Building with clay blocks

Sathya Prakash Varanashi
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Use the right technique: Many like the rugged looks of external and internal surfaces which show varying shades.
Use the right technique: Many like the rugged looks of external and internal surfaces which show varying shades.

When a reader questions what is written, and when this leads to the critical examination of our perceived knowledge, a healthy dialogue takes place and leads to a better understanding of the subject. Wisdom tells us all new ideas are received with scepticism, but once accepted, they come to stay. What we call as the alternative mode of building has been there for over two decades now, with innumerable examples of well-built and lived-in houses. There are thousands of structures in urban centres such as Bangalore and Mysore, exhibiting deviations from the norm, a few of them with radical ideas. People who live and work there vouch for the feasibility of these new ideas. Unfortunately, the common citizen does not identify them, while most builders and designers do not spare time to learn about them. However, if a prospective building owner seeks alternative ideas from their project team, they can always get a building of their dream. Building with clay blocks is similar to the one with cement blocks, in the laying of units.

Since the wall is left exposed, the joint mortar should not be placed up to the edge, both to save the wall getting dirty because of fallen mortar and to create the groove joint to later finish by pointing. Most masons keep a wood section to size the joint thickness to evenness. The number of courses should be calculated in advance, such that once built, lintel and roof levels match with the courses. If this precaution is not taken, often we are left with a small gap between the top of the wall and the bottom of the roof, that needs to be packed separately, looking like a mistake.

During construction, daily wiping of wall ensures it stays clean, minimising cleaning costs. The blocks have voids inside, which behave differently from clay lump areas, with reference to humidity and temperature. As such, the unfinished external surface shows varying shades. This could be liked by some people as a natural pattern, or one may prefer to paint it thin to get evenness. One common practice is to have a mortar band around the window and door openings, to get the edges clean. There could be problems with alternative ideas, but the conventional modes are also not totally free of problems.

In recent years, European, minimalist, contemporary architectural styles have become popular. These new ideas also have their share of problems, yet are finding acceptance due to their other inherent attractions. Every system has problems, only their nature differs between different construction practices. The challenge is to solve them, not to reject them.

Sathya Prakash Varanashi

(The author is a Bangalore-based architecture consultant and can be contacted at



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