Matrimandir: Construction Features of a Unique Temple


Matrimandir (meaning: mother’s temple) is a golden spherical structure that appears to be emerging out of the earth, signifying the birth of a new consciousness. The temple, also termed as the “soul of the city,” is located in the experimental township of Auroville in southern India. Matrimandir attracts visitors from across the world because of its unparalleled style of architecture and a unique history.

Matrimandir
Image Courtesy: Santoshnc

The spherical structure is surrounded by twelve petals, making it look like a lotus in full bloom. The dome has a geodesic geometry and is formed from the amalgamation of multiple golden discs that reflect sunlight and give the structure an inimitable radiance.

1. Background Details

The Matrimandir was founded by Mirra Alfassa, known as the Mother to her followers, who was inspired by the teachings of Sri Aurobindo.

The concept of the Mother behind the temple stands for the great evolutionary, conscious, and intelligent principle of life, the Universal Mother. Mirra Alfassa had emphasized that Matrimandir will not be associated with any particular religion and will be a place to find one’s consciousness.

She also envisioned the unique dome design of the temple and appointed the best architects of the time, Architect Roger Anger and Pierro. The foundation of the structure was laid in 1971, and the temple was completed in 2008. 

2. Geodesic Geometry

Matrimandir is one of the initial applications of the geodesic dome structure in India.

A geodesic dome refers to a spherical or partially-spherical shaped structure, the framework of which is made up of several solid triangular elements. These elements can be constructed from various materials such as timber, steel, or cement. 

The geodesic model can be understood with an example of a regular octahedron. One of the octahedron faces is divided into smaller triangles by joining the midpoints. This is then repeated for every face. 

Division of Octahedron face
Division of Octahedron Face
Image Courtesy : Kenner (2003)

Similarly, the number of triangles can be increased by further dividing the sides into more segments.

Geodesic Division
Geodesic Division

3. Foundation

The site was excavated up to a depth of 10 m and a width of 50 m, followed by the pouring of reinforced cement concrete (RCC) in the foundation.

Pouring of Foundation
Pouring of Foundation
Image Courtesy: Dominique Darr

A 10 m high steel-pipe scaffolding was secured on the foundation prior to the construction of the sphere. The scaffolding tubes that were used had a diameter of 24 inches and weighed 430 kg each. After this, the first slab of the sphere was placed. Additional wooden scaffoldings and elevating towers were also erected to support the structure.

5. Framework

The framework is a network of 1200 precast ferrocement triangles of different sizes. The inner and outer skin of the framework is made of tinted glass and ferrocement, respectively. This envelope acts as a protective layer for the frame.

Framework
Framework
Image Courtesy: ArchitectureLive!

4. Columns

The entire dome structure is supported by four columns made of RCC and connected at the base by a ring beam. Ring beams are crucial for the transmission of horizontal forces, which, in turn, stabilize the structure.

The Four Columns
The Four Columns
Image Courtesy: Dominique Darr

A similar ring beam is also present at the top of the structure to retain its curved dome shape. Since the pillars carry all the structural load, they are braced to provide lateral stability. 

After the successful fabrication of the top ring beam, the inner chamber (now known as the meditation hall) was constructed. Concreting of the floors was followed by the erection of the walls of the chamber.

There are 12 galvanized steel columns used in the inner chamber, each weighing 830 kg and 8.65 m tall. These columns are built in such a way that it gives an illusion of 1000 pillars standing tall in the chamber.

1000 Pillar Illusion
1000 Pillar Illusion
Image Courtesy: Auroville

The columns were erected and then whitewashed with at least 15 coats of paint. These columns surround The Mother’s symbol, which is located at the center of the chamber.

The Mother's Symbol
The Mother’s Symbol
Image Courtesy: Auroville

5. The Inner Chamber and The Crystal

The inner chamber is a spacious hall situated in the upper hemisphere of the temple. It is clad in white marble walls and deep, white carpeting woven using a blend of the finest Merino wool from New Zealand.

At the center of the meditation chamber is the world’s largest optically- perfect glass globe (known as the crystal) with a diameter of 70 cm. This was manufactured and cast by two German firms, namely, Schott in Mainz and Zeiss in Oberkochen.

The Crystal
The Crystal
Image Courtesy: Auroville

Besides magnifying the ambience of the meditation hall, the crystal is also responsible for illuminating the chamber. This is done with the help of a heliostat fixed on top of the Matrimandir and a converging lens.

The heliostat tracks the sun and projects a single sunray onto a mirror. This mirror projects the light to the lens, which further casts it on the center of the crystal globe. The crystal then re-emits the focussed sunray and lightens up the entire hall. Hence, no artificial lights are required or used in the temple.

6. Gold-Plated Discs

The outer skin of the dome is a layer of gold-plated discs of diameters 2.3 m and 1.5 m. These discs are made of stainless steel, and there are 1415 such discs covering the temple. The discs are plated with gold leaves of size 85×85 mm, whose density is 28 gm of gold per 1000 leaves.

FAQs

1. Who invented the geodesic dome?

The first geodesic dome in history was proposed by Walther Bauersfeld, a German physicist and engineer. He initiated the development of the dome structure, but it was only after Architect R. Buckminster Fuller experimentally proved geodesic math that the dome gained popularity. Later, Fuller also received a patent for the same.

2. What are the advantages of a geodesic dome?

Geodesic structures offer a number of advantages in comparison to cubic structures. First, such structures are lightweight but also stable at the same time. Hence, deep foundations are not required, which cut the cost as well as labor.
Second, there is no need to construct load-bearing walls or similar members. And lastly, the structure has an impressive resistance to seismic loads.

3. What are the drawbacks of a geodesic design?

Unlike conventional structures, geodesic designing requires a good knowledge of advanced mathematics and geodesic theories. This might pose difficulties in initial designing for some individuals and delay the entire process.
Moreover, not everyone needs or prefers a dome structure over the typical ones.

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