“Mud, besides being mercifully cheap, is undeniably beautiful” – Hassan Fathy
Mud has been one of the first known building materials to man. Painstakingly constructed mud homes, that are build to blend in with its natural surroundings have been a sight synonymous with Indian villages for ages. However, over the recent years doubts have been raised about its durability and unfortunately it has come to be associated as a ‘peasant’s home’. Times are now changing. Pioneers in green architecture like the late Hassan Fathy, Laurie Baker, Gerard D’Cunha, Revathi Kamat are challenging the norms, with the hope of restoring the lost glory of mud.
Here are 9 interesting facts to pique your interest on this topic:
FACT #1: Mud homes have evolved over the centuries and across the latitudes to adapt to the local climatic conditions and the available materials. In England, clay infused with straw is used to build the adorable ‘Cob Homes’. Adobe homes (Adobe is the Spanish word for ‘mud bricks’) are homes made with mud bricks. Rammed earth homes involve compressing a damp mixture of earth into a frame that moulds it into solid wall. Rammed earth homes not just stronger, they are sound proof, pest resilient, fire proof, load bearing, extremely low on maintenance as well as versatile.
FACT #2: The cost for building a mud home furnished with modern amenities (ie electricity, plumbing, bathrooms) is 25-40% lesser than one built with other materials. Abundant availability of the raw materials locally, use of unskilled labour and using the sun’s energy helps reduce the costs significantly. Mud construction has a decentralized approach where many people come together to contribute in terms of skill, material and technology of building. All these advantages make it potentially significant in a place like India.
FACT #3: Zero carbon footprint is a key buzzword in modern architecture in recent years. Mud architecture is organic and sustainable. Unlike cement constructions, mud constructions leave with zero carbon footprints.
FACT #4: Like all designer pieces, mud houses too come with their own permutations and combinations of designs and structures. Various techniques are employed to build mud homes as per the needs of the inhabitants. The ultra-modern, chic designs of Auroville Earth Institute and the ingenious works of Gerard D Cunha will make you want one of these mud babies for yourself.
FACT #5: Since these homes are naturally insulated they protect the dwellers from extreme summer heat and intense winter cold. For example, you will note there is a difference of at least 2-3 degrees between the interiors and exteriors. They maintain a pleasant temperature inside despite the external climatic conditions, exactly like an AC!
FACT #6: ‘Earth resorts’ are becoming popular with many hotel chains opting for eco-friendly construction to blend in congenially with the environment. You should check out the Nilgris homestay in Tamil Nadu that is built on similar principles.
FACT #7: Building using mud and stones has been practised in rural India for centuries. For example the Comba and Netravali homestays in Goa are mud and stone homes. In fact the Comba homestay is build using mud, stones and coconut jaggery that is said to have helped with the water proofing of the structure.
FACT #8: While they are best suited for semi-arid and arid regions, with precautionary measures mud homes can be made viable even for tropical climates. As Mr Biju of Thannal and Sourabh Phadke aptly put it – a good hat (the roof) and a good pair of shoes (the foundation) will keep a mud house healthy, wealthy, and wise. (Source). To attend a workshop on building mud homes checkout these sites Thannal, Auroville Green Practises Workshops, Dharmalaya.
FACT #9: Manhattan of the desert – Shibam, Yemen. This town was built in the 3rd century and is currently home to 7000 residents. The houses are made of mud bricks and can go up to 11 storeys. Bam in Iran was another mud city was built 2000 years ago. Sadly an earthquake in 2003 destroyed a major part of this historical wonder. The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Morrocco is another such striking example.
Hassan Fathy, a pioneer of green architecture rightly noted “For centuries, the peasant had been wisely and quietly exploiting the obvious building material, while we, with our modern school-learned ideas, never dreamed of using such a ludicrous substance as mud for so serious a creation as a house.”