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August 2007


The USA pavilion

- Pryia Sundaravalli


Auroville International USA says “No!” once again to location change.

More than one and a half years ago, on January 24, 2006, chief architect Roger Anger presented a new lay-out of the International Zone to the International Zone Group. The new lay-out was received with mixed feelings. One problem was the relocation of the area reserved for the Americas . The plan ignored the fact that the first phase of the USA Pavilion, the US Students Dormitory, had already been built on the site originally allocated to it and approved by Roger.

Roger proposed to rename this dormitory the ‘International Student Dormitory' and to build the USA Pavilion elsewhere. This was not accepted by Auroville International USA, which was responsible for the fundraising. “It would amount to a change of purpose of a building for which neither the donors nor Auroville International USA have given permission,” they argued. Auroville International USA complained to the Working Committee with a copy to the Governing Board and International Advisory Council of the Auroville Foundation, but nothing happened. [see AVToday 209-210, June-July 2006]

On April 7, 2007, Auroville International USA raised the issue again. In an open letter to the Governing Board and the International Advisory Council, as well as to various Auroville working groups and the News and Notes (Auroville's internal newsletter), the Board of Auroville International USA reaffirmed its intention to preserve the existing USA Pavilion Project at its present location in the International Zone of Auroville. Recalling that the USA Pavilion Project had obtained approval of all appropriate Auroville bodies since 2001, AVI USA objected to the pavilion being re-designated as a guesthouse and the proposal that they build a new pavilion at another location. They said, “The project was conceived, energized and funded by the people of the USA with the intention of manifesting aspects of the national soul of the United States of America .”

The AVI-USA Board expressed its willingness to work with l'Avenir d'Auroville, the new planning group, and requested to be included in all future discussions regarding the USA Pavilion and its relationship to the International Zone. It demanded that building permission be given to proceed with a detailed architectural plan designed by architect David Tollas, as the implementation of the second phase of the project is critical to the completion of the basic infrastructure of the Pavilion and was part of the original plan. The Board also observed that there should not be only one architectural style in the International Zone, as suggested by certain people. This, it said, “would be a tremendous mistake, as the creativity and genius of each nation needs space and openness in which to unfold.”

The AVI-USA Board underlined the views of the International Advisory Council as quoted in the AV Today, March 2007, No. 217, that “guidelines for national pavilions and for their planning process and responsibilities be formulated as soon as possible, and that the inclusiveness of the process is as important as the results”.

Phase 1: The Dormitory

It was in 2001 that students from the architecture department of the University of Washington , Seattle , began the design and construction of the first phase of the USA Pavilion as part of their Global Community Service programme. This phase is a sustainable eco-building that serves as a dormitory for students from North and South America who are spending time in Auroville. Three professors guided the work: Sergio Palleroni (Architecture), Steve Badanes (Architecture), and Chuck Henry (Sustainable Infrastructure).

The work was completed in 2005. Since then, the dormitory has seen over 500 visitors from around the world, many of whom were students of architecture.

With a hyperbolic parabola-shaped super-roof, inspired by the ‘outdoor room' ambience of a banyan tree, the dormitory aspires to be a model of eco-living. It has five main elements of sustainability: the use of compressed earth bricks and ferro-cement, solar power as energy source, rain water harvesting, grey water treatment, and composting toilets. It is also fully ‘off the (electrical) grid'.

However, it is only since the beginning of this year that the dormitory finally achieved its intended function; to host visiting students from the Americas . From January 1st until March 7th, six of the fifteen undergraduate students from the University of Washington , Seattle , made it their home (the rest stayed at the neighbouring Tibetan Pavilion). The group, led by Professor Karen Litfin, had come to Auroville to study the interaction between nature, spirit, and politics within the Auroville setting. As one student put it on her journal, “This place[the dormitory] is a source of constant inspiration to the emerging environmentalist in me”.

Now the dormitory is a vibrant presence in the International Zone, next to the Tibetan and Indian Pavilions. For Ing-Marie, the dormitory's caretaker, this has been an exciting achievement. “But the dorm still needs to grow to be able to accommodate fifteen students plus two faculty members,” she says. “Right now, we can host only nine students. Ultimately we want to be able to book two student groups during the fall and winter semesters each year.”

The running costs of the USA Pavilion are modest, yet the Pavilion struggles to meet its expenses. Says Ing-Marie, “It takes roughly Rs 10,000 (or US$225) a month to run this place. We've tried doing it from donations, but this only covered the costs for about seven months. We are still trying to figure out how to keep the spirit of giving through work alive, while also meeting the financial needs of the Pavilion.”


Ing-Marie, caretaker of the USA Pavilion in the loft beneath the Pavilion’s super-roof.






For more information or to obtain a copy of the Pavilion's newsletter, contact Ing-Marie at ingmarie@auroville.org.in; or write to USA Pavilion, Auroville 605101, Tamil Nadu


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