Life & Style

The ‘green’ homes of Sridhar Radhakrishnan and Achuthsankar S Nair

Sridhar Radhakrishnan’s house Vasantham at Valiyavila, Thiruvananthapuram

Sridhar Radhakrishnan’s house Vasantham at Valiyavila, Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: S Gopakumar

When high-rises rule the roost, two city residents dreamt of a home that would be eco-friendly and make use of local materials; one that would be acclimatised to the hot and humid weather. Sridhar Radhakrishnan and Achuthsankar S Nair turned their dreams into reality with houses, both of which predominantly make use of mud and recycled materials and also showcase indigenous techniques. The two talk about their dream homes that also happen to reduce the heat.

Nestled among rubber estates in Valiyavila, about four km from Karakulam, is a brown, earthy, two-storeyed building made of mud, mud-lime, Acasia, bamboo and recycled bricks, doors and windows, which has become the neighbours’ envy and the owner’s pride.

Environmentalist-engineer Sridhar had one brief for his architect, PB Sajan of the Centre of Science and Technology for Rural Development: as far as possible, his house should be made of recycled materials and, in turn, it should be recyclable as well.

Sridhar’s charming mud house, ‘Vasantham’, has been attracting visitors for its innovative use of bamboo and mud. As I huff and puff my way up the small incline that leads to his castle nestling against a hillside, I am tempted to hold on to one of the bamboo pillars around the wide verandah that runs around the house. However, its lack of girth deters me from using it as a support and I wonder if those flimsy-looking bamboo poles were actually pillars holding up the ceiling.

However, Sridhar reassures me and tells me about the advantages of bamboo and its strength. “This is experimental but Sajan was game for the whole idea,” laughs Sridhar, as we admire the deep-chocolate brown house, made of the soil from the same plot of land. “I did not want any laterite hills to be destroyed to construct my house. That would have killed the entire purpose of making the house eco-friendly,” says Sridhar.

Inside Outside
  • The total area of Vasantham is 2,300 square feet and it cost him about ₹28 lakh at approximately ₹1,200 per square feet. The total area of Manveedu is 1,300 square feet. It cost nearly ₹20 lakh.
  • Verandahs, once a common feature in all houses in Kerala, protect the house and significantly reduce the glare and heat of the sun.
  • Avoiding chemicals inside their homes, they say, has also played a part in keeping their homes cool.

When he was building his house, Mani Bhavan, a stately home at Sasthamangalam, was being demolished to make way for a high-rise. Sridhar bought 20,000 bricks and floor tiles from the builders. “The polished teak wooden flight of steps was purchased from a second-hand shop. The same goes for the lamp shades. For the bathrooms, I got lucky. An outlet selling sanitary ware was closing down and so I was able to get the tiles from them at throw-away prices,” explains Sridhar with a big smile.

So, the bathroom tiles are of multiple colours but the big picture is not unaesthetic. “My house has all the facilities of any modern home such as kitchen appliances, television, a superb music player and so on. But there is no ostentation,” he adds.

The floor area was increased with a roofed verandah on the first floor to protect the mud walls from the rain. And the roof on the first floor got taller and larger as the bamboo floor and roof needed a good covering. Eventually, it resulted in a lovely verandah all around the house, a roomy hall and a large balcony, which gives a bird’s eye view of the verdant surroundings.

“The walls were plastered with mud that had straw mixed in it. That is what gives it that texture and epoxy was painted over it,” says Sridhar.

The bamboo roof and the Acacia frames were all treated with boric acid and borax, and then dried. “It should keep the termites off. Mud is mixed at 5 to 10% lime, which could also protect it from termites,” he adds.

He adds that it would have remained a dream but for the support of his wife, Sobha, and son, Ambareesh Sridhar.

The area around his home has been turned into an organic garden wherein they grows their own vegetables and fruits. “I have become a nano organic farmer too!” says Sridhar.

Down to earth

“We need to make way for an eco-system that does not generate any waste that requires to be taken care of outside the homestead. Till a few decades ago, the city was one of the cleanest in India because the practice of waste being dumped in public was alien to most residents. Every household disposed of its waste in an organic way,” avers Achuthsankar S Nair. He has been implementing that in his house, Manveedu at Karyavattam, made of mud in the vernacular architectural style, with a wide verandah running almost all around the house.

Manveedu, Achuthshankar S Nair’s home at Karyavattam

Manveedu, Achuthshankar S Nair’s home at Karyavattam   | Photo Credit: Achuthsankar S Nair

The waste disposal system that he put in place is not the only remarkable feature about the house that has a Spartan simplicity about it. Every corner and wall in the mud house has been tastefully decorated without any sign of ostentation.

Having spent his childhood in a house with a tiled roof, the engineer-turned-academic was keen on building such a house. On a 12-cent plot he bought, Achuthsankar had built a mud compound wall and drew a plan for the house himself. The foundation was built and he was all set to start building when he happened to read an article on architect Guruprasad Rane and designer Manasi who had built a house made of mud.

“I contacted them and they advised me to use the mud from the plot for the house. A jackfruit tree near the plot was used to make windows, doors and wooden jaali for the house,” he says. The liquid exuded by shells of cashew nut was used to polish the wood and that has given a vintage look to the woodwork.

Constructed using rammed earth technique, the L-shaped, earth-coloured house with a tiled roof is a visual delight. With artfully created niches in the wall and built-in seating areas, the entire living space exudes warmth and comfort. The living room has a built-in elevated area, which is used as a stage for chamber concerts and book-reading sessions.

Ceramic lamp shades and old-world switches, all sourced from second-hand shops, give it a retro air. Functional and aesthetic without being ornate, the house has not been painted either. The mud plastering keeps its cool and organic.

“The kitchen was planned in such a way that it is connected to a well on the plot in an organic manner. We get water for all our needs from the well and a pump has been installed for water supply to the first floor. I got sand to be deposited in our front yard and it has become such a hit. You will find us all sitting on the sand in the evenings,” says Achuthsankar. Plenty of greenery around Manveedu keeps its cool even in the height of summer.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2020 6:55:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/mud-walls-recycled-materials-and-vernacular-architecture-are-significant-features-of-sustainable-homes-built-by-sridhar-radhakrishnan-and-achuthsankar-s-nair/article26676157.ece

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