Kerala

A passion shaped in mud

Workers working with clay inside a  two-storeyed house under construction at Ramakkalmedu in Idukki district.

Workers working with clay inside a two-storeyed house under construction at Ramakkalmedu in Idukki district. | Photo Credit: Giji K. Raman

Can a two-storeyed house constructed with mud last as long as a concrete structure would? Can it withstand attack of termites, ants or other insects?

If made using scientifically proven methods, have no second thoughts, says Mathews George, whose two-storeyed mud house is nearing completion at Ramakkalmedu in Karunapuram village. Also a bonus is the savings one can make on the money spent on cement and steel, he says.

Mr George's dream house, to be ready for living in a few months, is taking shape in a plot that also has organic crops of cardomom, plantain, pepper, and other crops. The farming venture was the Chennai-born's scheme of action when he left a lucrative job at an international bank to live in the lap of nature.

Several techniques are now involved in the construction of a mud house, Mr. George says. The most viable one is to use locally available materials. It is time-tested as well with tribespeople for long using bamboo or sticks frames plastered with earth to build their houses. The structure resisted climate vagaries, the advantage being the insides of the houses are insulated from the severity of the heat outside. Soon, its cost-effectiveness and living conditions made the technique a favourite alternative to cement houses.

However, even though the cost of mud houses is cheaper than that of concrete houses, the labour cost is high. This is because the mud has to be made into a ball and some expertise is needed to mix it faultlessly with straw and lime dust.

One of the main techniques in mud-house building is the Cob technique in which the dough of mud is moulded into balls, placed side by side, and then layered to the wall. It can be used to make curved halls and can add sculpted features.

Another one is the Rammed earth technique in which mud is filled between two parallel planks that are then removed. There is also the Adobe method where the mud is squeezed in a mould to form blocks that are then dried under the sun, and used in the same way burnt bricks are used in a concrete structure.

Then comes the Wattle and Daub technique in which a framed structure is made of bamboo or wood and then covered with mud.

Of these techniques, Mr. George followed the Cob method. It allowed him to afford a concrete roofing to make the structure multi-storeyed.

According to Thrissur-based architect Sreenivasan, mud houses present options that allow the best use of available space. The consultant says even if the cracks develop on the wall, it can be filled with the same material without affecting the structure. Finally, a good polish would make a finished mud house better to live in than a concrete house.

Mr. George feels his example would encourage many to follow suit, with rising mercury levels and climate changes turning more and more people towards nature friendliness. One of his friends, Neha Bhalla, is already constructing one at Rajakumari.


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Printable version | Jul 4, 2022 9:47:41 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/a-passion-shaped-in-mud/article65416728.ece