Hazard-resistant houses from Auroville Earth Institute

Eco-friendly technology based on compressed stabilised earth blocks developed

Deepa H. Ramakrishnan

PONDICHERRY: Proofing homes against termites and insects is pass�, now it is time to proof homes against hazards such as earthquakes and even tsunamis. The Auroville Earth Institute (AEI) has recently won the first prize for designing two hazard-resistant houses in a contest organised by the Gandhigram Rural Institute, Tamil Nadu and the Bhoomika Trust.

The AEI has developed eco-friendly technology to build earthquake-resistant houses, which is based on reinforced masonry built with compressed stabilised earth blocks. These blocks are hollow interlocking and the masonry is reinforced at critical points such as ring beams, vertical ties near the openings, corners and wall junctions, said Vishal Chudgar, an architect at AEI. The director of AEI, Sathprem Maini, has designed most of the houses.

The features of these hazard-resistant houses include a deeper foundation — with a minimum 1.5-m deep foundation and a one-metre plinth (height from ground to floor level). "In tsunami-prone areas the height of the house has to be increased. When a tremor strikes, the resulting shock will be passed on to the ground. Since the house is horizontally and vertically reinforced, the entire structure will move as one, causing minimal damage," explained Vishal.

"The compressed stabilised earth blocks, which have been designed by Sathprem, are made by mixing earth with sand and stabilised with 5 per cent cement. This mix is then compressed in a manual press called the Auram Press 3000. The blocks are energy effective since no burning is required to make them and also cost effective since a plain block is 23.6 per cent cheaper than regular bricks, said Iyappan of AEI.

Clinton impressed

Auroville Tsunami Relief Centre's (ATRC) coordinators for planning and shelter architect-planners, Prashant and Lata, said that the former U.S. President Bill Clinton during his recent visit to Nagapattinam had seen the designs and had suggested that the block technology be used in other tsunami affected countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives. "It would also be used as an alternative livelihood," added Prashant, who met Mr. Clinton at Nagapattinam and explained the activities of the ATRC.

Hemant Lamba who heads the ATRC said: "Several architects in Auroville have come up with more designs for the Government's 325 sq.m specification and though we have spoken to the beneficiaries we will be building one model of each house so that the fishermen themselves can see how they look. We don't want to impose any design on them."

At present the ATRC, which also coordinates with the Villupuram district administration, is finalising the place of construction of the houses.

The AEI, which was previously known as the Auroville Building Centre/Earth Unit, is the representative for South India of the UNESCO Chair "Earthen architecture, constructive cultures and sustainable development."

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