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Down to Earth homes with a soul

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Builder and architect Biju Bhaskar’s exploration of out-of-the-box learning methodologies led to the creation of Thannal – the hand sculpted home

India is undergoing massive urban infrastructure upgradation. Smart City Mission has envisioned to deliver high quality of life to its inhabitant. The definition of ‘high quality of life’ is up to each one to outline. Are we looking at tech-savvy houses and infrastructure to provide us the comfort and quality or are we looking at smart livable houses which are environment friendly and offers us abodes which suits our climate? If that is the case then, what we really need to look into is our age old traditional methods of building.

Fortunately, there is a breed of architects who follow this path and demonstrate it through their projects. One can always reminiscence about how the legendary architect Lauri Baker chose the path of building his projects using reusable and renewable materials, through traditional building methodologies. Following this line of thought is architect Biju Bhaskar and his dedicated team. After dropping out of his architecture course, he created Thannal along with his wife Sindhu Bhaskar. Through their enterprise, ‘Thannal – Hand Sculpted Home’, the eco-responsible architects have been able turn their back to the much lauded ‘green rating systems and sustainability certifications’ and have been able to make a niche ground for themselves by following the traditional route of building techniques, which interfere as little as possible with nature – both in design and materials used.

Biju Bhaskar has derived the values of Thannal from his own learnings from Sri Ramana Maharshi. Thannal believes in silent-self practice in architecture, without disturbing the Nature by depending on huge quantity of resources and energy. Thannal intends to create less noise by being vocal about sustainability but to follow and show others a path of living in harmony with nature. We learn from nature and provide learning opportunities for everyone interested in natural buildings.

Biju Bhaskar and his team have contributed to the environment by using ancient art and traditional techniques of natural architecture to create homes with a soul. ‘Thannal’ which means shade, a natural building awareness group based in Tiruvannamalai in South of India, was found by Biju Bhasker and his wife Sindhu Bhaskar in the year 2011. “We strive and enjoy that effort to create natural building awareness like building our own homes and experimenting with low embodied energy materials and lowtech appropriate technologies. We seek to bring back the indigenous wisdom of ancient practices in modern approach. “ Presently we are concentrating in four sections”, says the architect.

A third of the world’s population today still lives in building constructed of Earth. Thannal’s core ideology is to bring back these indigenous techniques and materials into the limelight and develop smarter, resilient designs. The basic concept is to make people realise that they can design and even build their own home. “We focus on villages and visit places that are architecturally intriguing and enticing to our building palette”, adds the eco-aware architect duo. “If we look back to how self-sustaining villages were, amazing conclusions could be drawn. Buildings were made of mud and other materials procured from the vicinity. A Lime kiln supplied the requirements of a village then but now truckloads of cement (often transported from long distances) are required for a single house. So how much genuine a ‘sustainable’ building is, if it uses truckloads of manufactured materials? So natural buildings are a genuine solution to this scenario and for ‘Revival’ of indigenous methods”, say the architects.

Thannal believes in the Indian way of learning. Indigenous knowledge in shelter making, was practiced in India from the Vedic ages and this is what the team explores and examines. Descriptions about pozzolanic reactions of suda (lime) and surkhi (burnt mud) are found in Vishnudharmottara’s Chitrasutra and how to use natural derivatives from plants and animals effectively in construction.
– Biju Bhaskar

The architects are of the opinion that the alternative architectural practices also hybridize natural buildings by mixing cement and artificial chemicals into natural materials. This completely robs mud of its ‘breathing’ ability and it turn itself rigid, like cement. While India is going through a positive change through Natural Farming, Alternate Education, Naturopathy, Natural Living, Organic Clothing and Food, Pure Natural Buildings are also a need of the hour. Research and Documentation of such techniques, which are in the verge of getting wiped out is the primary source of knowledge for Thannal. As people who practiced such methods belong to the elder generation. it is essential to record them properly before they plunge into history. Application of the same is done on Thannal’s projects to demonstrate and provide scope for scientific analysis. This will help in preserving knowledge systematically so that it will be made available for the future generations.

Thannal is not a construction group, but an awareness group which focuses on research and documentation and trying to create a platform that will help people learn about natural buildings. We only take up two projects a year, value based, majorly in rural areas, which are done in a gift culture. Volunteering opportunities are also part of such projects to facilitate long term learning.
– Sindhu Bhaskar

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