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Ecological homes

March 8, 2008
Himanshu Burte for The Mint

Building a house means different things to different people. For Nishwath Hassan and Prakash Iyer, a Bangalore-based couple in their mid-30s, it has meant putting theoretical beliefs about an appropriate lifestyle into practice.
Last year, they moved into a mud house designed for them by Chitra Vishwanath and her colleagues Chandrakumari and Vickraman, whose work is synonymous with mud buildings in Bangalore. A short walk away, in the same colony, is another mud house, designed by the same firm for Pettachi Muthiah, a businessman, his wife Alagu, a software professional, and their four-year-old son Varun. These designs were executed by a young contractor, Manjunath, whose beliefs blended perfectly with that of the design team.

“It is not about mud per se,” says Vishwanath. “Designing ecologically has always been the overriding concern for us. That means we also look at water in terms of harvesting as well as treatment of waste water.” Mud is, of course, among the oldest building materials around and houses made from it last hundreds of years when correctly designed and built.
Most importantly, in a place such as Bangalore, good quality mud is often available directly on site. Dig a basement and you get mud for the walls nearly free.
So, this is a good deal, particularly for the environment, since, unlike brick and cement, mud is not an energy-intensive material. It is produced naturally without any energy-consuming process of manufacture. And it does not consume fuel in transport.
The only energy it consumes is that involved in excavation, which can be managed manually. The deal gets better once mud buildings are built, as these two houses testify. Few other materials give as much character to a space without additional “finishing” layers of plaster or toxic paint. What you see is what you get, and what you get has character.
The honesty of this wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) logic appealed to Hassan and Iyer, at a time when they were reformatting their lives to align closer with their beliefs.

Chitra Vishwanath with her team and family members

 

Chitra Vishwanath with her team and family members

Both work in education. Iyer has recently quit a career in IT to handle community education initiatives for Wipro while Hassan works with a school. Meanwhile, Alagu and Pettachi, too, were already committed to the idea of an eco-friendly house before they approached Vishwanath.
Building with mud blocks and recycling woodwork bought from owners of dismantled old houses made great sense to them. Both clients, thus, were already oriented towards eco-friendly construction before they chose to build mud houses.
Though built from the same material (mud, stabilized with 6% cement), the two houses are completely different.
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