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Organic buildings

Mud-plaster walls, recycled elements, oxide floors… a civil engineer pays tribute to Laurie Baker through his stunning creations. By Nandhini Sundar

His inclinations are totally green; as for his structures, they are unquestionably organic. Civil Engineer P.K. Sreenivasan, of Vasthukam, with his passion for design, decided to go beyond construction, learning the techniques of design from master architect Laurie Baker. His buildings, besides using exposed bricks, are predominantly constructed using mud sourced from the site and surrounding locations, combined with locally available materials.

His constructions reveal a total absence of steel, with even the use of RCC being rare and minimal. His technique is chiefly rammed earth or Cobb with mud plaster. Some of his projects also use sun-dried bricks. Since the varieties of the mud sourced from the sites and surrounding locations can be of varying types, the raw mud plaster of his structures reveal different hues depending on the colour of the mud used.

The walls are totally bare of paint, with only the mud colours bringing in the natural hues to an enchanting structure that blends so finely with the green surroundings. Given his intense green sentiments, his structures also incorporate a sizeable amount of recycled elements such as doors, windows, and wooden columns sourced from old houses that have been demolished. The locally available wood and stone feature aplenty along with the recycled elements.

Riot of colours

Interestingly, his buildings, though bereft of paint, reveal varying hues. Says Sreenivasan, “The mud varies in colours depending on the location and sometimes even within the same site. But the colours are natural with no pigments added.” In one of his projects, Sreenivasan created an arresting pattern akin to a wave on the interior walls by using soil of different shades. Artistic impressions were created by using the simple technique of leaf prints on the mud plaster.

Typically the mud plaster comes in two layers, with the first layer done with a mixture of mud and small portion of sand and an even smaller portion of cement for stabilising. The first layer offers a rough texture as a bit of rice husk too is mixed. The second layer comprises a very thin layer of mud plaster made of clay, finely sieved sand, lime and little cement that creates a fine smooth finish.

Incidentally, a sizeable portion of the mud sourced is from waste soil. Says Sreenivasan, “Typically when a well is dug, the soil thrown out comes in different colours depending on each layer. This soil is invariably thrown out as waste. But this fine soil is excellent for use as mud plaster and their varying shades accentuate the beauty of the final finish.”

Sreenivasan believes in opting for equally unconventional organic methods for flooring, with the floors in his projects using natural materials and old world methods of treatment. Oxide floors in different colours are predominant in his structures. Some of the floors display black oxide, where the colour is derived from using burnt wood powder.

Given that most of his projects prevail in Kerala where the presence of coconut trees is abundant, his structures use coconut wood in plenty. “Coconut wood is not only strong but lasts over 100 years. Coconut wood from a 60- to 70-year-old tree past its fruit bearing years was traditionally used but unfortunately not many opt for it now even though it is cheap, strong and long lasting”, laments Sreenivasan.

Natural light

His inclination to bring natural light and ventilation into the interiors is equally strong in all his buildings, the orientation as well as the copious presence of jaalis ensuring this. It is customary to believe that an organic mud plastered structure may be low on grandeur and aesthetics. But in Sreenivasan’s projects, arresting murals, gorgeous antique doors combined with sunlit courtyards, and red slate floors give a charming aura to the organic structures.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 3:16:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/Organic-buildings/article14414717.ece

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