand and cement laid over bamboo matting and strips of pakkumaram wood, all supported on granite pillars. The walls – which are separate from the roof structure – are brick, the windows ferro-cement.

The chapter "Research in Architecture" gives an idea of the extent of experimentation, and one begins to understand the mammoth task at hand.

In all this experimental fluidity we find the fine, perfect and complete Matrimandir standing at the centre, radiating a joy of birth and seeming to hold, as if in its womb, the City of Dawn. The photographer John Mandeen deserves special mention, for it is through his lens that we see the myriad layers of perfection that have shaped the Matrimandir.

The book then takes us through some of the realised buildings in the four zones of the city. There is such a variety on show that you are compelled to slow your pace. The photographs of the public buildings, the schools and the guest houses seem to invite you to touch and feel them, and to truly understand both the vision and the sweat that has gone into their construction.

The brief profiles of various architects, some of which include a short interview, are a part of the book you would like to read again and again. It reveals just how little we know about our built environment and what inspires the people who build it.

The Mother said that "new forms are needed for the manifestation of a new Force". These three books constitute a treatise on how to condition a built environment for the souls of the future. They put us in touch with novel value systems that seem so true and real. They should be read by those who already believe or are ready to believe that "Matter shall reveal the Spirit's face". As I was touched, so will you be: to say it simply, you shall feel "beautiful".


Neelratn is an architect based in Pondicherry.

December 2014