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 standardise 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 aesthetical 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….
Bare naked hollows of doors and windows come to life soon as ‘shutters’ come into the picture….
Designing shutters for this project has been a great delight for me and my team of carpenters….
The geometry of door-window shutters gives building a character. It is a rhythm flowing through all the spaces, binding them together…
They frame the views outside… Lead our vision to see the world outside, as if they are pretty pictures strung together!
It leaves just enough for our imagination…
Just like ‘reading’ a story encourages us to create personalized visuals in our minds, as against ‘watching’ the same story, which leaves nothing to imagine, numbing our minds slowly while we are at it.
Most modern homes, with their ready to install, sleek glass windows and flush doors, are like sensory overload… it has made us forget the joy of handcrafted, personalized openings…
And I’m afraid I cannot give you a monetary valuation for that…
Market is overflowing these days with the advertisements about properties. It is the leading investment industry in town that thrives mainly on increasing demand and hence price of properties. Basically this is about a vicious circle of greed that some people may term as “progress”.
Those who have no house, desire to rent a house. Those who have a “house on rent” desire to buy their “own” house. Those who already own a house desire to own two houses. So naturally the demand keeps increasing multiple times the actual requirement. Since the demand is high, prices keep rising higher. Anything that sells for a higher price becomes an investment asset. So now properties become an investment asset. Naturally the demand increases ever more. The more the insecurity in social mind, more the sale and purchase of such assets!
There is nothing created in this business yet money keeps rolling. It apparently gives a “feel good” mood but kills the habit of “working for money”. “Sit back and earn” is a dangerous culture. But never mind, this is not about the illusory economics of the realty business.
This is about what after you make all that money….There is the next advertising sport awaiting you….
The Weekend Home
The holiday home….”stay in the lap of nature”…. NA PLOTS!!! Observe the hoardings in and around the city. 80% of them are overflowing with serene pictures of lush green hills and valleys lined with blue rivers! That’s where you will get to stay…. Or so they claim!
You like the pictures and luxurious advertisements…. And you visit the site. A stately site office welcomes you with some more attractive landscape flex boards. A colorful broacher with landscaped plan decorated randomly with green blots of trees, some high quality 3D visuals of plush, furnished houses…. And they sell you a dream house! Then you look out of the window…. Yes! you can see a rolling hill adorned with bright green grass (if you go property hunting between the months of July to October!)
You feverishly sign the documents! And the moment deal is cracked…. So is your dream! By the time your house is built, the hill is no more green… its ugly color of grey… the color of concrete and the color of weathered plastic fence… the color of your hair by the time you get possession of the house!
There are many more houses popping up identically like yours along the driveway. You check ten times to confirm which one of those factory-made cubes is your own house! From distance, the hill that was green once now looks like deceased skin of the earth!
There will be designed landscape of course! Of fancy delicate plants that remain wilted almost half the year….. Or shamelessly overgrow as weeds. Nature will painfully try to heal itself through tiny patches of soil you leave by the concrete driveways…. Old grown trees that you had seen in their pretty pictures have long gone from the hill… replaced now with stubs of some foreign tree standing within a cage, along the driveway, waiting thirstily for a tanker to pass by…
And the serene stream that was shown in the graphics… it has dried away. Besides you do not need that mud bank to breed mosquitoes. You have a wonderful blue tiled swimming pool right there in your premise! Why…no… we hardly get time to go and stay in that house… let alone to swim!!
You wanted to stay in the lap of nature…. But now it is killed. You have a house… an expensive one…but just like your city house…crammed up with all the “modern amenities” that you will hardly have time to look up. A handkerchief size patch of yellowing lawn will laugh at you, mocking your own desires now confined again in a few square feet of a weekend home!
This is high time we as consumers start to look into the reality behind the face of realty market! This is high time we start to question and demand some ethics! But in order to demand ethic we must first “know” them. We must know what we really desire deep down in our hearts….
Life in the Lap of Nature
Life in the Lap of Nature
When you started to look for a weekend home, you had actually started to look for a life in the lap of nature… had you not?! You desire to stay in a house surrounded with trees and birds, just as they portray on the bill boards! You work hard for years and years to be able to afford such house… and you end up buying a lump of concrete placed among some more lumps of concrete that look exactly like yours! “NA plots and row house schemes?!”
First proof that you are NOT getting a house in “nature”: check the colorful plan they show you. Forget the uniform green wash on glossy paper. Look at the plots. They are just enough proportioned to fit a house…. There is no space left for nature to crawl into your backyard. A handkerchief sized lawn is not nature; do not insult your own intelligence!
Second proof: if you fit all your “modern amenities” in the lap of nature, you end up staying in the lap of amenities…. Nature has just run away!! You city house was much better; nature had anyway run away from the cities long ago!
I believe that there is not a single human heart that does not respond to nature and feel big, light and fluffy as cloud! Every single person holding this sheet of paper smiles at the mere thought of standing in a clearing among trees with soft breeze that even smells green!
If you really, truly desire to live in the lap of nature, continue to read. Otherwise I have already lost my case and your interest. But if you have mugged up in your schools….rubbed nose in your jobs…just for a house within trees, my nature lover, this is for you….
Living in the lap of nature is not about affording or buying a house. It is about a mindset… about adopting an entirely different lifestyle. Just as you cannot truly live with your family without loving them, you cannot live with nature without loving it! Nature is not a piece of artifact to be bought and kept in the corner of your house! It is a dynamic, living and life giving entity that flows through us right at this current moment! Love nature!
And one cannot love nature without understanding it! Understanding is the first basic stage of love! Understand your surroundings and the silent loving traces and trails of nature around you. I know they did not teach this in schools. But they cannot “teach” you to love anyway!
Observe the green hill that you wish make your home someday. See the clusters of trees and shrubs…and birds nesting in that thicket…. It is their home first. Would you like a guy called “developer” come and run a bulldozer over their home and then give you a little yellow patch of lawn?!
Small shrubs and thorny bushes, deciduous trees that have always adorned our Sahyadris…. They are the nature you have been looking for! Give them just a moment out of your busy life… and they will tell you the ten secrets of living with nature!
The Ten Secrets
Do not cut any old grown trees or clusters on your land. Add more native trees to the green. They are hardy, just need little water, protection and love!
Do not level, cut, fill or flatten your land. Responding to the natural terrain will give a unique home of your own. (Pic: that insect mud castle….)
Learn about the wonderful biodiversity that is already making a home in your land. Hire ecological experts to study and show you the nature’s wealth you got free of charge, when you bought the land.
Leave a large portion of your land for nature to be your neighbor…. Give it some space! Protect the natural habitats such as seasonal water pools, streams, trees, bush clusters in that area.
Design your house for minimalistic requirements and smaller footprint. You do not need Olympic size swimming pool or a huge golf course if you wish to stay with nature!
Using natural material or recycled material is not as impractical as your contractor says. Concrete is expensive and harmful in many ways. Use it as less as possible.
Keep manicured landscape features to their minimum. Foreign ornamental plants and lawns require large amounts of watering, artificial nutrients and hence expenses.
Arrange for amenities that you truly need during a holiday. Watching the moods and melodies of nature is going to be your best recreation activity, and it comes for free!
Plan your wastes properly. The sewage can be effectively used to recycle nutrients back to the soil, instead of polluting the rivers. Decomposable solid waste can be composted easily. And take your non degradable plastic wastes back to the city from where it came. Your new neighbor Nature does not love plastic litters!
Ignore what the bill boards and advertisements say…. Beauty of nature cannot be picked out from a glossy catalogue. You must find it in wilderness. Trust your innermost instinct… it unfailingly takes us back to the nature.