Monthly Archives: November 2017

Designing in tune with nature

Buildings and other infrastructure in hill stations should not mar the beauty and ambience of the locale.

18bgp-greensensGGS2SCRCI3jpgjpgIf we ask people “Do you like hill stations like Ooty or Wayanad?” everyone will say yes. Then if we follow it up asking “Do you think hill stations like to have people coming over there?”, not everyone will be equally affirmative. After all, we have spoiled the terrain with roads, exploited the views with buildings, littered the landscape with garbage and contaminated the sources of water.

Could these be the only reasons why hill stations dislike humans? After all, aesthetics goes beyond facilities and services, getting expressed in every one of our individual and collective actions. Here lies the tragedy – we go outdoors to relax in the lap of nature and we spoil that very natural settings with our constructions. Most of the buildings in hill stations make neither green sense nor hill sense.

The reference to hills is only anecdotal, for the issue is with our design approaches which negates anything natural. After all, before humans became designers and builders, nature has been designing, building and creating forms. None of them appear to be out of context; there are no ugly rivers; no terrible looking trees; no stones which appear nonsense or no unattractive animals. What are the principles of beauty found in these elements of nature and have we studied them to adapt in any way in our modern human constructs?

Of course, there is a major difference – natural forms grow in their context, while human needs are built up out of context. Buildings do not grow that way to become big from a miniature model kept at the centre of the site. Act of one-time construction differentiates us from nature, which follows slow evolution.

Nature’s prudency

However, can we find ideas towards sustainable architecture in nature? If so, can they be universal or do we need to search them out in every region? How does nature ensures minimalism in its objects where nothing appears unnecessary in any and every part of the object? Can there be design parameters to be learnt from all such phenomena?

There surely are specific criteria behind everything around us, but we have lost the impulse to read them. During the early civilizations, people lived with nature, hence understood and adapted them. Human constructions blended with natural creations, hence there was harmony of different kinds. Architecture of the locality evolved from the landscape of that locality, both complementing each other. Now, times have changed. Even if we were to discover how nature designs, we may find it difficult to follow them in our designs.

The fact that designing with nature is sustainable goes undebated, but are people and designers willing to seek that path in these days where modern architecture is ruling the world? We need to seek answers to such difficult questions

Making of modern mud walls

There are economical and ecological advantages, besides the aesthetic appeal.

11bgp-greensensGU12QV7C93jpgjpgEveryone talks about the need to revive the past wisdom and blend it with modern times. But who is going to bell the cat is the million dollar question, especially if there are business risks involved with it.

Among the time-tested construction materials, building with mud tops the list world over. Increased research has shown greater variety of possibilities with this wonderful material, as the French institute CRATerre has published or the well-documented book titled “Building with Mud” by Gernot Minke suggests. Within India, Indian Institute of Science, Auroville Earth Institute, Mrinmayee, Hunnarshala Foundation and such others have worked on it for many decades, besides scores of architects promoting this material.

Among the new trends catching up is the machine-pressed interlocking stabilised mud block, which became popular in Kerala.

Some of the early pioneers there and in Mysuru imported the machines, but now quality machines are made in Coimbatore. Started as a city-centred initiative, now it is catching up in rural areas, which is worth noting.

Family

The family making Suraksha interlocking mud blocks in a village near Mangaluru actually lived in a mud house for generations.

They happen to demolish it, to get a new house with modern materials. Now, following a curious turn of events, the present younger generation returned to the village after studying in Bengaluru, to make mud blocks and despatch them widely, from Kerala in the south to Gulbarga in the north. Presently, they use mud from the uncultivable parts of their property, which has good clay and sand proportion.

First round

After the first round of cleaning, sizing and sieving, it goes into a batch mixer where about 5% cement and stipulated quantity of plasticiser are added, maintaining the correct moisture level. The thoroughly mixed stabilized mud is poured into the moulds, compressed to half the poured volume to get the final block.

Every block has projected and recessed faces on four sides, which fit into each other, so the wall can be built without any mortar. Depending upon the mould, differently sized blocks are made, to suit specific construction demands.

What is interesting is not that another production unit has started.

The fact that a rural family is making them in an area where traditional buildings used mud is interesting.

Today, even villagers have lost faith in un-stabilised mud walls because they crack and disintegrate in rain, so the challenge also lies in re-educating them about the vastly improved versions.

The ecological advantages of minimising on cement, the financial advantages of faster construction, the life cycle advantages of low maintenance and the visual advantages of aesthetics of earthy construction need to be reached out to the masses.