Homes and gardens

Raw, natural architecture

Earthy elegance

Earthy elegance   | Photo Credit: Wallmakers

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Mud blocks, rammed earth techniques, and burnt bricks are used to create unconventional, dramatic structures. A look by Nandhini Sundar

The first thing that strikes you on walking through the spaces designed by architect Vinu Daniel of Wallmakers is not just the breathtakingly unconventional forms, materials and design intent, but the totally unstructured, nonconformist approach opted by him where the chief and perhaps the only rooting factor is sustainability. Daniel is definitely not the conventional type of architect one meets. Not surprisingly his working environment too resonates this sentiment.

For Daniel, sustainable architecture is not just about coming up with green edifices; to him it is about working shoulder to shoulder with masons, getting his hands and feet soiled to bring forth to perfection the unconventional structure he visualises. Using predominantly mud blocks, rammed earth techniques, and burnt bricks in his structures, he ensures his designed spaces flow to his tunes in their raw, natural state.

The Baker influence

Relax, unconventionally

Relax, unconventionally   | Photo Credit: Wallmakers

The inclination towards sustainable modes of construction and design came about when Daniel had a chance meeting with the legendary Laurie Baker while still studying architecture. There was no looking back thence. “Baker made me understand that a building can co-exist with nature and be built with minimal wastage.” His later tryst with working on post-tsunami houses while in Auroville cemented further the Baker influence on his design inclination.

Given his strong, uncompromising leaning towards eco-friendly structures, projects were not easily forthcoming for Daniel in the initial stages.

“My first structure turned out to be a compound wall and we continued to build more compound walls as we were short of work. This earned us the name Wallmakers, as a sarcastic reference to our work!” says Daniel in jest.

Not surprisingly, Daniel decided to build his own residence using the techniques of his choice, to showcase his design. The residence, with its double-storeyed mud vault, however “brought only clients looking for building mud houses.”

His first genuine break in work finally happened when he built the Mattancherry Church in Fort Kochi in 2012.

Exploring newer techniques

While experimentation is the main plank Daniel rides on to explore newer techniques in sustainable modes of design and construction, he insists that the chief focus is on aesthetics of the finished structure “as it is equally important as the strength. Both cannot be compromised.” He adds, “the issues encountered in earlier structures and their final solving aids in improving the techniques and fine tuning of our construction methodologies in the forthcoming projects.”

Rural facade

Rural facade   | Photo Credit: Wallmakers

Daniel’s structures largely opt for rammed earth as the foundation, with Ferro cement shell featuring as roof in many of his buildings.

“The Ferro cement shells are interlocked. But each site reveals a different technique as it is developed based on the site and what suits it best”, he adds.

In the Mattancherry Church project Daniel used CSEB (compressed, stabilised earth blocks) and sweeping expansive mud vaults and arches. “The ancient Egyptian technique of making arches and vaults, referred to as the Nubian technology, was used here. The Church of Light, a cross made of light, is part of this structure. Architect Tadao Ando had earlier used concrete to make this. We have instead used bricks.”

Carbon footprint

In his project Chirath Residence in Pala, Daniel used shuttered debris walls which are patented by him. “Construction debris is combined with mud excavated from the site and mixed with 8 per cent cement to make these walls. In rammed earth, only 30 per cent of the fine sand can be used with the rest discarded, but in shuttering, 90 per cent of the mud is used and the remaining used for filling the plinth”, explains Daniel. Not surprisingly, the carbon footprint of the Chirath Residence is less than an earth building, with the 2,500 sq. ft structure “built using 450 bags of cement.”

Triangular roof

Curved entrance

Curved entrance   | Photo Credit: Mahesh Chadaga

The design opted too is striking, the cantilevered triangular roof standing out where the angled sides appear as wings, the Ferro cement slabs stacked to create a broken patterned roof through which natural light filters in.

The entrance is equally dramatic in its combination of bricks, stone and grey oxide that culminate in a hexagon-shaped portico covering an uncommonly tall front double door made from angled strips of waste wood. A sheer glass wall encloses the living area, connecting the interiors visually to the green wilderness that lies beyond. Further drama prevails through the play of light and shadow filtering in from the vents in the Ferro cement roof.

In the recently finished IHA Residence in Thiruvananthapauram, Daniel combines serenity, warmth and wild adventure. “The site had issues of water logging and we addressed this first by harnessing the water in the form of a pond on the lowest end of the site.”

The residence uses bamboo as the chief material, where a continuous string of bamboo frames the front elevation, supporting the staircase that hangs from it, creating a stunning semi-open area.

Daniel is currently working on perfecting newer techniques of sustainable construction, one of which is experimenting with a 13 cm brick panel built on corrugated sheet “which is later removed.” Another involves brick panels and wattle-daub combined with waste pet bottles.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 11:23:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/raw-natural-architecture/article30413404.ece

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