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Down to Earth homes with a soul

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“We share our learnings through our workshops and publications. Many people who has attended the workshop have gone ahead to build their own houses, an ‘Owner’s Build’. We believe that as human beings we have the inborn capability to build our own shelter in the best way it suits our requirements. This way users can build a better connection with the home they live in. People who had worked with Thannal throughout a project are called Thannalites. We stress on spreading awareness among masses through our work but not on doing more and more projects”.

Thannal Natural Building School, is an initiative to train both learned persons and village students on a common platform. We believe in growing more villages in a sustainable way and therefore we intend to make more Natural Builders from a rural background also. People who have grown up in a context where buildings are made for needs not greed can grasp the ideology of Thannal better. Natural Buildings are for everyone who wish to lead a natural living regardless of the economic strata they belong to. We aim to prepare more people to serve this greater vision.

Natural Builders of India (NBI) is a platform started by Thannalites which would help nurture more natural builders everywhere in India. Such a platform is helpful in understanding diverse methods around India by exchange of resources and bringing out excellent adaptive solutions in front of the people. The projects by NBI will be examples in mitigating challenges of the specific geographic location regarding how to build with the local natural materials. Once NBI has its reach all around India, it will be a Pan-India solution for revival of natural buildings.

Sustainable buildings need to be economically viable also, but lately alternative building solutions given by architects demands premium investment. This means only a few from the society can afford it, which is actually unfair. Mud was a poor man’s building material and we work to return this material to everyone by learning from native and cost-effective techniques. We believe architecture can expand in more dimensions other than not just concrete jungles, but also in something which is closer to our body and soul. Thannal aims at a universal solution, applicable to both urban and rural contexts, with natural living being the crux.

Q&A with Biju and Sindhu

Why are pure natural buildings the need of the hour today?

If we take a pause and inspect what is happening in the ‘sustainable architecture’ front of India, you can evidently see manipulation of mud with cement and portraying it as the most sustainable option. But if we look into the properties of mud after mixing with cement you will be horrified to find how a fertile, soft, porous material is changed into stiff, rigid and impermeable ‘cemented’ material, like any other in the industry. Mud has a ‘breathing quality’ when used in pure form or mixed with lime, which adjusts itself to the temperature outside, like how water is kept cool in a pot. Adding cement to mud changes this property and it becomes rigid, even if it’s just 5%.

As India is waking up to a realisation of the need for pure organic farming & food free from chemicals and alternate education allowing flexibility as per individual preferences, buildings also need to suit the local climate and be flexible enough to handle the climate change. Going local and building with available materials, especially mud (any mud available) is the right solution we believe. Hence Natural Buildings based on Indigenous techniques of India is needed.

When did you build your own home? Can you describe the process and the materials used?

Two years back. We have used a different technique with mud, using earth-bags. Earth bag is a technique used by Armed forces in making outposts, comparatively fast and strong. It is also used in creating bunds and terraces to reduce soil erosion. This can also demonstrate to the locals a new technique, as Cob and Wattle & Daub were already familiar to them.

Earth is filled in jute bags and used as building blocks. It was done in forty-five days, involving six farmers and two shepherds. Natural material used were mud, lime, different plant and animal derivatives as admixtures. It’s an example of top to bottom use of natural material.

What was the idea behind starting Thannal?

India has a very diverse history in indigenous Natural building techniques, but, today if we seek to learn about such methods, very few organizations are practicing in pure natural technique. Out of them, no place is adequately functioning, providing justice to the various existing indigenous methods. So Thannal exists to create a platform where interested people can have opportunities to learn such different languages in natural building.

In your experience, is the concept of hand-sculpted homes becoming popular among urban population?

Yes, very much. It is popular among many urbanists, who are looking forward to a reverse migration eventually from the cities to the villages. Many from Bangalore and Chennai, where still low rise development is happening, find Natural Building suitable for homes in cities itself. We truly believe wattle & daub, a technique of weaving walls and applying mud over it will be most suitable in Urban scenarios. It uses less material and can deliver thin walls, which are supported by columns.

Can you validate this with percentage of urbanites who attend your workshops?

More than 60% of our participants are from cities.



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