Authors – Swetha Ananthula & Vikhyanth Reddy
Constructing a house of our own is dream for an Indian family. However, when we plan to build a home, many of us are disappointed by the lack of variety in design and construction. Almost all urban houses are concrete box apartments or individual villas with the same concrete material. Are there ways to make your dream house unique, comfortable, eco-friendly and affordable? For a change, you could consider building a mud house!
The moment we think of construction, the first thing that comes to our mind is cement concrete, which is the most used building material in the world. With such massive usage of concrete, its bad qualities are overshadowed by its good qualities. Considering this, many are moving towards more energy efficient, affordable and artistic way of building such as mud-based construction mainly due to the rising heat from climate change and avoid the perilous environmental effects of concrete.
A mud house is a building construction that makes use of soil excavated from the land where the house is built. This soil is enhanced by natural additives that are locally available like rice husk, paddy straw, etc. The soil is tempered by thoroughly breaking up, watering and kneading and moulded into compressed stabilized earth blocks, which are reusable and have high heat resisting capacity, thus slowing down the rate of temperature changes in the ambient air.
Material costs of earth-based construction is only a fraction of the cost of a concrete house along with other conventional materials. However, labour is a major cost for a mud house construction, but the bright side is labour intensiveness. Unlike fired bricks, the physical structure of sun-dried bricks does not change during the drying process. Without its white protective layer, a wet brick simply becomes mud. Therefore, there would not be the problem of landfill contamination after demolition of mud structures.
We found a few inspiring mud houses in India coupled with other green ideas employed in their construction, which makes them energy efficient:
Chitra Vishwanath’s Sans Souci in Bengaluru
To call ‘Sans Souci’, Chitra Vishwanath’s aesthetically beautiful and well executed architectural adobe just a mud house wouldn’t suffice. With mud as a basic material in construction Chitra Vishwanath, a renowned architect and environmentalist has designed and built many structures. Located in Vidyaranyapura, Bengaluru, this is an open house to study various ecological ideas used in it. The design of this house contains a thermally balanced basement, which provides the entire earthwork required for compressed earth blocks to build the home. The inside of house has no plaster or paint. There is no need for fans or air conditioning, since earth-based houses are naturally insulated enough to be cool in summers and warm in winters.
Chitra Vishwanath’s house has made efficient usage of all natural resources available on site. The roof is designed to capture rainwater and solar energy for cooking and water heating. Rice, millets and vegetables are grown on rooftop with recycled wastewater from washing machine and nutrients are provided to these plants from an Ecosan toilet. Grey water, which comes from kitchen sinks is recycled and used for landscaping purposes.
Kodaikanal Mud House
Residing in the tiny town of Shenbaganur, 6km from Kodaikanal, Priyashri Mani and Nishita Vasanth were quite enthusiastic from an early age to use their efforts for something productive. So they built a beautiful little mud roundhouse with a thatched roof and wooden poles crisscrossed on the inside for support. They made this possible without consulting an engineer or a builder, but just local masonry and other community residents.
They believe that materials like mud and cow dung are a lot easier to handle, giving the owners the opportunity to be a part of the construction of their own homes. The materials used by them in the construction are mostly recyclable. To construct the walls, which withstand adverse weather conditions, and to enhance load-bearing capacity, they followed the Earth-bag procedure, which is eco-friendly and economical. This method involves collection of old cement sacks made of polypropylene, a non-biodegradable plastic and filling them with mud. Then, they are arranged one on top of the other and plastered with mud or clay to hold up the entire structure.
The little stairway in their roundhouse that divides the living area into two levels is aesthetically tiled with handmade ‘Athangudi’ tiles. To get some colored translucent light in bathrooms, they used beer bottles. The shower area has a large window with a picture postcard view. The window frames are unusual and round in shape since tyres were used. They have added steps made out of tyres on the outside, and a simple gazebo made from coconut mats and wooden poles. Priyashri Mani and Nishita Vasanth are still making additions to make their Kodaikanal mud house look more beautiful and comfortable.
Arulville is an example for resource-positive architecture that manages its own resources and lives within those resources and does not rely on electricity and heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). It bears witness to a perfect sync between man, nature and the built environment consisting of a cottage, a courtyard, a bungalow/villa, a kitchen/dining block, a three-storey water tank and a few man-made water bodies.
The building welcomes with an arched brick roof, with dismantable precast concrete rafters rhythmically patterned and a cooler-roof technique (locally known as Madras Terrace). Another interesting system of roofing at Arulville is the combination of T-beams, with coir-fiber sandwiched between clay tiles and Kadappa stones. Thermal insulation within the structure is incredible, especially during the hot and humid climate of coastal Tamilnadu.
Mud, dug up from the site has been used extensively to build walls as well as foundations, applying the rammed-earth technique. Locally sourced clay bricks and quarter bricks used for walls are left unplastered. Clay bricks do not fade, erode or dent overtime and termites don’t eat them. Water bodies were created in areas where the soil was dug out for building rammed earth walls. Even the original curing tank became a lotus pond, after the construction.
The use of earthy red-oxide flooring in the Arulville bungalow keeps it cooler to the touch even in mid-summer and provides longevity and joint-free finish. The use of filler slabs, with small clay pans employed as fillers, effectively reduced the use of concrete. Natural filtration ponds were created using charcoal, pebbles and sand to filter impurities in the water being bumped up to the overhead tank, as well as to recycle the waste water.