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Earthy Sophistication: Mud Bungalow by Wallmakers, Kerala

Posted by
on June 23, 2017 at 07:11 PM

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

Earth architecture, a building technology perfected and practiced since pre-historic times, is yet being evolved and refined by practitioners of today with late Laurie Baker, Geoffrey Bawa, the practitioners at Auroville Earth Institute and some others leading the movement in this part of the world. We are proud to have earth architects like Trupti Doshi, Pondicherry and Vinu Daniel of Wallmakers, Cochin on TFOD, both mentored by Satprem Maini of the Auroville Earth Institute, who committedly expound and propagate this ecologically sensitive and superiorly sustainable form of building shelters using earth or mud.

Just as earth-friendly is the practice of building with earth, so is, we are told, building with scrap, re-cycling waste to new uses, using local and traditional insulation techniques for climate control and passive air-conditioning; and also that it is very important to raise awareness among and train young builders today in all these practices. Well, all these and much more come together in the sculptural abode of Biju Mathew, created by Vinu Daniel and his team at Wallmakers.

Being an eco-conscious academician, Mr. Biju Mathew had decided that the house of his dreams would blend in with nature with the least impact on the environment. Seeking the help of Wallmakers led by Ar. Vinu Daniel, he set about making this dream come true on a housing board colony plot in Pathanamthitta town. Applying themselves to the job, the Wallmakers surpassed the limited brief of rammed earth walls to erect an absolutely atypical but completely and innovatively sustainable wonder!

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

After retaining an existing structure at one corner of the plot, the rest of the site required to be cleared of construction waste dumped from a neighbour’s site. Having identified the factor of cost and resource saving as key to the success of the project, the architect’s team decided to apply themselves from the word go. They got innovative with clearing the debris by using it for construction!

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

What appears in plan as a curvaceous ‘wave’ searing through the otherwise polygonal arrangement is, in fact, the now proverbial ‘debris wall’ that begins externally, contributing to a façade of unconventional aesthetics, and ends loops internally embracing a sky-lit courtyard, ans ribbons back to the exterior at the upper level.

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

While all other walls of the house are built of rammed earth with mud sourced from the site itself added with barely 5 – 7% cement; this debris wall is built around a frame of 6 mm steel rods and plastered 22 gauge wire mesh which supports the layers of debris poured in with intermittent watering, finished with a final layer of plaster. This wall made of 80% building material remains, 15% gravel, 5% cement and 5% manufactured sand is not just resource and cost efficient, but also surprisingly strong and of extremely pliable form.

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

Concrete beams are only used to tie up the structure at the top of the foundation and at the lintel level atop the walls, just below the ceiling. The roofing uses a filler slab technique that requires a lesser quantity of concrete and also results in passive air-conditioning of the interiors. 

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

To further innovate, the filler units in the slab are coconut shell halves – an added cost saver which also forms a spontaneous receptacle for ceiling light fixtures. Here again, innovative re-use steps in by creating these ceiling lights out of used plastic bottles fitted with LED bulbs.

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

Innovative re-use, in fact, is the defining theme of this building though it draws more attention owing to its earth architecture. Major vertical openings to public areas like the dining and living rooms have been secured with grills of iron rods patterned with re-cycled electrical metre box covers recovered from scrap yards. The job of collecting scrapped meter boxes was delegated to student trainees working on the project, who also worked out the artistic designs in which these boxes appear on the grill, and consequently, shed beautifully patterned shadows on the walls at different times of the day.

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

Further upcycling brilliance shows up in the furniture where recycled wooden boxes pan out in sculptural arrangements to form the stairs, partition, dining table and even the wash basin counter! This creates simultaneous storage at every point, especially plenty of bookshelves to hold the academician-owner’s collection. While the wash basin itself is created out of an ancient bronze bowl salvaged from a scrap yard, the living room sofa of steel and ply is designed by the architect to a perfect fit. 

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

Finally, a rain water harvesting system installed in the yard completes the package of sustainability and least environmental impact that is the Biju Mathew residence. After all, it is Ar. Vinu Daniel’s belief that sustainability is a necessity rather than a choice in today’s times, owing to which he makes sure his projects are practical training grounds for those of the young generation desirous of adapting. 

© Courtesy of Wallmakers

But, apart from the obvious strength and sustainability of earth architecture, it is the lyrical shadows of the meter box grills, the playful patterns of coconut shells in the ceiling, the oddly shaped skylight ( and several other differently shaped skylights dotting the house) that livens up the ribbons and rubble around the little courtyard, the quaint yet earnestly useful furniture, and the overall ambience of a warm and sincere aesthetic that has been contributed by the designer, technically skilled builders, students and owners alike that is truly motivational. A fully equipped 2000 sq. ft. bungalow of superior aesthetics at a cost of just Rs. 27 lakhs, with the added moral bonus of being extremely sensitive to its environment is an idea that should surely inspire emulation. Kudos TFODian earth architect Vinu Daniel and his team at Wallmakers, for pioneering with such conviction the cause of sustainable building!

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