Hi From the American Pavilion!
I’m Cassandra. I’m Canadian and I’m here designing a website for the Auroville Botanical Gardens. Before I got here I was really excited about what I’m now calling my sustainable living month. I thought I would get the chance to really understand what it is like to live an environmentally friendly life by staying at the American pavilion here in Auroville, riding an electrical bike, and working on a project that is trying to save a precious forest type in this part of the world.
I guess now I should explain what the American pavilion is. Here in Auroville they have devoted a particular section of the town to a place called the international zone. This area is meant to be place where each country participating in the Auroville project can build something to represent their countries addition to the evolution of human consciousness. Right now there is the Indian Pavilion, (Bharat Nivas), The Unity Pavilion, The Tibetan Pavilion (where the other half of our group is staying), and The American Pavilion.
A group of about 30 students from the university of Washington came in 2001 to build the pavilion and they wanted to use alternative technologies to make it completely sustainable. Today this means that the pavilion runs off of solar energy, has compost toilets, a wastewater treatment plant, and rainwater collectors.
I wasn’t sure what living here would mean, but these past weeks have actually turned out to be pretty normal. Running off solar energy means that we need to be extra careful to turn off lights, fans and electrical outlets. We haven’t run dry on power yet though, so I guess we’re doing ok. And as for the compost toilets, that is slightly more difficult to get used to, but not life changing. The toilets work off separating liquid and solid waste so that both can be used for agricultural work. Once the solid waste container is full it is removed and left for a few months to turn into safe and nutrient rich compost. This system reminds me of using the latrines at campsites I went to as a kid, but these are better because they don’t smell.
The building itself is actually what has been the most enriching about this experience, because it was designed to have direct relationship with the nature around it. The roof of the entire pavilion is arched like a sail to catch the wind and keep it shady on the terrace. Then each of the rooms has an angled roof that then brings the breeze inside for ventilation. All of this keeps the temperature inside lower than outside, by up to three degrees, keeping our living space comfortable without using air conditioning. An open terrace surrounds the four rooms, and this is our communal living space. There’s a kitchen with a fridge that runs off the solar panels, and an area we use like a living room. Then a pond surrounds the entire complex, which keeps out unwanted visitors like snakes and scorpions. Still water is always a concern though, so frogs and fish have been put in it to eat the mosquito eggs that the pond attracts.
When I came to live here I expected to have to change my habits to live more sustainably, but this hasn’t turned out to be the case. My every day routine doesn’t seem that different from the one I have in my apartment in Paris. What is different is the closeness to nature in my everyday life; this has affected me the most. Sitting in the “living room” reading a book, and having frogs jump by as they explore the pavilion. Being visited by a stick bug in the kitchen one night. Waking up every morning and exiting my room to face an expanse of green. These are the most noticeable signs, but the relationship the pavilion has with the natural world is the very philosophy of its’ design; A pond to keep out predators instead of a wall, a roof that catches wind and rain instead of blocking them are only some examples.
This place makes me realize that living sustainably means so much more than using solar energy or a new kind of toilet. It means finding a new way to live with the natural world, not just saving the environment so that its’ there when we need it, but being with it everyday.