Homes and gardens

The beauty of mud

Earthy structures are aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective too, says Anupama Mohanram

As far as I can remember, playing with mud used to fascinate me, engage me for hours together and make me think about the various uses of the natural material.

I suppose this is what led to my interest in pottery — I joined classes when I was in college and continued learning the art through my early career. I enjoyed the different styles and methods of pottery and creating numerous clay artefacts by hand was exciting.

My love for all things earthy grew as I learnt about the use of mud in construction. Readily available all over the world, the material is natural, pliable, attains strength over time, insulating and breathable, making it suitable for any climate. It’s many benefits have made it a traditional building material for centuries. It’s aesthetically pleasing and cost-effective as it doesn’t need skilled labour.

It was out of curiosity that I learnt of and decided to visit Santa Fe, a town in the State of New Mexico in the United States, in 2003. The town’s current zoning regulations specify and encourage various earthen building techniques including adobe, rammed earth and compressed earth bricks. Santa Fe is dotted with artistic homes built using earth with accents of colourful tile embeds and flowering plants.

I came back from that experience determined to learn more about using mud in construction in today’s urban context. While living in the US I attended a workshop on cob building (one of the techniques of mud building).

Cob involves creating small regular sized lumps of mud and straw, stacking them in rows, stitching them together and allowing them to dry naturally until the walls go up. Mud gives the required compressive strength while the straw provides the necessary tensile and shear strength.

These experiences have been strong influencing factors as I moved back to Chennai to start my own firm, Green Evolution, in 2008. I wanted to start with advocating the use of mud extensively but realised that people here still prefer conventional materials.

Mud is often seen as a poor man’s material and there isn’t much research on the subject as well: two things that I continue to work on.

We need to focus on bringing back aspects of this wonderful construction methodology into the urban context and make it more relevant in our fragile environment today.

The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a city-based sustainable architecture firm

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:58:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/the-beauty-of-mud-homes/article22702925.ece

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