“The three R’s of construction are recycle, re-use and re-construct and my ‘Thoreau house’ in R.T.Nagar has followed these principles to the hilt,” S. Viswamurthy had proudly said regarding his house on 10 Main Road which draws peering gazes from people taking casual walks. His hard work lay in sourcing old materials and using them suitably for a sustainable, cost-effective house built in the early 1980s. Viswamurthy’s ( an ex-Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT) employee) house is on a 60 x 90 site, has mud, stone and wood mainly and cost him Rs. 1.6 lakh for nearly 16 squares built area. “I am the architect, I wandered around the entire city of Bangalore to source old material,” he had said to this reporter.

“When I was with HMT, even using cement seemed a dream. With three daughters to be taken care of, my dream of a dwelling had to be modest as my line of thinking was also that of writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau and his nature principles. I chased my brick-and-mortar dream but never dreamt that it would invite so much media attention!” Viswamurthy’s words could well be the guiding principles to many with a slim budget. Thoreau’s comment, ‘Never go along a beaten track,’ is what this unbelievable man followed and that showed him the way to his dwelling at a nominal cost.

It was in 1975 that the HMT Building Cooperative Society allotted him the site for Rs.13,500 in instalments. The first thing he did was to plant trees, and even before the construction really started had them well-grown.

And another rule that he followed was never to borrow, but build within his means. Even his house number plate is done of jute rope. When Viswamurthy saw the old Central Telegraph office (in the GPO complex) being razed to the ground he spoke to the building contractors to obtain the old stone slabs for re-using, and got it at 30 paisa a stone and had 14 lorry loads arrive at his site soon. Some portions of the telegraph office that he loved, were replicated in his house; even the corner-stones used there were re-laid in a similar arch to retain the old charm.

As buying fresh wood was prohibitive in its pricing, spruce wood boxes lying abandoned in HMT’s watch factory came in handy as he bought them for Rs. 4,000 and used them for doors, windows, shutters, wardrobes and shelves! Not just the cost, the quality of wood was approved by the Indian Plywood Industries Research Institute for its longevity.

It was Kadapa for flooring that he got for Rs. 1 per sq. ft from an old British bungalow being demolished, when mosaics cost Rs.9 per sq. ft those days.

Viswamurthy was bold in placing them too as he positioned the slabs directly after levelling the earth and spreading a thick layer of sand.

His windows, devoid of chajjas (rafter support) and RCC lintels, have the frame pushed to the inner side for getting a box-type natural concrete cover on the outer. Glass for his windows was from old-model car doors sourced from Russell Market, locally called gujaree, making them trapeze-shaped for they were glass car window frames.

Don’t be in a hurry to junk anything, think hard and re-use, it helps you and society, says Viswamurthy who has excavated mud from the site that was used as mud-mortar plastering for the inner walls of his building.