FAQ: are there any standards that we follow for earthen buildings… And what about the environmental impact rating such as LEED or GRIHA?
First, we need to understand where the need for standardization comes from.
It started with the introduction of industrial materials in building trade. Materials like cement and steel are made with the controlled parameters of factories and used in a diversity of conditions. To make sure they are easy for an educated architect/ engineer to design with, came standards. If one uses cement of certain type in a specific kind of concrete mixture, they are ensured to get a certain strength. Works perfectly!
With a natural material harvested from the surroundings, (not MADE by humans) there are too many factors influencing the structural behaviour. And we have control over almost none… So you can attempt to roughly standardise a natural material such as soil.. But applying those standards on site will be a big hassle, not to mention, it will still be ‘rough’, not precise.
To avoid that, in some countries, people came up with companies that sell soil, standardized and refined by machines, packed in plastic bags. An earthen building constructed only with the purchased soil form an authorised company has the permits to be erected.
Still don’t see any problem?!!
It is an earthen building, sure, but is no more natural… And definitely no good for the environment or people either.
And guess what, it still is the big corporation making money out of it…
The psychology of fear, used on masses works perfectly to make people believe that if you buy soil from ‘ABC soil manufacturers’ to build your dream home, you will be doing a favor to the environment and getting a ‘standardized and safe’ house for a bargain price!
Standards is mankind’s way of seeking safety in things we have made too complicated for a common man (yes with all his social privileges) to understand and make an informed decision on. So he asks, have you followed the standards?! Yes?! Then I’m safe!
Same goes for the environmental ratings. These rating systems are made and enforced to ensure that the massive footprint of industrial building trade is – at the least- taken responsibility of. More the recovery of the environmental impact, higher is the rating awarded.
These systems do not take into the consideration, buildings that cause minimal ecological impact, not just while being built but through their life and upkeep.
It becomes irrelevant to grade a handmade earthen building on the basis of an environmental rating system designed for industrially made steel or cement buildings.
Again, our judgment of whether the building is synchronous with nature or is an environmental disaster cannot depend solely on the rating systems.
We could not have killed our instincts any better than with these slow and thorough methods and systems of dependence.
But, we fail to realize is that the scene is not all that bleak. Our instincts are very much functioning and not destroyed but often merely suppressed!
It takes little time for people to reconnect with the earth…. to learn how the material “feels” in our hands. We can learn to allow the smell, touch and colour of the soil tell us about its behaviour, structural and otherwise.
Building with soil is indeed a lot like cooking. Everyone has a specific way of making daal, just the way they remember their grandmother making….
Each kitchen, each hand making daal, has its own flavour to it. Can you standardize the recipe for daal and expect everyone to comply with the “safe daal standards”?!
Sounds ridiculous, does it not? Once upon a time every village, every master mason had their own recipe of earthen building. They made structural decisions by the “feel” of the material… And built homes that were lived in for generations….
They trained young builders, to not just build, but understand the materials and refined their structural and aesthetic judgment…
We lost this independence of building in our strive for standardization. We created a building profession that essentially functions around “not taking responsibility of our decisions”. We, as builders are not to have an independent judgment of any kind. We hold an unknown entity – governments, councils, standard codes and such- responsible for giving us a judgment, a decision.
Most of the urban communities cannot do without these legal protection systems. There is too much money and resource at stake.
But there is no reason for the rural communities to fall into the trap of a building trade owned by the big corporations and rating systems that are quite literally controlled by them. It is possible to have and protect our independence of building…. By relearning to hold an informed, experienced, and wise judgment.
Just as, those who learn to cook with their grandmothers, do not need to depend solely on cookbooks…. Those who learn to build with village elders, do not need to depend on the standards either…
What we, the earthen builders stand for is not just a material…. We stand for our freedom to build…. We stand for our diversity and individuality….
We stand for those who have continued to build with their judgement… We stand for those who have been called “unskilled” and “vernacular”.
We stand by those who were not respected and have lost faith in their incredible hand-skills…
We stand for ‘ Redefining the vernacular‘ once again….