CHENNAI: The water crisis in Tamil Nadu has affected most aspects of life and commerce. One of the areas that has been sorely affected is the construction sector. Lack of availability of groundwater has led to delayed constructions and increased costs. With the industry unable to cope with the lack of resources, a Coimbatore-based local has risen to the occasion. It was in April 2019 when 26-year-old Aravind Manoharan first used all-natural products to build Damarugam, a kids’ learning centre in Coimbatore. Walls made of soil, cow dung, rice husk, bamboo and more now aid his quest.
The civil engineer, after graduating from the International Institute of Fashion Design, Chennai, travelled all across India in 2017 through Kolkata, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Dehradun, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Goa to write a travelogue. He began noticing the buildings and houses of the locals, and the structural engineering behind their abodes.
“Houses in different areas were different from one another. The mud houses from each state differed in colour. Some houses were not plastered, and some had filler slabs depending on the climate and surroundings. Inspired by the diversity in buildings, I researched into the matter and found out that they all use locally available materials to build the homes,” he said.
A few villages, such as Kangeyam in Tiruppur, used a variety of local material to build homes, such as stone, limestone, salli mannu (concrete soil) and odai mannu (stream soil), to build homes. Moved by the individuality of each building, Aravind decided to bring back sustainable building construction.In 2018, he took a natural building workshop conducted by the organisation Thanal and began his company Pizhai Azhagu, which operates under the belief that there is no single correct method to construction, with regard to the materials as well as the finished product.
“We have no fixed ratios for our materials. I prepare the mud plaster mix by eye. The main condition to this method is that the members of the house should work together during construction to know the value of the building,” he explained. Aravind uses the Laurie Baker model of construction, and has built exposed walls, roof tiles, partial bamboo walls, rat-trap bond walls and unplastered walls.
“We search for old materials to use. One time, we used unused glass bottles between the walls to let in more light into the home,” said Aravind, who is currently creating natural buildings for the children from the Irular tribe at Karaithitu village in Kalpakkam. The term ‘Building biology’ is very important for the construction of any building. Aravind believes that the walls of a building breathe. The proper ambience can connect residents to the ecology and makes for healthy living.