Trust it… Oil it….

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Just before the monsoon, our hard working team is busy buffing and polishing the “hat” of our building! The roof!

Timber and bamboo underside of the roof overhang has a beautiful shine now, from several coat applications of oil.

MYTH: Bamboo and timber have a short life span. They rot in heavy rainfall areas.
FALSE.

Most of the modern methods of tackling moisture and rain are based on ‘cutting off the contact’.
From waterproofing chemicals to oil paints and enamels everything depends on an assumption that we can coat the surfaces in these magic products and completely cut their contact with the external elements like water that cause degeneration.
It is equal to asking a human being to stop breathing to avoid catching infection!
It is not going to work.
The sustainable way to deal with external elements (and infections!) to have a long, healthy, strong life, is not to cut them off but to “breath easy” and gain strength from the inside!
🙂
Speaking specifically about the natural tensile materials such as….timber and bamboo…
When harvested responsibly and treated right, they will outlast any other industrial alternative. It will only gain strength as it grows old.

Right treatment:
bitter oils get deeply impregnated into the fibers of these materials, making them highly resilient to rainwater and atmospheric moisture.

Wrong treatment:
By covering them in oil paints, we stop them from breathing the moisture out and choke them to death.
And then they get replaced by fabricated mild steel. In high rainfall areas, MS needs periodically repeated application of an oxide primer and heavy coats of oil paint to keep it from rusting…. and yet with years of exposure,it will rust and weaken…. Right next to a weathered looking timber roof that is standing peacefully for decades at the minimum!

So know that weathered looking wood has lived through many seasons and grown strong.

Trust it. Oil it!

Living in Wilderness…

Almost everyone dreams of a home in the woods somewhere…. Serene and peaceful.
But living with the wilderness implies more than trees, birds and butterflies…. img_20200609_012606_413Starting from familiar insects like mosquitoes and ants…
Rodents such as mice, bandicoots and rats…
Following them in the food chain…
Reptiles like lizards, geckos, venomous and non venomous snakes…
And Arachnids like spiders and scorpions…
All of these share their wild habitat with humans. But avoiding human wildlife conflict is important for the safety of our human families and for our wild family as well.

One certain way to do that is to establish clear boundaries for indoor and outdoor spaces.
A common misconception about natural building is that unlike cement buildings it is impossible to make natural buildings critter free.
It has been observed again and again that merely using cement does not keep the critters out.
But with the help of simple, local repellent techniques and careful attention to each and every detail of the skin of the building, it is definitely possible (and very much important) to design critter free spaces with local, natural materials.
#architecture
#adobe
#buildingwithnature #biodiversity #buildingwithlove #beforethemonsoon #coastalarchitecture #cob #construction #naturalconstruction #development #earthenbuilding #eartharchitecture #ecologicallyresponsible #earthenarchitecture #handmade #inclusivebuilding #lifestyle #lifeinforest #mudbuilding #naturallight #redlaterite #sustainable #travelingarchitect #throwback #vernacular #withnature #wilderness #coexist #wildlife

Standards and Ratings….

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.img_20180527_1214161333461351393840433.jpg

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….

 

Doors And Windows….

shutters

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…
Warmly,

Mud house in the woods…

I am planning to post pictures and descriptions of the recently finished projects on the blog from now… And in reference to that discuss various aspects of natural building. Watching how this works in coordination with th picture posts on the Instagram handle anujnadn

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People often look at the drawings of an earthen house and think that it looks too small…

1. Load bering earthen walls are much thicker than lean walls of a framed structure. Human eyes read the interior space in proportion to the walls and are not used to walls as thick as mud walls. That tricks the mind into assuming that the space is too small.

2. Most of the generic house designs involve a boxed space of standard dimensions without any considerations for the furniture, people and movement within that space. There is a lot of waste of space that ends up neither being of any physical use nor of any intentional aesthetic appeal….

If we look beyond these two common misunderstandings, we see that quality of space is not Directly proportional to the dimensions of the room!

Speaking of dimensions, this is indeed a small bedroom. 10’6″X16’6″ in size. All the furniture is built in and sculpted into its earthen walls, leaving plenty of space to walk around.
Spaces such as this one are designed inside out. First comes the space, movements in it and then the walls and furniture, merely a cocoon to embrace them all, snug and perfectly fit…. With wide windows giving glipses of the beautiful forest by the doorstep… and a roof incline, throwing sunlight just where you might need it next…

Jumping into Earth Architecture…..

In the course of evolution, it is curious how life learned the sense of space, to know a cozy and safe space apart from being exposed. With time more advanced life forms learned not just “sense” space but to modify it, to “create” a shelter.

From nest weaving avian to hut making Stone Age man, the action of “building” had already been seeded within, long before its verbalization, into “architecture”.

Every human instinctively knows how to build the best shelter for himself, just as he knows to love the earth as his first and foremost shelter. When the artificiality of civilization and culture, modernity and lifestyle is striped off, there lies the true human spirit capable of “creating” spaces, capable of taking an undefined expanse of space and defining it into an identity, an experience….a flavor of its own kind, unrepeatable and unique.

It is necessary to strip down every aspect of thought and action to that purity if one wishes to discover the truth behind all. All great thinkers of the world have struggled to cut away the frills and loads of unnecessary ornamentation in their own field of expertise. Through many streams and professions they have sought and some of them have reached the same truth.

Pursuit of one of the most fundamental instincts such as sense of space is a straight path to the same goal. That pursuit of sense of space is what I would call architecture in its most fundamentally honest form. Architecture is not just an end to be achieved but a mean to a greater and better consciousness.

The earth is the first definition of space man has known and has founded his cultures and creations ever since.  Architecture naturally rises from that very earth underneath. No piece of architecture can disregard its roots within the soil. Every material that we take and mould spaces within has born from the earth and must return to the same.

The famous term, “Earth Architecture” hence contains a redundant first word, although made necessary by our ability to forget the whole point of every great conception. Conventionally “earth architecture” now means the branch of architecture than accepts and conscientiously responds to its origin in earth.

Practicing earth architecture is simple and most challenging at once, simply because it has no set rules, no guidelines, and no exact instructions to follow. It is not lack of scientific approach but the very natural demand of this path to trust none except instincts, which by the means of education we have deliberately wiped.

One needs to start some point, and may do so by taking a hint from all forms and expressions of vernacular architecture, because it reflects the act of building as man had known in his crudest, unaltered state of being. But simply going reverse in time and technology never solves the problem. History is not for repetitions but for learning from.

With all the study material that may be obtained from the vernacular architecture, we are at a point where we must think afresh, not just the way we build, but the way we consider our resources, deploy and replenish them… It is impossible to think of it in a closed air conditioned room. One must actually build by hand, experiment and create in order to learn to create well. I understand that it is a long way and I’m sure to get lost by the time I find my way. But that is what I intend to achieve in the end, to get lost in the pursuit. This is what architecture means to me. And I know that nobody can “teach” that to me, although, I am hungry to find those who would help me to learn or at least equip me to learn better by myself. Owing to the crippling effect of being educated, I find myself clueless about how to jump into the unknown….and scared too.