Messiahs of Mud Construction

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Kochi: The new clarion call issued by architects of the modern age goes, “Get your hands dirty; get to the heart of earth; find your construction material right beneath your feet.”

The oldest form of construction material – mud – is earning new respectability among present day architects. Rosie Paul, a ‘mud expert’ and Sridevi Changali, heritage conservation specialist, are on a mission to promote mud architecture under the banner of their ‘Masons Ink Studio’, based out of Bengaluru. Rosie, former Head Architect at the Auroville Earth Institute in Tamil Nadu, has been involved with several projects executed using earth technologies at local as well as international levels. Sridevi, daughter of MSA Kumar, CEO, Kerala Angel Network, is a post-graduate in Historic Building Conservation from the University of York, UK and has been associated with Council for British Archaeology and York Archaeological Trust. She heads the heritage wing at Masons.

‘Mud expert’ Rosie Paul and heritage conservationist Sridevi Changali are promoting mud architecture under their banner, ‘Masons Ink Studio’

Masons Ink Studio is a tribute to masons, who are no less important than architects during construction. This all-encompassing design and construction firm is primarily concerned with sustainable architecture and heritage conservation. A team of seven architects (two of them interns) creates sustainable interiors and landscapes. “Today, everyone is going after the latest materials in the market. But one should question the origin of the materials – where they come from,” said Rosie.

Believing that imparting knowledge is part of their responsibility as architects, Rosie and Sridevi conduct hands-on training courses and workshops for masons, professionals and students of architecture on various techniques of construction and conservation. “Apart from carrying out regular projects, we feel it is our responsibility to create awareness among students of architecture and the public,” said Sridevi.

Recently, Masons Ink Studio conducted a first-of-its-kind ‘Earth workshop’ in the State at one of their sites in Kochi, where two types of mud construction techniques were introduced to the participants. In the first method, Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB) were used and the second technique was called ‘Rammed Earth Construction.’ At the workshop, the participants made their own mud blocks, boosting their confidence.
In Bengaluru, Rosie and Sridevi regularly conduct workshops and ‘heritage hunts’ as part of their initiative named ‘Hands on Heritage’, which has been receiving excellent response in the city.

Workbench Projects, a fab lab in Bengaluru that provides space for makers, tinkerers, innovators and entrepreneurs, had invited Sridevi and Rosie to introduce visitors to the possibilities of mud at its ‘Maker Faire 2017’, hosted as part of the Bengaluru Tech Summit. More than showcasing their material, Sridevi and Rosie wanted to motivate others to get their hands dirty with mud. “Our plan was to make participants come down to earth and we were successful. They got their hands dirty, but their mind was beautified,” said Sridevi.

She explained the changing perspective around mud, which is commonly considered a poor man’s building material. People who want to adopt an organic lifestyle and build a sustainable property come to Masons Ink in Bengaluru. “Organic farmers in Bengaluru own one-acre, six-acre and even 22-acre properties, where a lot of mud is available and it is widely used in construction. However, in Kerala, people are obstinate in their views, even though there is enough awareness,” Rosie added.

The biggest fear in Kerala regarding mud construction is about its durability during the monsoon. The basic concept of mud construction is that it serves as a ‘good hat and a good boot’ – meaning it protects head and feet. “If your mud house is well roofed and has a strong foundation which is impervious to water, then your property will be safe forever,” noted Rosie.

“People have started realising that ill-treatment of the environment has drastically altered the ecosystem and it is now threatening human survival. By using mud, we do not disturb the environment. But cement is composed of chemicals and will take a long time to disintegrate,” added Rosie. Mud has a cooling effect and a breathable home can be made out of it. Mud constructions will be cooler in summer compared to cement constructions, because heat is modulated in them.

Masons Ink drew its inspiration from Auroville Earth Institute, which is mainly a school of thought where all are concerned about the sustainability of output. “When we implement a project, we always question the material used, its origin, its availability on site and above all, its sustainability,” stressed Rosie.

Masons Ink constructs buildings with what is available on the construction site. Though mud is the chief material for construction, other items like stone and repurposed wood are also used. The firm tries to reduce the amount of cement in all their constructions. “Cement is stronger, but it doesn’t breathe, while absorbing heat quickly. So, a house made of cement acts like a furnace,” said Rosie. “The problem is that people are not concerned about the material used traditionally for construction and launch projects involving considerable amount of money, time and energy,” Sridevi remarked.

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