Building dream houses with mud and lime

Towards sustainability: Priyanka Gunjikar and Dhruvang Hingmire at an ongoing project site in Ratnagiri; (left) a completed farm house at Kamshet in Pune.  

This architect couple could have settled for a cushy job, with a six-figure salary, where sitting in an air-conditioned office they would have been fiddling with some design on the computer screen.

Instead, they chose to build their career on India’s ancient methods of constructing houses using mud, lime, stone, and wood.

Building dream houses with mud and lime

Pune-based Dhruvang Hingmire and Priyanka Gunjikar are promoting low-cost, sustainable, and eco-friendly houses, which, they claim, can save 50% water and require no air conditioning.

In the last two years, these graduates from Rachana Sansad Academy of Architecture, Dadar, have constructed six such houses in Maharashtra, with another three nearing completion in September.

Around 50% of the potable water required for building a house can be saved by replacing cement with lime or mud, Mr. Hingmire says.

“When you use cement, you have to continuously cure the wall with water as cement absorbs water from bricks. But if you use a mud-mortar mix, you don’t have to keep spraying water, thus reducing its use by half,” he says.

To make 100 kg of cement, Ms. Gunjikar says, 130 kg of limestone is needed. “Cement is subsidised, but lime isn’t. Since cement and sand mining lobby is splurging on advertisements, it is difficult to convince people to think otherwise.”

The 27-year-olds, now married, say mud or lime facilitates exchange of air through walls, floor or roof. This helps cool down a heated room, as hot air is breathed out.

Keeping it cool

“Additionally, these materials absorb water and let it out when it is hot from the outer surface. This causes evaporative cooling, similar to the principle used to cool water in an earthen pot. In contrast, cement traps the heat inside, which in turn makes the room hotter,” he says.

Ms. Gunjikar says mud and lime have also greater thermal insulation values, which means such houses keep the interiors cooler as compared to cement homes.

Among other benefits is recyclability.

“Mud can be retrieved and reused after the building is pulled down. Lime walls absorb carbon dioxide from the air to form limestone. After demolition, this limestone can be burnt in a kiln to obtain lime again,” explains Mr. Hingmire.

Cement manufacturing on the other hand is a linear process. “Cement debris remains as waste on the face of the earth and cannot be recycled,” he says.

Additionally, the eco-toilets they set up in cement-free houses produce manure for farms.

Their inspiration

In college, Mr. Hingmire and Ms. Gunjikar were inspired by one of their professors, Malaksingh Gill, a Mumbai-based architect who believes in environment-friendly and culture-sensitive houses, and wanted his students to use their skills responsibly.

Mr. Gill was a student of the famous British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker, known for his cost-effective and sustainable buildings in India.

The traditional method of building houses, according to Mr. Gill, is something architecture colleges are not teaching students. “If everyone starts working in the city, what about the larger population living in small towns and villages? Besides, architects working on eco-friendly houses can earn on par with other architects,” he says.

After his training, Mr. Gill built his first environment-friendly house in Malad in 2002. From farmhouses to farmers’ houses, he has completed projects in Navi Mumbai, Karjat, Lonavala, Khopoli, Pune, Vidarbha region, Goa, Baroda, and Madhya Pradesh.

Mr. Gill says many of his students are now propagating this concept throughout the country. “Social media is also helping eco-friendly houses, which have a better shelf life, get attention,” he adds.

When they were in the fourth year, a college trip to a small village near Phaltan in Satara district proved to be a life changer for Mr. Hingmire and Ms. Gunjikar.

Life-changing incident

“We were to study local housing in a village that was hit by drought. Each home would get only two buckets water per week at ₹10 each from a tanker,” he says.

The students were invited to a mud house where an old woman was living alone. She described how she had built the house with her bare hands.

To give it an emotional touch, she had embedded broken bangles into the cow dung-plastered walls.

“After drawing sketches, when we were about to leave, the woman offered to make tea for all of us. Her genuine hospitality left a lasting impression,” Mr. Hingmire recalls.

That was when the two decided to not make drawings on the computer, but build houses with their own hands.

After graduating in 2014, they worked with Mr. Gill for three years gaining hands-on experience in the traditional methods of making houses.

First step

In June 2017, the couple took up their first project at Bhor in Pune district. Atul Kindre, a former sarpanch of Balawadi village, wanted additional rooms in his mud house built by his grandfather 40 years ago.

“The house with a courtyard was in good condition. We let the existing walls remain, but added more. The roof was pulled down and built again. After eight months of renovation work, the old house was transformed as per Mr. Kindre’s requirements,” Mr. Hingmire says.

Mr. Kindre was not in favour of using concrete or steel, just to retain the originality and ambience of the structure. “When I showed the renovation design, as suggested by Mr. Hingmire and Ms. Gunjikar, to the carpenter, he was unable to understand it. I had to instruct him in every step, and finally, when the work was over, it was a mixture of surprise and pleasure,” he says.

The couple bagged their second and third projects at Bhor, before getting a call from one of the descendants of Lokmanya Tilak to renovate Tilak Wada situated on Sinhagad Fort in Pune district. “The house was built in 1850 using stone and lime. We created additional rooms, toilets, kitchen, dining room, and an open courtyard,” Ms. Gunjikar says.

While the fifth project they finished was at Khopoli in Raigad district, one of the three projects scheduled for completion this year is at Mandangad in Ratnagiri district. “We undertake only three or four projects a year to ensure quality in work,” she says.

The couple does not operate from an office, neither do they have a team. Recently, Munaf Shikalgar, a graduate from their alma mater, joined them.

They hire local artisans and labourers, who have the expertise in building mud houses, thus contributing to the village economy too. “We always try to minimise the use of machinery,” says Mr. Shikalgar, who hails from Sangli. The couple also runs their website

Using mud, the couple claims, they can make ground-plus-two-storey building. They apply stone masonry (black stone with mud mortar) to the ground floor which, they say, keeps the foundation strong and protects the structure during monsoon.

Challenges, drawbacks

Convincing masons to break away from the established method of construction remains a challenge.

“They resist when they are asked to do something they are not familiar with. But if you can convince them and the client, it saves everyone a lot of money,” Mr. Hingmire says.

The couple admits that a major drawback with environment-friendly housing is thicker mud walls, which may not be feasible in a city like Mumbai where the carpet area is already small.

“However, other techniques that reduce the use of cement and steel can be used and propagated in apartment buildings,” the duo says.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2021 3:22:31 PM |

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